Belle

The bell rings, though the shop is closed (and he wonders why he invested in a sign if nobody cares to read it.) He pockets the vial and hides the egg and responds to the intruder with a politeness he does not feel (and an urgency he does).

Yes, he is Mister Gold, but he's afraid the shop's closed and—

It seems his little bell has brought back the dead.

He's seen her a million times in his mind's eye—but never like this, never dishevelled or dazed or confused or wearing a tatty sweater over a hospital gown and too-big slippers. Never staring at him with blankness and confusion and fear scrawled so obviously over her features. Never wondering who he is or what she's doing here or why he stares at her open-mouthed and approaches her so cautiously because if she evaporates beneath his touch one more time he might need True Love's magic just to keep his heart beating.

Against hope, he places a hand on her shoulder. Squeezes. She stares at him uncertainly, with suspicion, but she stays.

"You're real."

He pulls his hand away.

And it would be so much easier to process the implications if the world wasn't tilting like it might crack apart and send them all hurtling into oblivion.

"You're alive."

And it would be so much easier to look at her if his eyes weren't filling with tears.

(So much easier to drive his cane into Regina's skull if his hands weren't trembling.)

And it would be so much easier not to cry if she'd disappeared (because he had dreamed of this moment a thousand times and he is used to disappointment); if she didn't ask him to protect her (when he would have gladly sacrificed the world a hundred times over if he'd thought it would ever make a difference); if she had pushed him away when he wrapped his arms around her in a tight embrace.

But she is real, and she is here, and "Oh yes—yes, I'll protect you," and his vision swims and he can barely stay upright, even with the help of his cane.

Belle is alive.

She pulls away (but she does not disappear), and she blinks at him (but she does not run), and she does not know him.

But she will.