Chapter One: An Unpaid Price

It was Lord Hades who first voiced his idea, and it had intrigued the Dark One for decades.

"I mean, it's what I would do," he reasoned, in one of their many, many peace talks they've had over the centuries. The Dark One and the Devil, combining their powers? Unstoppable and yet, impossible.

Hades had made the offer before – to return his Baelfire – but it was another lie, he was sure of it. Their resources were just as limited as the other's.

Rumplestitlskin made the deals, not the other way around. And he was sure that a deal with the devil, was the literal definition of more than he could afford.

"Hear me out," he drawled, leaning back in his throne. And even as the imp's teeth was bared at him, his own smile was amiable. "Just think about it – nothing could replace your... Bae, was it?"

Of course, after nearly half a millennium, he still had trouble remembering Rumple's son's name.

"I'm not asking you to replace him. I'm only reminding you that your limitless power can do so much more than searching for a lost boy. A little bit of fairy dust, you can make him out of a puppet."

The Dark One didn't respond, preferring to pace the room. He grit his teeth for several minutes. "Anything of Baelfire's is long gone, I'm afraid." He didn't even think of preservation charms until it was too late, and his house was burned down shortly after the incident. They paid dearly for that, but it didn't bring his son or his mementos back. "And I'd think I'd rather have the original model, thank you. He's in a land without magic, y'know." Keeping his signature 'bounce' was getting rather tiresome, but he couldn't allow the Lord of Darkness to smell his worries. "Nothing can replace my son, Hades."

"I understand." He really didn't. "But my suggestion wasn't for a replacement. It was for extra help."

The sheer ridiculousness of the plan made him slip, and he was truly honest for a moment. "I don't understand."

"You say nothing can replace your son. But you need a helper. You say you want to keep your son and magic? How about sending someone there to retrieve him? A team? A bunch of unflinching followers, willing to go to hell and back – figuratively – for you, blending in and making connections. You'll never have to step foot in that world, when someone else can do it for you." He sat back, letting the Dark One process his words. "You can't take someone's heart to control them, because that's magic. You need complete and utter loyalty. You need someone... affable. Compliant. Completely willing to do what you say, and dare I say it, respect you to follow through on your wishes. Because in a land without magic, they don't need to listen to you. Threatening them won't work, because they have your son. A reward... might work. But when you have leverage, like a son, then the price can go as far up as, well, mine." He steepled his fingers. "You need someone loyal to you. You need minions, but more than that, you need someone who's attached to you. Baelfire, would help you find Baelfire, and why is that? He's your son. Get the hint."

The Devil had a point, and though Rumple would have never admitted it, he was unable to disagree.

So... he required a child. No, children. Little, pliable creatures he could mold into his own, and more importantly, unquestioningly loyal creatures that had only one loving, adult figure in their lives.

Rumple had seen what happened to those who grew up alone, and friendless. They would look to run, or get too curious for their own good.

No, he'd need more than one. Maybe three.

But first, he would need the one. A test subject, if you will.

And that was what led him to the middle of a clearing, eying the magical bean in his hand.

Of course, he had access to one; getting a bean wasn't the problem. The ogres and giants had been repopulating for the past hundred years or so, and it only took one beanstalk collapse to obtain four of them. No, the problem was trying to figure out how to get to the world, and keep his magic.

Baelfire just didn't understand how much he needed that power. How much the both needed it.

In his free hand, a vial swirled into his hand, from his apothecary. He swiftly uncorked the vial with his teeth, and dropped the bean into the vial.

He held out his hands, cupping the vial of greyish liquid, and began to wait.

The selection process was not ideal, seeing as he couldn't choose, but he just needed it keyed to a baby, with the capability of magic, and powerful magic at that. Or, at least the product of powerful magic. The gender didn't particularly matter. He just wanted someone he could control.

After a brief, bright flash of light, a bundle in a blanket landed in his hands, and for the first time in many years, Rumple had hope.

Inspecting the stitched-in letters on the quilt, the bright green eyes staring at him with innocence told him that the name, while fitting for the baby, held no significance to him, not yet, but even he had to admit that it was a beautiful name.

And she was a beautiful baby. She would no doubt grow into a beautiful woman, and no one would ever know of her new father, or her hidden purpose.

He could see great things in her future, even if it wasn't all that clear.

Rumplestiltskin cackled madly into the night, and the child giggled.

He paused. "Emma," he tested the name. "You will do great things, dearie," he whispered. "Great, terribly great things..."

He would need a fair number more. But first, he had a child to raise, to train, to mold.

Milah would have known what to do. Perhaps, even Cora. But he certainly believed he was brave enough to raise a child on his own.

"Soon, Bae. We will find you. Emma will find you."

A/N: Not the same magical tale you expected today of all days, did you? (Happy Birthday, Harry and Rowling.)

Thanks for reading.