AN: OUAT in Australia is still halfway through season one. Spoilers up to 1x17; and a few youtube clips. Forgive me for any glaring omissions due to episodes I haven't seen yet.


NATURE OF MY GAME

Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
I've been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man's soul and faith

When I was a prisoner of Charming and Snow, I passed the time by humming all the songs I knew. Other things too of course, but it drove my fellow prisoners nuts, and just like that I had the place all to myself.

This world had such a wild array of music, and I have my favorites, just like anyone else.

Regina showing up took me by surprise. Stupid linear universe with no magical views of the future.

Emma and her son leave the two of us together. The metaphor alone is too good. The Secret Army of Good just left the Two Person Legion of Evil to their own devices for a moment.

"You really wanted that chat, didn't you?" I commented. First rule in working with Regina, play it cool, always.

"This seemed to be the only way I was going to get it." She commented.

I invite her to sit, and she takes the edge of the couch beside the cell. Without the bars we could be having high tea in the Castle again. The second I saw her, I saw the angles. She knew about Belle. The only person in the town that knows why I would want to beat a florist to death. Thirty years, and Belle is still a weakness she can exploit.

I hate that.

What I don't understand is why. Why would Regina do this? Talking with the Queen is always a dance, done carefully in a minefield; so I take the first step. "Now, when two people both want something the other has, a deal can always be struck." I tell her. "Do you have what I want?"

Regina nods. "Yes."

First landmine. "So, you did put him up to it, then."

She smirked. "I merely suggested, that strong men take what they need."

And she knows all about turning strong men to do her bidding. "And you told him just exactly what to take, didn't you?"

"We used to know each other so well, Mr. Gold. Has it really come down to this?" She demands.

Second landmine. "Apparently it has. So. You know what I want... What is it you want?"

Regina leans in, ever so slightly. "I want you, to answer one question. And answer it simply: What's your name?"

Boom. There it is. "It's Mister Gold." I say easily. Did I have a first name?

"Your... real name." She presses.

My face barely shifts, but inwardly I screech. What gave me away? She used French as a test, and I went at it... Why was she testing me? Where did I slip up? "Every moment I've spent on this earth, that has been my name." I say honestly.

She refuses to let me off the hook. "But what about moments spent elsewhere?"

What tipped me off? Does she know about Emma? "What are you asking me?" I say carefully. She already knows, it's obvious, just do it...

Regina is merciless. "I think you know. If you want me to return what's yours... tell me your name."

And finally, after thirty years, I speak the name, carved across the hearts of good and evil alike; the name I painted across the Blade of the Dark One in his own blood. A name that no other soul has dared carry since time was time. It was like slipping into a comfortable chair; after carrying a heavy burden for an eternity, and despite myself I can feel my face settling into a manic predators grin; as I speak the name, soft as death. "Rumpelstiltskin."

And amazingly, her face falls slightly, her eyes going dark and worried. It's subtle and it's obvious. Even as she pushed it, she didn't believe it; and with a word from me, she does. And just like that; I am back. Just like that, we never said goodbye; and I hurl myself snarling at the bars. "Now give me what I want."

Regina never takes her eyes of me as she reaches into her purse and draws out Belle's cup. My cup. Her chip. Not her chip. That damnable cup. Should have smashed it thirty years ago.

"Such hostility... Over this?" She needles. "Such a sentimental little keepsake."

"Oh yeah." I growl, letting the venom roll off my tongue. Thirty years I've been working in the shadows; but my hands remember the value of a cold grip. The direct approach is getting more and more tempting. She doesn't hand it to me, letting it dangle off her fingertips until I have to reach out and take it from her. "Thank you… Your Majesty."

There is a pause as we take stock of each other through fresh eyes.

"So. Now that we're being honest with each other, let's remember how things used to be, shall we?" I suggest pleasantly. "And don't let these bars fool you, dearie. I'm the one with the power around here. I'm going to be out of here in no time, and nothing between us will change."

She sits back down, liking the advantage. "I would offer you some tea, but I only brought the one cup." She needles, not impressed. "Playing dumb all this time? That was a pretty good trick."

"There's a saying here: The best trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he didn't exist." I finger the edge of the cup, like I have for years. "You and I, Regina... We went one better, convincing everyone in the world that they didn't exist."

"I remember the first week here." She says. "None of them recognized us. It was... so empowering. Funny the things that give you power." She eyes the cup being cherished in my hand. "Or take it away."

"You think this was a mistake?" I hold up the cup in my hand. "Look at me, willing to give up my best advantage, for nothing but a chipped cup."

"Frankly... yes."

"There are all sorts of ways to gain power over things. A word can move two worlds on their axis... Imagine what a kiss could do. But while there are a limitless number of ways to exert control, this is something... irreplaceable. It was a childish way to score a point. You never understood the long game."

"The hell I don't."

"The long game requires patience; and you are not patient. It requires flexibility, and you are not flexible. It required a gentle touch... need I say more, Queenie?" I grin at her. I still expect my teeth to be pointier sometimes. "Mine is a long game. When time is suspended and you can foretell the future, you quickly learn the power of patience."

"Except you can't tell the future here... and Time is not suspended any more." She pointed out. "The clock is moving again. Must admit, that had me worried for a while... but now that I know you remember, I suppose I can stop wasting brain cells on that question mark."

I just smile grandly; letting her think what she likes. "I see what you're doing with Abigail." I tell her, another chess move. "You're setting her against Miss Blanchard; using the suspicion to drive her and David apart."

"No." Regina snorted. "Abigail is nothing; she'll be dead soon."

I tilt my head, though I already know the answer. "What did she ever do to you, to deserve that?"

"And what did Mr French ever do to you, to deserve the beating you gave him?" She shot back.

"Ahh... so it's revenge then; for failing to keep her husband home at night." I taunted. "Taking a risk, setting up the Sheriff's Roommate."

"Miss Swan's attentions can be sent in any number of directions; which brings me to my next question: Why is she here?"

Third landmine. "To get her son back."

"Yes, which is why of all the Lost Boys out there, including the Pan himself; you had to go and pick her son. Why?"

"Every cop is a criminal, and all the sinner's saints." I quoted to her with amusement. "Any move you make against Snow; Miss Swan pushes back against you. And she knows she can't beat you... without me."

Regina considers that. "These are all things I know, but why her?"

Fourth landmine, and this is getting a little close. "Sit comfortably, my dear Wicked Witch, class is now in session: How does one defeat a person of power and evil?

Regina spoke automatically, like reciting the alphabet. It is an alphabet; of a very particular language, that only she and I are fluent in. "First Step: Establish Alibi." She recited. "Nobody can know that you did it. Step Two: Have someone else make the strike, preferably someone you don't like; and let them take the blame. Step Three: Aim for the weak spot."

"And if your target doesn't have one, make one." I put in. "You did that once, catching me sideways. I had no weaknesses, and you used Belle to make one. A word in her ear, as leverage. I should be impressed, except I hate you."

"Belle ruined you, Rumpelstiltskin." She shot back. "You lost your edge. It was almost a mercy kill when Snow and Charming locked you up for good."

I said nothing, but inwardly I laughed. Hehehehe. You thought I was weak, didn't you? You thought I was a fool to be caged up in the basement of the Castle; but it was the only way to get my ultimate Lever. The girl. Snow's Daughter. I knew she'd break you, and your whole universe. Like mother, like daughter I guess. But you don't have a clue where she is, do you? Even as the town clock starts to tick, and Huntsman spurns you; little by little your control spins out; and it never occurs to you that you've already lost.

"Love is such tricky magic." I point out. "It can destroy anything that the Dark Ones can churn out, but it weakens you in return... makes you bend when otherwise you'd stand firm; makes you want something that you can only get if someone else is willing to give... makes you content when you might otherwise want more."

She twitches, and I know I've scored a point. If she'd had love, she'd have never wanted the whole Universe.

"Spoken like a man with a broken heart." She sneered. "Love is a weakness you can't trust, and can't harden."

"Spoken like a woman who's burned everything that ever loved her to ashes." I sneered back. "You know, after we first got here... I looked myself up."

"Really." She's amused, but not surprised. "How very like you."

"The story of me here, is that once upon a time, a man wanted to make himself more important, so he told the king that his daughter could spin straw into gold. The king responds by snatching the daughter and locking her up with a room full of straw. The girl was told to turn it all into gold by morning, or face the noose. She weeps alone, until a certain, amazingly handsome young imp appears."

"That would be you." She drawls.

"That would be me." I agree, still telling the story. "And this Imp promises to spin the straw into gold... for a price that She agrees to. The King is greedy and keeps her locked up for three nights with more and more straw. At the third night, the Imp agrees to turn it into gold in exchange for her firstborn child. She still agrees, and the King is impressed enough to make her part of his family; and the Prince becomes her husband. Years later, the girl is pregnant, and along comes the Dealer, to collect. She begs off, and the Imp gives her a chance: if she can guess his name in three days, the deal's off."

Regina snorted. "I've never known you to break a deal."

I freeze. "Just once." I say honestly. Deception isn't about lying to people; it's about telling the truth in the worst way.

She studies me a moment. "It's been a while since we've sparred. I've forgotten the rules."

"This is not the first time you've come to visit me during my imprisonment, dearie." I grin. "Delicious irony, don't you think? Here I am, in a cell again. I would have done anything to get that cup back... And all you asked me for... hehehe... was... my... name."

I can see her face shift when she hears me cackle. The sound of my laughter has sent Dragons running for their lives. It makes her rise to her feet. "I have missed having someone I can... relate to." She comments. "But if you try and rock the boat in Storybrooke, the way you always did before... Believe me, Emma Swan and I are BFF's compared to you."

And that is your mistake. "People like us don't live happily ever after Regina."

"I did." She glowered at me. "I won."

"Really." I snorted. "This... is a lie. You haven't found happiness, you've just managed to convince everyone that your fantasy is real. Except for Henry of course..." My grin turns slightly predatory. "And his mother."

Regina's smile freezes. She knows. She knows that I know more than I'm letting on; which is no great revelation. She knows that I have more of a hand in what's going on that what's obvious; which is no great discovery. She had all that the moment I confessed to remembering.

"Did you have your memory when I asked you to provide me with a child?" She asks carefully.

"Can't figure it out, can you?" I taunted her. "Nobody enters Storybrooke, nobody leaves. So how did Henry get out, and his mother get in?"

"Tell me." She said, curious.

She thought I was just having fun with her, like back in the old days. "Ahh, that would be telling."

"Never stopped you before." She pointed out.

"Ah, of course." I grin hungrily. "But that was a long time ago Your Majesty... and we were playing a different game then."

And just for a second, just for a moment, her mask cracks, and the tiniest edge of fear is visible on that flawless face. She's had her back turned on my for thirty years and suddenly has to wonder what I was doing all that time; if I knew who I was.

"No magic." She said softly, uncertainly. "I've tried. Magic is too unpredictable here, when it works at all."

I agree easily. "And without your black magic, what else have you got?"

I'm the one in the cell, but she's the one that shivers.

"Vi veri veniversum vivus vici." I quote to her. "By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe."

"What's that from?" She blinks.

"A story from this world called 'Faust'." I smile, a real smile this time. "About a man who makes deals."

I see the thoughts play out behind her eyes. Her universe is a town built on a lie powerful enough to fool them all; and I know the truth...

"Pleased to meet you." I sing-song to myself. "Hope you guessed my name."

Long silence.

"Why?" She says finally. "Why would you want to smash the house of cards? You helped me build it!"

Telling her of my son would be a mistake; and with anyone else I wouldn't have an answer. But Regina kindly supplied a long list of reasons to hate her. "You thought it was ancient history, didn't you?" I growl. "You never understood the long game, dearie. I've been playing this out since you first whispered your forked tongue against my Belle's ears."

She jumps up. "Belle? You're blaming me for Belle? You had her for months and months, I had her for seven seconds. All you had to do was..."

"I know." I cut her off. "I blame myself. But I blame you too. Like you and Snow. Scary, isn't it?"

She licks her lips. "When two people each have something the other wants, a deal can always be struck." She quotes me to me. "What do you want; to sit this game out?"

"Oh, Regina... I don't want to sit the game out. I want to win it." I flash my face right up against the bars, teeth bared, right in her face, so that she moves back automatically. "And if you think I'll settle for anything else, if you think that you and I could ever be on the same side, and if you think there's anything you could offer me that matters more... Then you've clearly forgotten my name."

She leans back, cold and deadly, in my face; refusing to show fear. "And if you think I'm going to let you pretend it's like the old days again, if you think I will hesitate to put you out of my misery; and if you think I can't snuff you out like a match... Then you've forgotten mine."

I rise and stroll around my cell a moment, before turning back to the bars. "What do I want?" I breathe the question out through my teeth. "I want to be there, just as the darkness starts to close in on this wretched little snow-globe of a town. I want to be there so I can see your eyes, right when it hits you..."

Her hand flashes between the bars, reaching for my throat, but I am half an inch out of reach, and she clasps through the air, futilely trying to get close enough to hook my eyes out.

I keep talking, my voice going higher and colder, as it did back in the good old days when I was making deals. "And when this curse is broken, and everyone has a happy ending in spite of you, and I have my son back... then I'll forgive myself. And when you are howling for what you've lost, and crumbling to rotten ashes before my eyes; and you are dead, dead, dead..."

She pales as the masks drop away.

"...then I'll forgive you." I spit the words at her.

A swift nod goes between us, the most honest thing we've exchanged this whole day; and she is gone, leaving me with the cup. I prefer the company of a chipped cup to the Once and Future Queen.

I let myself be caught, all so that I could tell Snow and Charming how to beat the Curse; and find out the Savior's name. That was my price; the end of her curse, the fall of her kingdom; and all I needed was all I asked for. The name; Emma.

You thought it was a victory, having me locked up; but you've already lost. Did you never wonder where Henry came from? I got you a child, just as you asked for; and you never asked who its parents were. And if I'd told you, you still wouldn't have known. How else was I supposed to get my weapon here? I needed you to cast the damn curse, and I needed Emma to break it.

Thirty years I've been waiting for the plan to come to fruition. Thirty years, since Snow and Charming's Brat was born. More than that, since Belle.

I got Emma's name; when even her own parents don't have a clue who she is, Your Majesty. I think coldly to myself. I got her loyalty, because you drove her over to my side... The only one who can break you; and she already owes me a favor.

The Queen was right; I wanted her here. Emma Swan will break the curse, the town will destroy Regina completely, and when they do, and she is dead; I will bring Magic to this world. I will have the Power Back, I will have the run of this world without her, I will have my revenge... and I will have The Sight I need to find my son.

But I never could have made it to this world without her. Damn coward.

Belle, I wish you could see her face too; right when it happens.

The heartbreaking irony of things coming the long way around at last is so flawlessly perfect that I start humming again.

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name
But what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game


AN: Song Lyrics are from Sympathy For The Devil by Rolling Stones. Read and Review!