King Endymion had expected it to go the way he'd remembered from his past. In fact, he'd been fearing it in the depths of his soul ever since the day his beloved wife took the throne and the whole glittering, crystalline city went from nebulous future to very, very real.
He expected - with no small amount of dread - Neo Queen Serenity to be attacked and encased in crystal, Small Lady sent to the past, but thankfully, everything working out in the end.
This time, it was horrifyingly different.
Endymion thought he couldn't imagine anything worse than staring at his wife - prone and cold beneath unyielding stone. He was wrong.
This time, the chess rules were changed; the queen wasn't sacrificed - she was taken.
And when she returned, Endymion's entire world crumbled.
The senshi were still in stasis, their power maintaining the protective barrier around the innermost palace. Just like before, Sailor Pluto let Small Lady travel to the past, allowing the little girl to think she'd 'stolen' the key so she wouldn't realize she was being evacuated, and then stood guard beside the Time Gate waiting for the princess's return.
This time, Sailor Pluto had the knowledge and experience of Setsuna Meioh, and memories of fighting alongside the others in the 20th century. Or perhaps she'd always had that. Endymion was never sure how that worked with her.
It was one of the gray days when Endymion was silently keeping vigil over an empty palace that Demande appeared in the courtyard, a mocking smile on his face.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are," the white prince sing-songed, purple eyes sparkling with evil glee. "I think we have something - or someone - you might be interested in hearing about."
It was clearly a trap but Endymion went out there anyway. He'd never been able to keep logical or cool-headed when it came to Serenity - in any of her forms.
Demande took this time to float in the air and taunt Endymion, but the king didn't listen to his mocking, instead watching his movements for any hint of vulnerability, ready to throw his staff like a javelin if need be, anything to get the upper hand.
"Did you come here to blither on and waste my time, or do you actually have something worthwhile to say?" Endymion shouted up at him, interrupting Demande mid-evil monologuing and earning himself a glare.
"I wouldn't be so rude, considering," Demande said, tossing a glinting object at Endymion's feet.
Bent and singed, it rolled to Endymion's feet and he picked it up gingerly, shaking with the effort it took not to fall to his knees in despair.
Surreptitiously, he wriggled his hand out of the cloth gloves he wore - the protection against powerful psychometry overwhelming him, rather than merely a fashion choice - and let his skin touch the cold metal.
And he was flooded with pain.
Not physical- she wasn't being tortured and for that Endymion was grateful - but the worst sort of loneliness and isolation and betrayal. Abandonment: his Usako's deepest, darkest fear. She was never loved, she was least important, she never mattered to the people she treasured…
"No!" Endymion shouted, dropping the crown and seething up at Demande. "She won't turn!" he cried out. "Not for the likes of you!"
The blast hit Endymion out of nowhere, searing pain into his side and he collapsed, clutching the wounded flesh beneath the burnt away layers of clothing along his ribcage. Demande's laughter echoed in his ears.
"My King!" A familiar voice cut through the cloudiness in his mind, and he was aware of a 'Dead Scream' sending Demande away in a blast of smoke. The dark energy from Demande's blast burned its way through Endymion's veins, it was all he could do to fight it down.
"Come," Sailor Pluto said, curling her arm around his waist to help him up, being ever-so-careful to avoid his wound. "We can get you fixed up inside."
Gratefully he clung to her, limping his way back to the safety of the crystal fortress. Then, through the haze of pain and panic, he felt his aura shift, aligning to a presence he could never ignore.
"Serenity-" He twisted his body and struggled back toward the courtyard, but Sailor Pluto shook her head, refusing to let him go.
"No," she said, softly. "You aren't strong enough now."
"But she's here-" The fog of the fresh dark energy in his body made it hard to move, to talk. He wondered if Serenity was really standing there, near the blast scar on the ground, or if it was a kind of torturous mirage.
Pluto pulled him away with both arms as he twisted back to look at Serenity.
She was watching them with luminous blue eyes, just before the gates slammed shut behind them. She had been holding her crown in both hands.
When he saw his wife again, the crown was back on her head, and she stood tall as the steely-eyed Queen of the Black Moon.
Endymion watched her on the security monitors, every cell in his body begging him to run toward her, to be near her… but he knew Pluto was correct when she told him to not -under any circumstances- attempt to make contact with Serenity.
"It will end extremely poorly for you," she'd said, nodding toward his wound, which - although bandaged - still throbbed with a dull pain. Endymion wasn't used to being injured in ways he couldn't heal, and he had to concede that he was in no shape to face down the most powerful person in the universe.
"Protect the Crystal," Pluto reminded him. "It's what she would have wanted." It galled Endymion to know it was the truth.
Before her capture, Neo Queen Serenity had told him to entrust the Silver Crystal to Small Lady, but the princess still did not consider herself worthy to be able to wield it and, consumed with guilt over her mother's kidnapping, had secretly left the crystal behind when she 'stole' the time key and ran away to 20th-century Tokyo.
Now it was in the Palace, its only protectors a timeless senshi and a wounded king. Endymion sighed and watched the screens, his hands moving along the crystal controls with practiced efficiency.
Serenity knew where the security cameras were, and she aimed a smile directly at them as she walked through the decimated outer gardens. The swing of her hips and flow of her hair as she moved entranced Endymion as always, even through the screen.
"Did you come alone?" he murmured, not seeing or sensing any other presence with her. Was Demande somewhere nearby, hiding? As consumed as Demande was with lust for the white queen, he ought to be constantly near her. Did he touch you? Endymion thought, stomach churning. Did you let him?
It wasn't important now, he knew that logically, but the feelings clawed up in his throat anyway.
"Where's the white prince?" It was Pluto's voice that made Endymion start, and it took him a moment to realize the voice was coming through the monitors. Sailor Pluto was there, standing before Serenity with the Garnet Rod at ready.
"White prince?" The queen tilted her head to the side, looking at Pluto thoughtfully. Her voice was the same - soft and sweet and gentle and perfect and Endymion swallowed down the desire to run out to her. He touched the image on the screen instead.
"Oh!" she laughed, and it wasn't Usako's laugh but it was just close enough to be a perversion of it. Besmirched perfection. Endymion's throat burned. "You mean Demande?" She flicked her hair over her shoulder. "Wiseman got rid of him a while ago. By the time I had fully awakened to the truth, he was dead." She shrugged.
Usako wept for her enemies, this version just shrugged with such callousness that Endymion's relief at Demande's death was tempered by his horror at her reaction.
"Why are you here?" Pluto asked. "Why have you come?"
"I've come for what's mine," she answered, blinking as if it should be obvious. Then she smirked at Pluto's expression. "No, not that. Not what you covet." She rolled her eyes. "The Silver Crystal."
So, she'd come for the crystal.
Wiseman wanted its power and the one would could wield it, and so far he only had the latter.
Wiseman could've sent another to attack the already torn-apart Crystal Palace and it's wounded king, but he sent her, Endymion realized, because it was the most cruel.
"Queen, you know we will not allow you to take the crystal," Pluto was saying.
Blue eyes narrowed beneath the black crescent moon on Serenity's forehead. "But it's mine, is it not, Sailor Pluto?" Pink lips twisted in a mockery of a smile. "Do you make it a habit of stealing things that aren't yours?"
Serenity's fists clenched and the palace crackled with her latent energy.
Endymion knew his wife was powerful, far too powerful to win against, even without the crystal. And her power was linked to the very essence of Crystal Tokyo itself.
Sailor Pluto knew she could never win against the queen. And Endymion wouldn't let her try.
As the dark queen prepared to attack, Pluto held onto her staff with both hands, shifting it in a defensive position.
"Wait!" The call made them both freeze, and Pluto turned around to see Endymion - leaning heavily on the staff he held as he walked.
"My King! No!" Sailor Pluto cried. But to her surprise, the king handed something to her, something cold and heavy and deeply important. He closed her gloved hand around the ginzuishou.
"Run," he managed to say. "To the Time Gate. Protect the crystal."
She opened her mouth to protest, horror in her eyes, but he shook his head quickly. "Think of Small Lady," he said. She grabbed his arm, looking at him in utter devastation. "Go!" He said, giving her a little push, and she gave him one last, tortured look, before turning and running back through the palace barrier.
Endymion straightened up slowly, hiding the pain that shot through his body at the movement.
"Take your time," Serenity said sardonically, crossing her arms and raising a brow.
"Appreciate it," he managed. When he couldn't heal himself when the wound was so deeply infected with dark energy, and Pluto had begged him to go into stasis himself. But he'd be no help to anyone as a hologram.
"I'm fine now." He forced himself to walk without a limp, to stand at the palace gates with his chin raised and shoulders square.
She stood there, in her form-fitting white dress, with gossamer wings, so very much like when she went by Neo Queen Serenity, except for the inverted black crescent on her forehead, and her eyes. Those beautiful, terrifying eyes.
She tilted her head, eyes looking him up and down. "Looking a bit worse for the wear, are we?"
"I could say the same for you," he said, tapping a finger to his forehead. "I preferred the golden one, to be honest."
She smirked. "I'm sure you did." Then her voice grew angry. "Did you honestly think I'd just let Pluto run away with my crystal?"
"No," he said. "The obvious next step would be to kill me and chase after her."
She blinked, surprised, then impressed. A satisfied, mocking smile graced her lips. "I can't figure out if you are overconfident or stupid, to you think you have an iota of a chance against me."
"I don't think that."
"Then you what? Plan to sacrifice yourself?" She barked a short, derisive laugh. "I'll get to Sailor Pluto before your body is cold, before that lovesick look she gives you even fades from her eyes."
He stood silently, hand still clenched around the staff, wound still pulsing in pain to the rhythm of the dark energy beating in Serenity's heart. But it was no matter, he wasn't going to need physical strength to carry out his plan. It was strength of heart he had to rely on, and that was one of the many things he'd learned from Serenity through the years.
When he stood to his full height, she was eye level with him, and her eyes were furious.
"I won't hesitate!" she said, clawing her fingers and pulling her arms back, blackness pooling in her palms. Her face distorted into a mask of rage, and she lowered her arms in frustration. "Well?!"
Endymion continued to stand there, unflinching.
"Aren't you even going to try to fight?" she raged.
"I'm not afraid of you," he said.
"You doubt my power?!" She was incredulous, infuriated, the very ground trembled beneath her as she flexed her hands.
"No," he said. "I know I am no match for you. I know these may be my last moments."
"Then why do you look so calm?!"
She hissed like a snake when his hand caught her waist, pulling her closer, but she didn't recoil. She just looked at him, stormy eyes and crackling energy and the black, black, black of the moon on her forehead.
"Because my last moments will be with you." He dropped the staff, raising a hand to her face and bringing her lips to his.
And he allowed himself to unleash his power fully and pour into her mind, emotions, and her very heart.
I will find you, he promised. And I will save you.