Author: Sweetdoggie (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: What would have happened if the Key had been something else.
Dedication: To Michele who asked me to write this, and to my dear little dog who went to Heaven on Friday.
Disclaimer: No permission has been granted to use the characters. They are owned by their creator, Joss Whedon, Twentieth Century Fox, UPN, WB, and Mutant Enemy. This story is non-profit and is intended solely as entertainment. No copyright infringement is intended.
The monk lay bleeding against the fence, gasping out what were clearly his last few breaths.
“The Key...we gave it form...sent it to the Slayer...for protection. You must guard it with your life...”
“The Key? What is the Key? What do you mean?” Buffy demanded, wanting to shake the dying man to make him get to the point.
“The Key.. the Key...is...tmmmm.” He gave one last breath, then died.
Buffy, who had been leaning very close to hear his wavering speech, looked at him with a frown. “I really hope you didn't say what I though you just said.” She got up and trotted to the Magic Box.
Throwing the door open, she watched Giles wince as the bell once more barely survived her entrance. “Really, Buffy. You are going to destroy that bell one of these days.”
She rolled her eyes. “So not important now, Giles. I need to talk to you, privately.” She added the last to keep the Scoobies and Anya out of the way.
They made their way to the training room. “I was on a routine patrol when I ran across this group of monk-looking dudes in a factory. They were chanting and burning incense and stuff. Anyhow, there was this big metal door that they closed and barred behind them and while I was looking in the window, this blonde chick broke it down and started mopping the floor with monks. She killed two of them before I could get inside. She kept going on about 'where was her Key'. When the monks didn't say, she killed 'em. Anyhow, she was down to the last one when I got there. We got into a big fight and I kinda knocked the building down on her and grabbed the monk and ran. He was almost gone but he had enough strength to tell me that the monks had taken the Key and sent it to the Slayer for protection. I gather that they don't want Blondie getting her mitts on it.”
“The Key? What are they talking about?”
“Dunno. With his last breath, the guy said they'd changed the Key...given it another form. Then he said,” she leaned forward and whispered something in his ear.
“Are you sure that's what he said?”
“Slayer hearing, Giles. I know that's what he said. What does it mean?”
“Damned if I know.” He pulled off his glasses and gave them a thorough polish. “What do you think it means?”
“I don't know either, but I'm going to look around my house tonight, see if anything new has been added.”
“Good idea. Call me if you find anything.”
“Will do, Watcher mine.”
“In the mean time, I'm going to begin researching this Key business. I think we should keep this information to ourselves for the time being, as well. No need to involve the others at this point.”
“OK.” She nodded her agreement. The whole thing was just too weird to share at this point anyway. “I'm not going to tell Riley either.”
“Good. The last thing we need is to involve the military in this.”
Xander looked up as they left the training room. “What's up, guys? New big bad? Apocalypse Now?”
“Nah, false alarm,” Buffy reassured him. “I gotta book. Mom's fixing spaghetti for supper.”
Buffy ran home, managing to stake one vampire lurking behind a hedge on the way. She opened up the front door of her house and walked inside, fondly remembering the days when she was more likely to climb through her bedroom window.
“Hi, mom. I'm home.”
“Hi, honey. Supper's nearly ready. Why don't you pick out something to drink?”
“OK.” She walked into the kitchen and immediately saw the large box sitting on the cabinet. “What's that?”
Joyce looked around. “I don't know. It was delivered for you this afternoon. I thought it was something you'd ordered for your dorm room.”
“Hmmm. I guess I'd better check it out.” She examined the box. It was sealed with those annoying copper staples that, no matter how careful you were with them, always managed to gouge you before you got the box open. She grabbed a screwdriver and used it to pry out two of the staples.
Carefully lifting the flap of the box, she peered inside, only to be thwarted by a molded Styrofoam cage supporting something swathed in bubble-wrap. Turning the box upside-down, she slid the contents out onto the counter, pulling away the cage and removing the bubble-wrap. She looked at the unveiled result. It was a toaster. A pretty nice toaster, actually, but still, basically just a gadget for turning bread into slightly more crunchy bread.
Joyce looked over and saw the appliance sitting there. “Oh, a toaster. That's going to be handy when you stay up late studying. Nothing like a little snack to pep you right back up.”
“Uh, yeah. That's right. Looks good.” She carefully repacked the thing.
“Aren't you going to try it out?”
“Um, no. I kinda want to do that the first time in my own place. You know, new room and all.”
Joyce laughed. “Whatever. Come sit down now, supper's ready.”
Buffy tried to do justice to the dinner her mom had prepared, but her eyes kept going back to the mysterious toaster and the words of the dying monk. Finally, dinner was over and she helped her mom wash the dishes. “You know, I think I'll run over to Giles' place and show him my new toaster. I know he'll like it.”
“It's awfully late, honey.”
“Yeah, I know, but Giles stays up late. And...uh, he's been looking for a new toaster for a while and can't find the right one to suit him. This might help him make up his mind.”
Joyce looked slightly puzzled but had long ago given up on understanding much of anything Buffy did. “Alright, but be careful. Will you be gone long?”
“I don't know. I might patrol some after seeing Giles.”
“Well, don't keep that poor man up all night.”
“No, I won't. Love you, mom.” She dropped a kiss on her mom's forehead before heading out the door, toaster under her arm.
Ten minutes later she was knocking on her Watcher's door. He opened it in surprise. “Buffy! I wasn't expecting you this evening. Did you find out something else?” he asked, eyeing the appliance box under her arm.
“Sort of. When I got home, mom said this had been delivered for me earlier in the day. It's a toaster.” He unwrapped it much as she had done earlier.
“It doesn't look mystical,” he said with some skepticism in his voice. “Still, as we know, looks can be very deceptive.”
“How can we find out if it's really the Key? And Key to what, while we're at it?”
“I've been doing some research since you came to me this afternoon. In some of the very oldest texts I have access to, there are references to a mystical Key. Theoretically, it has the power to unlock dimensional portals.”
“And if this thing got used, it would open the Hellmouth?”
“At the very least. More than likely, it would open portals to all the dimensions at once.” He shuddered at the thought.
Buffy rubbed her bottom lip with the tip of her finger. “That can't be good.”
“No. It can't. As it is, I've found a spell that reveals the true nature of the object upon which the spell is cast. If we were to cast it on the toaster, we would see whether or not it is a gateway to unimaginable destinations, or a simple appliance.”
“What do we need to do?”
He handed her a piece of chalk. “Draw a circle on the floor about 3 feet in diameter. Leave a small opening at the edge. I'll get the candles.”
They set up the ritual. It took about forty minutes because Giles insisted on double checking every step at least twice. Finally, they were ready. He read a fairly long incantation in a language she didn't recognize, threw some herbs into the small bowl with a bit of burning charcoal for company and indicated that Buffy should turn out the overhead lights.
As soon as she did so, they could both see the glowing nimbus of seething green energy surrounding the toaster. She glanced over at her Watcher who was slumped tiredly against the foot of the couch. “This doesn't look good, Giles. I don't think normal toasters glow like that.”
He pinched the bridge of his nose. “No, Buffy, I don't believe they do.”
“So, I'm thinking, Key?”
“Key,” he confirmed.
They sat and studied the appliance for a while. Finally Buffy spoke. “How does it open the portal thingy?”
“I have no idea.”
She got up and looked in the box. “There are instructions!”
“What do they say?” He stood up and walked over to her and the box.
“To make toast, insert bread in toaster, press lever. Set temperature control to desired doneness. To operate Key, insert bread in all slots, set temperature control to maximum, and depress lever. Portal will open when toast is done. Extended warranty available.”
She looked up at him. “You know, suddenly toast doesn't seem that appealing anymore.”
“I quite see your point.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Well, whatever we decide, the toaster must not fall into the hands of anyone who might actually use it.”
“Better hide it from Xander then.”
“Yes. You know, it strikes me as odd that the monks would transform the Key into something so mundane and then expect you to guard it with your life.”
“Yeah, it really doesn't seem fair to have to put my life on the line for a kitchen appliance, even if it does make four slices of toast at the same time.”
He studied the appliance carefully. “Well, it also toasts bagels.”
“I wonder what happens if you do that?”
“Who knows? It probably turns all horses into unicorns or something equally ludicrous. One doesn't toy with mystical forces lightly, you know.”
She rolled her eyes at his words. It wasn't like him to be this playful, especially in the face of a possible apocalypse.
He caught her glance and looked rueful. “I'm sorry, Buffy. I just have a hard time worrying about the fate of a toaster.”
“I know. What are we going to do with it? Can we just...I dunno, throw it away?”
“That wouldn't be the best option. We need to make sure that it remains non-functional and stays out of the hands of those who would misuse it.”
“Let's box it up again and stick it in your closet. Put some junk over it. Nobody's going to go looking in there for a mystical whatsit.”
“Why do I have to keep it? It was sent to you.”
“You're the Watcher, you watch it. If they wanted me to slay it, I could do that, but I'm not really down with the Watching.”
“Oh, all right. I suppose this way your mum isn't likely to want to try it out.”
Buffy nodded. They both walked to the couch and sat, studying the Key some more.
Several Months Later...
Glory had been searching for the Key for months and time was running out. She almost had it in her grasp when that pesky Slayer had kidnapped her monk. The Slayer knew where her Key was and she meant to get it back. If people had to die, well, that just sweetened the pot.
She'd tried all sorts of tricks to find the Key and the Slayer had thwarted every one of them. She'd thought it might be one of the Slayer's friends—her minions had kidnapped the being they thought had to be the Key and it turned out to be a lousy vampire. She'd had some fun torturing him, but he'd managed to escape.
She'd ensorceled a serpent to track the Key to it's source, and the Slayer had managed to kill it. This was getting ridiculous. She'd even tried bargaining with the stupid cow, but the Slayer wouldn't give up the Key. Glory had one last trick up her sleeve. She had kidnapped the Watcher. He was going to be her bargaining chip to get her property back.
That part had been easy. She'd simply waited until he left his magic shop unattended, and grabbed him right off the street. It took all of her willpower to not simply suck his brains out, but she managed to resist. The Slayer wouldn't make a trade for a damaged Watcher. Glory had sent her minion, Dreg, to find her blonde nemesis and give her the news. The Slayer had offered to trade the man for the Key at midnight, at a location in the warehouse district.
It was an ideal spot because Glorificus intended to open her portal right there and had her minions and slaves building her a tower even as they waited for the trade to take place.
The Slayer showed up exactly at midnight, a box tucked under her arm. For some reason, she had what looked like a loaf of bread in the other.
“So, you have my Watcher?”
Glory pulled the man to his feet. He was beat up a little but mostly unharmed.
“Buffy! You can't do this! The existence of the world is more important than the life of one man.”
“Not to me,” Buffy told him. She handed the box and the loaf of bread to Dreg. “There's directions in the box.”
Glory pushed Giles towards Buffy who caught him before he could fall.
“How could you do this, Buffy?”
“I love you, Giles. Nothing else matters but that.” She hugged him. “Now, let's watch the end of the world together.”
Glory climbed the rickety stairway to the top of her tower and pulled the toaster from the box. “This had better work or I'm going to be really pissed,” she warned her minions.
She read the directions carefully and set the toaster as instructed. There was some delay while the minions scouted out a dozen or so extension cords, but finally the toaster was plugged in, the bread was inserted, and the temperature control was set. Glory stepped back to wait for the opening of the portal. She waited, and waited, and finally bent over the toaster exclaiming in disgust that the bread was stuck.
“Give me that knife, Dreg.”
“Of course, Most Beautiful and Magnificent of all Beings.” He handed her a small dagger.
She stuck the knife into the appliance and began jiggering it around, trying to loosen the stuck bread. Suddenly, there was a crack and a fizzing noise and her body lit up like a Roman candle as the toaster short-circuited and hundreds of thousands of volts of electricity poured into her svelte frame. In seconds, her body was nothing more than a charred husk. One of the minions finally thought to cut the power by unplugging the toaster, but it was too late for the Hellgod. Her burned body fell away from the appliance and off the tower, shattering into a thousand crispy pieces on the ground below.
Buffy looked on with a smile of satisfaction. “Toasted!”
“I don't understand how you knew that the toast would stick,” Giles said as she cleaned and bandaged his wounds.
“Oh, I had Xander wire the spring dohicky so that it wouldn't pop up.”
“But how did you know she'd stick a knife down in there?”
“Giles, everybody sticks a knife in the toaster to loosen the bread. Do you know how many people get fried every year by doing something stupid like that? Lots.”
“But you couldn't know that she'd actually hit a live wire.”
“Xander again. He stripped a couple of wires and moved them around so that you couldn't miss them if you stuck something down inside the machine.”
“Still, I wouldn't have thought that a simple toaster would have the necessary amperage to do the damage to Glory that occurred.”
“Oh, it didn't. Most of that came from the Key. Apparently, it really doesn't like being tampered with.”
“So, another apocalypse averted.”
“Yep. Say, are you hungry? I could do with some toast.”
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