"Okaaay." said Buffy slowly, staring at the place where Caelus had been standing moments earlier, before suddenly he... wasn't. "What just happened?"
"The Ancients. They must've stopped him." surmised Daniel.
Teal'c, who had slowing been weakening the bonds tying him to the wall, gave one almighty heave and broke loose, stumbling forward from the effort. He lost no time in trying to break people free from the machine - they seemed to be in shock, and were in no position to help him - but the material it was made of was too tough for him.
Buffy, being the Slayer, was annoyed that she hadn't done that first. With her mystically augmented strength, it was a simple matter to break her bonds - she'd have one so earlier if she hadn't thought Caelus would just stuff her right back in - and, although the machine was considerably tougher, she was eventually able to break her friends and colleagues out.
Daniel, though, was another matter. The bonds were too close to his flesh for her to get a purchase on, and smashing them would smash his limbs as well, which might not be the best idea. For once, it was easier to break out than to break in.
Normally, she'd ask Willow to try a spell (always a risky endeavour, but in these circumstances, probably the better option.) but she was just staring blankly at the wall. All four of those who'd been in the machine were, even Spike, who seemed to have blood dribbling from his mouth.
Buffy sat next to her best friend and took her hand. Willow didn't resist, she didn't even seem to notice. Buffy whispered to her, softly "Will, can you hear me? You have to come back now. We need you. Will?" but there was no response. Evidently, the pain was so great they'd retreated deep within themselves to get away from it.
Daniel saw what she was trying to do, and tried to help - not that he thought he'd be able to get through to her when her best friend couldn't, but it had to worth a try, didn't it? "Willow, we need to get out of here. Wake up, Willow, come back."
Willow blinked, the first movement she had made, and Daniel beamed as he saw life begin to flow back into the hitherto dull eyes. She spoke, her voice harsh from screaming "What happened?"
Then the memory, which she'd unconsciously repressed, came back in full force. Willow curled up into a foetal position, rocking gently back and forth as tears streamed down her cheeks. She couldn't stop them from flowing, and she didn't try. She just muttered to herself "Oh god oh god oh god" as tough by saying that she could get the memory of the incredible pain out of her.
"Yes, I'm sorry about that." said a new voice - not a member of the Scoobies or of SG-1, nor even the constantly changing tones of Caelus. Everyone who wasn't in shock or curled into a ball turned to see the newcomer - a tall man, with black hair, streaked with white (or possibly white hair streaked with black) and dark blue eyes. He was dressed in a flowing white robe.
"Who're you?" Buffy asked cautiously.
"This was my appearance, before I spent so long in prison that I forgot what I looked like. I am Caelus." said the man - Caelus. "I came to apologize, it was a mistake -"
But Caelus was cut off when Willow launched herself at him, hitting and scratching at every bit of him that she could reach. Buffy, on instinct, moved to stop her, but decided that Caelus deserved everything Willow was doing to him.
Caelus just stood there and took it all, not saying a word or attempting to fend Willow off. Eventually, even her fury wore off, and she stepped away from the battered man. Buffy moved to comfort her, but Willow shrugged her off.
"As I was saying, I'm sorry. I made a mistake, I never should've forced you into this. It wasn't the Alterrans that did this." Caelus said softly.
"Do think that makes it alright? Just saying sorry makes it acceptable to have tortured four people." screamed Daniel, surprised at the sudden rage that he was feeling. He'd been tortured before, but never had he had a reaction like that.
"No, it doesn't. Nothing ever could."
White light began to emanate from Caelus, sweeping over everyone. Buffy found her burnt hands were healed, Spike's tongue became as good as new. Daniel's bonds broke, and those who had been in the machine found their memories of it being pushed backwards, until it felt as though it had happened years ago.
The light spread further, and the Jaffa who had strayed over the years into Caelus' prison and instantly died there, only to be run by another's mind, awoke as though from a sleep, and found themselves back on their home planet - not in the present day, but as though they had never left.
And still further, invisible to all save those it affected, as it washed over the SGC and the numerous Airmen, woke, none the worse for wear for having slept on the floor for hours.
And then the light vanished, Caelus with it. For, millennia after the rest of his race, he had finally Ascended.
The group trooped back to Giles' in silence, each contemplating the events of the past few days.
But people can only spend so long dwelling on the past. Spike sped up to catch Sam, and said to her "So, do you visit other planets a lot, then?"
"A fair bit, yes." Sam answered, unsure where he was going with this.
"Well, so, umm, when you're on this planet, would you, umm - oh hell, I haven't had to do this for about a century, and I wasn't much good at it then - so, anyway, would you like to have drinks or something or whatever you humans do?" Spike wittered. Seeing Drusilla - even though he knew that it hadn't been her - had really hit it home how they'd never really worked out.
"Sure." replied Sam, fighting the urge to smile. It was refreshing meeting someone who didn't immediately claim to love her - or love the Snake that had briefly possessed her - and besides, Spike at least lived on this planet, even if he wasn't human.
"Don't just turn me down out of hand - wait, what?" Spike was stupefied - pretty much the only two women in his life had been Dru, who'd made a play for him rather than the other way around, and Cecily, which had never happened. Darla could hardly be said to count. Yet his meandering blather had got a yes!
"See you in Colorado!" said Sam cheerfully, going off to speak to Jack.
Spike watched her go. After more than a century of life, he still hadn't the faintest clue of what women were thinking.
"Are you alright?" Daniel asked Willow conscientiously.
"No. Well, yes. Maybe. I will be. Oh, I don't know! This whole thing happened because my boyfriend left me, and I went for a walk." Willow answered - well, tried to - knowing full well she was talking nonsense.
Fortunately, as well as countless other languages and dialects, Daniel was fluent in Nonsense. "Willow, for a smart girl, you really can be a bit of an idiot. You can't possibly blame yourself because you went for a walk!" then he inwardly cursed himself for being too familiar.
"Yeah, you're right. I'm going to do it anyway, for a bit, anyway." said Willow, who didn't mind. She was just that kind of a person - she even irrationally blamed herself for Oz leaving, even though she knew that it wasn't her fault.
"Well I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to blame Jack." Daniel replied.
"Why?" asked Willow, surprised.
"Aren't we blaming people who had nothing to do with anything?" said Daniel innocently. Willow hit him playfully, and he winced theatrically.
They walked on in silence for a few more moments before Willow said "Thank you."
"So, you're an alien, huh?" Buffy asked the hulking Teal'c.
"Yes, for many years now." he replied.
Buffy pretty much ran out of things to say at that point.
The group convened in Giles, living room, filling in those who had stayed behind. Unsurprisingly, they all thought that Caelus would come back and, as Xander put it, "Kick them in the ass." No one thought he was wrong.
However, Jack received a call from Hammond telling them that the base was up and running, he'd come back from Washington and was looking forward to their debriefing. He'd been kind enough not to make it exactly an order, but Jack got his meaning right enough.
Which really left nothing to do for the two teams to exchange numbers and promises to call if anything came up - Spike looked a little bemused when Sam handed him her number, modern technology really wasn't his thing - and to keep in touch, and leave.
Slowly, everyone filtered out - Spike got the unprecedented honour of not being tied up - and went to their respective homes, in Sunnydale or at the SGC.
Willow headed to her dorm a little earlier than Buffy - in fact, left earlier than everyone, not really wanting to say goodbye - and found, sitting on her bed, a cube.
It was an interesting cube, engraved with the runes which Daniel had identified as belonging to the Ancients. But that wasn't the interesting part - nor was it the odd way in which the cube occasionally, for no discernible reason, suddenly became invisible.
No, the truly fascinating part was the note it sat on. It was parchment, written with a fine copperplate script in iridescent grey ink.
Give this to Doctor Daniel Jackson.
Seeing that, an epiphany hit Willow. She grabbed the cube and the note - wincing at the unpleasant lack of feeling touching the cube brought on - and rushed back to Giles', hoping that no one else had left yet. She had an announcement to make.
Fortunately, her luck was in, everyone was still there. Buffy, catching sight of her friend standing in the doorway red faced and panting - and unpleasantly reminded of earlier in the week - said "What's wrong, Will?"
"I can't stay here." Willow burst out. "I've nearly died here too many times - you've died to many times - and there's been too much heart break and loss and - I can't stay here."
"What're you talking about?" asked Xander, although he could tell from her expression. But Willow just gave him her resolve face, and he quieted. It would be better to convince to come back rather than to stay, anyway.
Willow continued. "And you don't need me anyway, here. But it's time that, well, that I nearly died somewhere else. So if like to go with Da- you guys, if you don't mind?"
There was silence whilst Willow breathlessly waited for SG-1's response.
Daniel replied "Of course you can."