Guilt Trip

Written by Glassdarkly, March 2008

ANGEL: People who don't care about anything will never understand the people who do.

HAMILTON: Yeah, but we won't care.

AtS Season 5 Not Fade Away

"Good morning, Mr Angel. And how are we this week?"

Angel hunched his shoulders and stuck his hands in his pockets. Who was this 'we'? He always wanted to ask but never quite did.

"I'm fine. Never been better. Can I go now?"

The figure seated behind the desk rested a pointed chin, complete with carefully trimmed goatee, on steepled fingers. Red eyes regarded Angel with mild reproof from under the rims of half-moon glasses.

"Have a seat."

Angel sighed. No escape. He slouched down into the armchair in front of the polished mahogany desk. A brass nameplate on the desk bore the legend Dr M Phisto, followed by a long list of initials that could – this being Wolfram & Hart - have stood for anything, or nothing.

Nothing good anyway.

"That's better." Dr Phisto opened the thick leather-bound tome on his desk and began to read. "Now, where were we?"

The patronising tone in Dr Phisto's voice made Angel's teeth hurt. He stared in dull fascination at the big red horns erupting from Dr Phisto's forehead just below the hairline. They seemed extra-shiny today, as if whoever had polished the desk had given them a quick buff in passing.

"Ah, here we are."

Dr Phisto cleared his throat. He ran a red-skinned hand, the claws neatly trimmed, from front to back over his sleek black cap of hair.

"We always come back to this, don't we?" he said reproachfully. "Guilt -wa-ay too much of it. Have you been doing the mental exercises I set you, Mr Angel?"

"No." Angel had meant to sound indifferent –bored even - but instead he just sounded guilty.

Again.

Dr Phisto sighed and shook his head. "What are we to do with you?"

"Stop making me attend these sessions?"

This time, Angel had been going for humorous, with maybe a touch of sarcasm, but the words came out – well, whiny.

Dr Phisto gave him a severe look. "I can't do that. These therapy sessions are mandatory for all staff at executive level, and you know it."

"Even the C.E.O?"

"Especially the C.E.O. Really, Mr Angel, I can't understand what all the fuss is about. I saw Mr Wyndam-Pryce yesterday and believe you me, there is a man who appreciates the opportunity to unburden himself to a disinterested listener."

Angel opened his mouth to say, I bet he does, or possibly, not nearly as much as he would if he knew what I did to him, but then he shut it again. Dr Phisto might know all about the mindwipe but the last thing Angel wanted was for them to discuss it. Again.

"Poor fellow!" Dr Phisto sighed once more. He tapped his pen against his teeth – his large, white very pointy teeth. "Of course, I can't reveal what he said to me – client confidentiality – but all the same, quite tragic."

While he was speaking, Dr Phisto's tail, with its razor-barbed tip, was waving lazily in the air behind him. Angel watched it, trying to remember if demons – the ones with tails, that is – were like dogs and wagged their tails when they were pleased, or more like cats and wagged them when they were pissed off.

But the knowledge escaped him, so whether or not Dr Phisto secretly rejoiced at Wesley's suffering remained a mystery.

"But at least –" Dr Phisto jabbed his pen at Angel for emphasis – "he's making progress -unlike you. Okay, he has residual guilt because of that business of shooting the cyborg he thought was his father, but he understands now that it wasn't his fault."

Angel kept his face carefully blank. So much for client confidentiality.

This revelation having received no response, Dr Phisto frowned slightly and looked at his notes again. "You, on the other hand –"

Angel stuck his hands in his pockets so Dr Phisto couldn't see him clench his fists. Here it came.

"Tell me -" Dr Phisto sighed gustily –"is there anything you don't feel guilty about?"

"Global warming?"

To Angel's surprise, Dr Phisto laughed. In fact, he laughed so hard tears ran down his face.

"Very droll," he said, when he finally had himself back under control.

"Uh – really?" Angel narrowed his eyes in suspicion. His attempts at humour weren’t usually so successful.

Dr Phisto took off his glasses and wiped his eyes.

"Oh, indeed. Very witty of you to choose something you – and I mean 'you' in the collective sense - are responsible for. Not, of course -" and he laughed again– "that I mean you should feel guilty about it. Guilt, as they say here in California, is definitely of the bad."

Angel stared at him, aghast. "I – that is, Wolfram & Hart is responsible for global warming?"

Dr Phisto blinked.

"Well, when I say they're responsible," he said, hurriedly, "I exempt the L.A. branch of course. Yes indeed."

He put his glasses back on and cleared his throat. Then he referred to his notes again, seeming a touch uncertain, as if worried he’d spoken out of turn.

Giving Angel a false smile, he went on, "Since you became C.E.O., the L.A. branch has become a beacon of hope to the downtrodden in our fair city and the scourge of evildoers everywhere. So you see, Mr Angel, no need – none – for you to feel guilty about global warming or indeed about anything."

"Er yeah – I guess." Angel hunched his shoulders even higher and stared at the nameplate on the desk. Maybe if he pretended to agree with him, Dr Phisto would end the session early? Anything was preferable to this.

"You don't believe me, do you?" Dr Phisto sounded sad. Worse, he sounded disappointed. "You'll never rise through this firm, Mr Angel, if you don't learn to throw away that inappropriate guilt. What did I tell you last time?"

Angel could feel his mouth threatening to pout. He mustn't sulk, for crying out loud.

"Guilt is for dummies," he muttered, sulkily.

"That's right." Dr Phisto looked pleased. "That nice vampire friend of yours – Spike, is it? – you ought to take a leaf out of his book. He doesn't let his conscience weigh him down, soul or no soul."

Of course, the annoying demon analyst had to bring Spike into the conversation.

"Spike is not my friend," Angel growled. "Also –" and now he had to repress an I-wouldn’t-have-believed-it-if-I-hadn’t-seen-it-with-my-own-eyes tone in his voice, because he knew it would only make matters worse-" he does feel guilt– well, sort of."

"He does?" Dr Phisto looked surprised. "He hides it very well. Only the other day, he was reminiscing with me about the good old days of wine, women and slaughter. You're telling me that's just a front?"

"Yeah – um, in a way."

Mind you, Angel thought, crossly, Spike's guilt was pretty selective. So many beautiful cars totalled, and all the evil little bastard ever did was shrug like it didn't matter and demand another one.

"Dear me." Dr Phisto tapped his pen against his teeth again. "Such a pity he’s not a paid employee. Then he could have had the advantage of these counselling sessions too."

He gave Angel a considering look. "Do you think he might attend anyway, if I sent him a memo? He’d have to pay of course, but I’m sure he’d find it enormously helpful."

For a moment, the idea of Spike being compelled to attend counselling made Angel feel almost cheerful, but since Spike was sure to say no to the suggestion in as rude and British a way as possible, there was no point getting his hopes up.

He shook his head. "Not a chance."

"Oh well." Dr Phisto sighed again, like a man whose good intentions had just been thrown back in his face by an ungrateful world. "His loss, Mr Angel, don’t you think? And my point stands, which is that guilt is useless. Wallowing in it will get you nowhere."

He looked down at his notes again.

"And really, what have you done that was so terrible anyway?"

Angel gritted his teeth. He tried to compose his features to reveal as little as possible – which was a lot harder than it should have been, considering all the practice he’d had at dealing with Wolfram & Hart -and stared down at his twiddling thumbs.

"Nothing."

Dr Phisto tutted reprovingly. "If only," he said, "I actually thought you meant that."

Angel’s thumbs stopped twiddling but he kept his gaze stubbornly downcast.

"What makes you think I don’t?"

Dr Phisto’s pen tap-tapped on the surface of the desk.

"Because I know you, Mr Angel, that’s what. If I’ve learned anything from these sessions of ours, it’s that you take a perverse pride in the guilt and remorse you feel."

"Perverse?" Angel glanced up in time to see Dr Phisto smooth away a spiteful grin. "I don’t see how you – even you – can call feeling remorseful about two centuries of murder and mayhem ‘perverse’?"

Dr Phisto shrugged. His tail wagged maddeningly back and forth. "No need to shoot the messenger. My point is that two centuries of murder and mayhem, as you so charmingly put it, is no big deal. Any demon you met on the street could boast of the same."

Boast? Angel realised his mouth was hanging open and shut it with a snap. The asshole was trying to provoke him, he thought, and unfortunately, it was working.

"Torture, then," he insisted, stubbornly. "It was my hobby – my passion - for over a century. I loved it. Are you seriously gonna suggest I shouldn’t feel guilty about that?"

Dr Phisto leaned back in his chair and folded his hands complacently on his belly.

"Every man needs a hobby. Myself, I happen to paint –watercolours mostly -but whatever floats your boat."

"Torture is nothing like painting!" Angel glared at him.

Dr Phisto examined his claws. "I disagree. Both pastimes involve a love of self-expression – a desire to hone one’s talents." He leaned forward again. "I'm sure that if you asked your subjects, they'd say they were grateful you took such a keen interest."

"That's victims." Angel growled. "And no, they wouldn't."

Dr Phisto gave him a deprecating look. "Don’t you think you’re attaching way too much importance to yourself here?"

Angel blinked at him. "Er-what?"

Now he was both provoked and confused.

Dr Phisto referred to his notes yet again. "Maybe if we adopted a different approach, you’d understand what I’m getting at? Your family, for instance –in my opinion, you should be very proud of how well they’ve turned out in the circumstances, and yet you persist in seeing the glass half-empty."

Angel managed to prevent his jaw from dropping on this occasion. He could feel his vampire features struggling to emerge, like viscous bubbles below the surface of a boiling liquid.

"Which family are we talking about? My human family who I murdered two hundred years ago? Sure, I’m very proud of them."

There was no way Dr Phisto could miss the sarcasm this time.

"Or maybe you mean my vampire family, which consists of one dead, one insane and one who I can't get rid of no matter how I try?"

As Angel spoke, Dr Phisto was nodding and scribbling furious notes in his jotter.

"Or maybe you mean my son, who I had to kill in order to save, after he'd been stolen from me as a baby and brought up in a hell dimension by a vengeance-crazed lunatic who drove him mad?"

At this, Dr Phisto looked up, beaming. "There – you see? You saved him. You admit it yourself."

"Yes. No - but -" Angel put his head in his hands for a moment. The smug bastard was really getting to him now, in spite of all his admonitions to himself not to get involved. He drew a deep, calming breath.

"But to do that, I had to mindwipe all my friends and sign their immortal souls over to this –this corporate hellhole. Not seeing anything to be proud of there."

Dr Phisto tutted again.

"My, you’re just full of yourself, aren’t you? And hellhole? I don’t know how you can say that. After all, it’s not like you don’t have personal experience of a real hellhole."

For a split second, the malicious grin was back, but gone again so quickly that Angel almost thought he’d imagined it.

"However, since you insist on attaching such importance to all this guilt-stricken negativity, why don’t we take it one step at a time?"

Dr Phisto leaned his elbows on the desk, steepled his fingers together and rested his chin on them again, while behind him his tail swished backwards and forwards, hypnotic as a metronome.

"Let’s start with your human family, shall we? Had it never occurred to you that they lived in a very insalubrious age? That it's more than likely your killing them prevented them dying unpleasant early deaths from some horrible disfiguring disease?"

"You think?"

The sarcasm in Angel’s voice had ratcheted up a notch, but Dr Phisto ignored it.

"I do think. As for your vampire family -vampires get dusted, it's an unfortunate fact of unlife. But it's not like your sire – Darla, was it? – hadn't had a good run for her money. Okay, so you dusted her in person once and the other time, you were indirectly responsible for her death by making her pregnant, but I doubt she'd hold it against you."

"You don't?"

The whole interview was taking on a more surreal air with every moment and Angel was sure he could smell brimstone. He blinked, trying not to stare at that swinging tail

"I really don't." Dr Phisto ploughed on happily. "As for your vampire progeny - well, what can I say? Kids, huh? They'll grow out of it."

Angel thought gloomily of Spike and the cars again. "I don't think so."

"Be that as it may -" Dr Phisto waved a hand airily -"as you can see, your family are nothing to feel guilty about. In fact, maybe they should be the ones who ought to feel guilty for discommoding you?"

"For dying on me? For letting me murder them?"

"Well, exactly." Dr Phisto's smile grew even broader. "Now, if only you could cultivate that positive way of looking at things and stop trying to make a martyr of yourself, maybe these sessions would just become the formality they are with most of the senior staff."

His voice took on a fond note, like someone talking about a beloved child’s progress at school. "Your Mr Gunn, for instance. He's coming along beautifully."

Before Angel could even consider trying to hide his dismay, it was already too late. Dr Phisto blinked slowly. There was an air about him now – like a snake confronting the prospect of a large and delicious breakfast

"Oh dear!" he said, with mock anxiety. "Are we going to quarrel about this, Mr Angel?"

Loud warning bells were going off inside Angel's head –don't engage! Don't engage! - and yet something stubborn and indignant wouldn't let him just keep his mouth shut.

"Looks like. But since you've brought up the subject of my friends again, and since you're the expert, tell me why I shouldn't feel guilty for stealing their memories and bringing them to Evil Incorporated?"

Dr Phisto blinked again. Despite the dimness of the room, the pupils of his eyes had shrunk to two, oblong goat-like slots.

"Because you've opened up wonderful career opportunities for them. Believe me, Mr Angel, if they knew about the mind-wipe, your friends would be thanking you for it. Miss Burkle now, she's having the time of her life, anyone can see that – and as for that green fellow…"

He smirked. "And while we're on the subject of your complete wrong-headedness, maybe we ought to mention your love-life? You seem to harbour an extraordinary degree of misplaced guilt about your various old flames."

"Misplaced?" Even now, with the warning bells going off so loudly his ears hurt, Angel couldn't resist the urge to respond. Dr Phisto's mental gymnastics were almost fascinating and after all, he thought, he was here to talk, wasn't he?

"Misplaced how?"

Dr Phisto leaned back in his chair, fingers still steepled together.

"We've touched on the subject of your sire, Darla, already – and yes, I guess I can see how you might feel a tad – but only a tad - responsible for what happened to her, but as for the others – let's start with Buffy Summers."

Angel gripped the chair arms tightly.

"What about her?"

Dr Phisto smirked. "My understanding is that you feel guilty for losing your soul after having sex with her because you consequently went on to try and hurt her and her friends?"

"In a nutshell." Angel could hardly wait to see what guilt-avoiding excuse Dr Phisto would find for him this time.

Sure enough –"Had it never occurred to you that it wasn't your fault but hers? It's the old, old story. A woman tempted you and you fell. And really –" Dr Phisto smirked at Angel conspiratorially –"being a Slayer, what business did she have screwing vampires? She had only herself to blame."

"And Cordelia? What did she do to make what happened to her totally not my fault?"

"That's easy." Dr Phisto kept smirking. "How is it your fault she entered into secret negotiations behind your back with the agents of a rogue Higher Power? Women, huh? You just can't trust them, can you?"

They stared at each other across the broad expanse of mahogany. Dr Phisto's red eyes smouldered like burning coals.

"So you see," he said, "this little guilt trip of yours is so unnecessary, not to mention very unattractive. Surely, Mr Angel, if you think it through, you'll see I'm right? Can't I at least tempt to you try?"

"Okay, I'll try." Angel sat back in his chair, mimicking Dr Phisto's pose. He watched a patch of dancing sunlight filtering through the blinds just above Dr Phisto's head. Time passed. Dr Phisto stared at Angel expectantly.

When a full five minutes had passed, Dr Phisto cleared his throat.

"Any progress?"

"It's weird," Angel said, in a musing tone. "Part of me totally gets where you're coming from, and yet somehow- somehow I can't seem to not care."

Just for a moment, the pleasant expression dropped from Dr Phisto's face. His lip lifted from his teeth in a snarl, but he recovered quickly.

"We'll have to see what we can do about that, won't we?"

"Knock yourself out."

Angel looked at his watch. Only another five minutes to go and he'd be out of here.

Dr Phisto saw the direction of his gaze. He tapped his pen on the desk again.

"You realise of course that your – shall we say, continued lack of positivity and absurd self-involvement means we may well have to schedule extra sessions? I'm thinking, group therapy. Maybe your friends can talk some common sense into you, since it seems I can't."

Again, the malicious smile flitted across his face, while his tail thrashed madly backwards and forwards.

"And while we're on the subject of group-therapy, I'm so concerned about your poor friend Spike I think I might offer to let him sit in gratis. Do you think he would – if I said it was to help you?"

That settled it, Angel thought. Demons were like dogs, not cats – which was a pity, since he'd always thought of himself as a dog person.

He held up both hands. "Okay, you win. You were right, I was wrong. Torture is just a fun time for everyone, and my family and friends are a bunch of freeloading a-holes who only exist to cause me unnecessary grief while the women in my life are self-serving jezebels. Are you happy now?"

Dr Phisto stared at him, his upper lip lifted in the faintest of snarls. His razor-sharp teeth gleamed.

"No," he said, "but I will be when I've gotten you to say that and really mean it." He relaxed back in his chair, red eyes glowing. "We have time, Mr Angel. We have all the time in this world and the next."

Angel held his gaze.

"Just one thing. I don't understand why Wolfram & Hart wants me not to feel guilty. I know what I'm like when I don't feel guilty, and believe me, even you wouldn't want to meet me."

"Oh, I doubt that." Dr Phisto smiled falsely. "I'm sure you'd be perfectly charming – and as for why Wolfram & Hart wants to help you let go of your guilt, it's because we care about the welfare of our staff, of course. A happy employee is a productive employee, that's our motto."

His voice dripped with sincerity. "Believe me, Mr Angel, we just want to make you feel better about yourself."

"Yeah, right."

Angel looked at his watch again. He stood up and turned to go.

"Can't say it's been a pleasure."

"Oh, I disagree." Dr Phisto was beaming again now. "You can't go just yet, however. I have to set you another mental exercise first, and this time I must insist you fulfil the criteria to the letter."

Angel felt his face ripple again. His fangs ached to descend.

"No need to look like that," Dr Phisto said in an injured tone. "It's not anything hard. I just want you to promise that before our next session you'll do one thing – one thing – that you don't feel guilty about."

He smirked. "You can start as small as you like – ignore the blood-ring on the table – run a red light – anything. I don't care, as long as you don't feel guilty about it."

Angel took his hands out of his jacket pockets.

"Sure. I can do that, no problem."

"You can?" Dr Phisto looked pleased. "That's wonderful." He screwed the cap back on his pen and shut the huge leather-backed volume with a thud. Then he seemed to realise Angel was still standing looking at him. "Yes?"

It felt so good, Angel thought, when his fist caught the point of Dr Phisto's jaw and sent him sprawling. He watched, fascinated, as the furious demon picked himself up, tail lashing from side to side and hooves and horns glinting. Dr Phisto put his head down, ready to charge.

"Ah-ah," Angel reprimanded him. "I don't think the Senior Partners would like it if you gored the C.E.O. They're not done torturing me yet."

Dr Phisto grabbed hold of the desk to stop himself. Claws like knives scored deep grooves in the wood.

"What was that for?" Dr Phisto bellowed. "I go out of my way to help you, and this is all the thanks I get."

Angel blew on his knuckles. "Hey, I was only doing what you wanted me to do. One thing, you said, that I wouldn't feel guilty about, and I don't. I really, really don't."

And allowing himself the tiniest triumphant smirk of his own, Angel turned his back and made towards the door.

Behind him, Dr Phisto was yelling, "Group therapy, Mr Angel – with Spike! And don't say I didn't warn you."

But just for once, just for these few precious moments, Angel didn't care.