"So you're, like"—and Penny could not believe she was about to say this—"my guardian angel, or something?"
"Or something? Or something? There is no or something about my position, Penny. I am your guardian angel. Period. Complete statement. There is no degree of relativity involved."
From behind his armada of cleaning products, the angel stares at her. Penny stares back.
"Um," she says finally, "does that mean you can make me rich, or something?"
"There is no or something!" the angel screeches.
"No, seriously," she tries again, a couple of days later, after the angel has thrown out all the food in her refrigerator and coded her closet by pant length, "are you here to make me rich? Is that the reward I get for putting up with you?"
The angel looks up from detailing her couch and scowls. He doesn't look like much of an angel, but Penny knows, knows deep in her bones that he's something ethereal and otherworldly—and this despite the lack of wings, the absence of a halo. If she passed him on the street (and didn't believe in psychics), she'd think he was otherworldly, yeah, a visiting alien from Planet Nerd.
"Are the Superfriends big in heaven?" she asks.
"Excuse me," the angel says, "while you may not be taking my presence here seriously, I assure you that for me to reveal myself to a mortal is a dire sign—of your failure at proper sanitation, if nothing else. And my shirt depicts the Justice League of America."
"Does God watch cartoons?" Penny muses. "Hey, maybe Jesus has a Saturday morning block for the little kids. Pokecherub? Teenage Mutant Ninja Cupid?"
"Cupid is not an angel," the angel says, sounding personally offended by the suggestion. "Cupid is a mythological deity worshipped by the Romans, known to the Greeks as Eros, the son of the goddess Venus—"
"Gee whiz," Penny interrupts (the angel shoots her a dirty look). "That's fascinating! Tell me more!"
"Ah," the angel says. His expression clears. "Sarcasm."
"Were you sent here to give me a boyfriend who is not a jackass?" she guesses. "Because Kurt is kind of an a-hole. I don't know why I keep hooking up with him." Well, yeah, she does—the sex is amazing, like, multi-orgasmic toe-curling amazing—but he tried to steal her tv that one time. Penny is not down with people who try to steal her tv. Without Gossip Girl, does life have meaning?
"You think Gossip Girl is the pinnacle of human achievement? An inane television program that chronicles adolescent mating gets you out of bed in the morning?"
"Holy fuck," Penny says, "you can read my mind?"
"Don't be absurd," the angel says. "I found this note recording your devotion tacked to the inside of your linen closet. I can only assume was drunkenly scrawled on the only available paper; it reads like a badly-rhymed sestina, although," he reflects, "the meter isn't entirely wrong."
"A badly-rhymed what? No, wait, never mind. Did you use some of the Febreeze stuff in the bathroom?"
"Yes," the angel says. "I also cancelled your Cosmo order and replaced it with a lifelong subscription to Scientific American. I hope you don't mind."
"Oh, wait," the angel says, "If you mind, I don't care."
Whatever. Cosmo she can live without, but Febreeze is rapidly becoming an addiction. That stuff smells like God cried on a rose field and then laced the result with heroin. Friggin' awesome.
"You read the horoscope. Every morning," the angel says.
"Well, yeah." She chews her Cheerios with her mouth open, just 'cause it makes the angel get a pissy look, kind of like this cat from back home on the farm. Except that cat had a face that looked like it'd played a game of chicken with a tractor and forgotten to swerve; the angel looks more like a bird, all straight nose and killer eyes. A hawk, maybe. Or a seagull, cruising not for fries dropped in the drive-through lane but for dust mites. She tries not to feel homesick; missing a cat, how pathetic is that?
"The horoscope," the angel repeats.
"Yes?" Is that bad? Does it personally offend Jesus, or something? "What kind of a guardian angel are you, anyway?"
"I don't watch you every moment of every day," the angel retorts. "That would be profoundly tedious, and there were some interesting developments with the CERN supercollider last spring. Am I expected to devote my attention—and please keep in mind, my mental capacity is so far above human understanding that you, a person-shaped being of the world, might as well be a snowy-tree cricket—to the daily minutiae of a single woman?"
Clearly she touched a nerve there, Watson. "Uh, yeaah," Penny draws out. "Pretty sure that's in the whole 'guardian angel' job description."
The angel sets his bottle of Soft Scrub on the counter a little more forcefully than Penny feels is necessary. "How do you know that?"
"Touched by an Angel?"
"Which angel?" the angel asks, eyes narrowed to suspicious slits.
"No, it's on tv. Like Gossip Girl," Penny explains.
The angel frowns.
"Like...Heroes?" Penny tries.
The frown turns thoughtful. "And this Heroes is a television show?"
They watch Penny's box set of season one.
"Highly derivative," the angel sniffs. "Do you have the second season?"
"Were you sent to make my neighbor stop hitting me?"
The angel looks away from setting up her new wi-fi network. Maybe the angel wasn't sent to make Penny rich, but when he wanted a T1 connection to play Age of Conan, sure, three thousand dollars magically appear in her checking account. She's going to use whatever's left over to buy shoes, or maybe a second laptop—Age of Conan is kind of addicting.
"Does your neighbor often hit you?" the angel asks. He looks worried—adorably so, especially since Penny doesn't think he could take even Leonard.
"No, he hits on—it means, you know, that he wants to get in my pants."
"Your pants would fit a human male?" the angel says. "They seem close...tightly..." He makes an aborted motion with his hands.
"Aw, thanks sweetie," Penny says, feeling flattered that he'd noticed. "But no, it means that he wants to sleep with me."
The angel looks clueless.
"Sex," Penny sighs. "He wants to have sex. With me."
"Without forming a pair-bond?" the angel says. "That isn't what happens in the wild."
After her apartment is clean, her laundry is folded, and her operating system has been upgraded ("Windows," the angel had sneered), the angel sets up a loom in her living room.
"What are you weaving?" Penny wonders. "Heavenly robes? Harp strings? Can you weave harp strings?" Those are going to be some jaw-droppingly colorful harps, if he is.
"Ponchos," the angel corrects. "I had the wool imported. Would you like one?"
"Why the hell not?" The angel doesn't even shoot her the requisite glare anymore; he'll be swearing like a sailor himself any day now, just you watch. Penny's mom always said she had that effect on men. Man-shaped beings—close enough. "You going to get on making me a superstar any time soon?"
"Pardon?" the angel says. "A superstar? Do you mean a supernova?"
"An actress? My dream? Don't you make my dreams come true?"
"Why would you want the random, sleep-induced hallucinations of your subconscious to come true?"
Penny slumps back on the couch (it smells like lemons and starshine), hunting for a way to explain this foreign and earthly novelty, and instead gets distracted by the deft movements of his fingers as he weaves.
"So why are you here?" She hasn't asked flat-out yet; it can't hurt.
The angel, who is building a robot on her kitchen counter, does not look up. "Have you finished the job applications I collected for you?"
Penny looks down at the stack of job applications. There's a couple of college apps too, tucked in the bottom. Sneaky angel.
"Not exactly," she says.
The angel huffs. "Have you started?"
"No," she says. "Are you dictator of my life now?"
"Unfortunately, there exists such a nebulous concept as free will. If I reveal my purpose here, will you fill out the applications?"
"Really? Yes!" Penny beams. "I've been literally dying of curiosity."
The angel straightens. "You are 'literally dying' of nothing, except the process of living itself—in other words, the gradual decay undergone by all organisms."
Penny lifts her eyebrows.
"Yes," the angel sighs, "very well. I'm here because I told my employer that he was an empty-headed, maladroit imbecile whose existence was an insult to creation itself. He fired me."
"Wow." Penny contemplates that. "Is that true?"
"No," the angel says. "And you'll find a questionnaire beneath the letter of resignation to the Cheesecake Factory. If you fill it out, I'll sic my robot on your neighbor the next time he bothers you."
"Ah," Penny says. "Sarcasm."
"Not really," the angel answers, surprised.
Five minutes later:
"Your favorite amino acid? What the frick is an amino acid?"
Thirty minutes later:
"Look, we can watch Heroes instead of American Idol tonight if you just shut up, okay?"
"And see," Penny says, her toes tucked neatly beneath the angel's thigh, "I get why you'll only watch season one, but Nathan's your favorite? I would've thought Hiro. Or Peter, maybe."
The angel shifts the pile of scripts on his lap. "Based on character, perhaps, but when you factor in powers—"
"Yeah," Penny says, "but Peter can do anything. And time control—how cool would that be?"
"You'd never be late to work again," the angel says.
Penny catches the quirk of humor at the corner of his mouth and grins at him. "Oh, shut it. And seriously, you could travel back in time and meet...I don't know, Leonard Nimoy."
"He's still living."
"Fine, who would you visit?"
The angel tilts his head, always a gesture performed with pinpoint precision. "Nikola Tesla," the angel says.
"Who was he, a saint?" Penny guesses.
"Hardly." The angel snorts. "He was one of the foremost scientists of his time. To this day some of his experiments have never been replicated."
"Seriously, a scientist? Not, like, Jesus? I thought angels were supposed to be holy, and, and pure and dedicated—"
"I frequently have philosophical differences with my peers," the angel says, and then adopts his usual superior expression. "There's a fine line between genius and insanity. Unfortunately you have to be a genius to see it."
"An angel genius," Penny teases.
The angel hums.
"So," Penny says, "flying."
"I don't care to talk about it," the angel says.
"Penny," the angel says, a couple of nights later, "I regret to inform you that I can not sleep on your couch."
Penny rolls with it as much as she can with a toothbrush hanging out of her mouth. "Gwah?"
"I'm too tall," the angel complains.
"Ahh, bwuh," Penny says, and holds up a finger. She leans back into the bathroom and spits. "Sorry. What?"
"I cannot sleep on your couch," the angel repeats.
"Not frequently, but yes, I do." The angel crosses his arms. Crap on a cracker, don't they teach fashion sense in heaven? Penny wonders for the umpteenth time. She's seen the plaid pajamas before—he must've been blending in; she hadn't questioned it at the time—but they still come as a shock.
"I thought you stood up in a closet overnight. Checked into an angel hotel."
"An angel hotel? Good lord, what do they teach in public school these days?" the angel says.
"Nothing about angels, that's for sure," Penny says.
The angel lifts his eyebrows expectantly.
"Yeah, yeah," Penny says. "Fine. I guess you can share with me. It's not like you're going to try anything while I'm sleeping."
The angel makes a pleased sound and strides off to the bedroom, the hem of his plaid robe flapping behind him.
When they're all settled in, Penny has to admit it isn't such a bad deal—sleeping with an angel, that is. He's warm but not unbearably so, tall enough that Penny is aware of his physicality but not so broad that she feels smothered, which is how Kurt sometimes makes her feel.
Just as she's about to drift off, the angel says, "Penny?"
"I haven't been entirely honest about my motives."
"Yeah, sweetie?" Penny mumbles. "You can tell me about it in the morning."
The promise is kind of forgotten the next morning, though, because someone knocks on her door at exactly eleven o'clock.
"It's your genetically inferior neighbor," the angel hisses. "Wait just a moment, I'll get my robot."
"No!" Penny says, and pulls him into the bedroom so they don't have to whisper. "Your robot has a buzzsaw on it," she adds. "Besides, I've been thinking that I might give Leonard a try. Kurt and I are off-again, and Leonard...he's really nice, you know?"
"'Nice?' Your basis for a relationship is that the vertically challenged man who lives across the hall is 'nice?'"
"Well," Penny says, "yeah."
"Far be it for me to tell you that your standards are utterly lacking," the angel says. "And I reserve the right to set my robot on this Leonard should the situation demand drastic action."
"Sure," Penny says.
"Also Kurt," the angel says, his face showing an even blend of thoughtfulness and sheer pleasure.
"We'll chalk it up to divine intervention," Penny agrees, and goes to answer the door.
"Hi, Penny! Hi," Leonard says, too brightly.
"Hey, Leonard," she answers, in her best come-and-get-me-tiger tone. "What's up?"
"Uh, I was wondering," Leonard says, "...is there someone in here with you?"
"Just my guardian angel," Penny jokes, and swings the door open. "Come on in, I have some coffee on—"
Oh shit. Leonard is staring straight at the angel.
"I thought he wouldn't be able to see you," Penny hisses.
"Don't be asinine," the angel says. "You just announced my presence, of course he can see me."
"See...is this...if I'm bothering you, I can just go..." Leonard stutters.
"Please do," the angel says.
"Yeah, um, that's what I'll do then," Leonard says, and backs all the way across the hall and into his apartment, fumbling behind his back for the doorknob.
Penny shuts her own door and turns to the angel. "Seriously? You had to cockblock me with Leonard? What, are you jealous that I'll miss NBC's Monday night lineup?"
The angel turns away, looking bland and unmoved. "There's a exhibit on Triassic-period herbivores at the Natural History Museum," he says.
Penny doesn't care.
"And a coupon sale on shoes at Macy's," the angel prompts.
Penny cracks, just a little bit.
"We could stop for Thai and be back in time for Lost," the angel adds.
Penny sighs theatrically, struggling to contain a smile. "Well, if there's going to be Thai. Let me go get dressed."
The angel Leslie announces her presence right in the middle of Nightline.
"Hey, dumbass," she says. Penny can't look at her face; sunglasses would be great right about now, but Penny doesn't think to keep sunglasses handy indoors at night. Silly her.
"Winkle," Penny's angel says, snapping to his feet like he's readying for war.
"That thing you wanted to know about," the angel Leslie says. "It's finished. Final. End of the line."
"I suppose I should thank you," Penny's angel says.
"No skin off my back," the angel Leslie says. "Look out for yourself, huh? Even if you were small-minded enough to support string theory over loop quantum gravity, at least you know what a subatomic particle is. The incontinents—sorry, incompetents—up there don't know a boson from a meson." Then she spreads her wing in a glorious orgy of light and takes off through the ceiling.
"Huh," Penny says. "Wow. Can you do that, with the wings and the—" She swooshes her hand upwards.
"No," the angel says. "And I don't want to talk about it."
Okay then, Grumpy, Penny thinks.
She can coax him out of his bad mood with Red Vines, though. Probably.
So even if the angel's not here to make her rich, or find her an awesome boyfriend, or make her dreams come true, there still has to be a reason for him to be camped out in her life. Penny is almost sure that angels don't just turn up in people's lives at random. You don't pick them up off the sidewalk like loose change.
"Is it a government secret?"
"Government secret?" the angel scoffs. "Popular fiction is having a sad effect on your cognitive processes, I see."
Penny thinks that's pretty rich, coming from a guy (guy-shaped thing) that makes her drive him to the comic book store every Wednesday. "Come on, tell me why," she whines.
"Listen, buster," she says, taking a different tactic (okay, it sounds like some master strategy when she says it like that, but really she's just angry). "If you think you can just barge into my life—"
The angel sets down his iron; if he leaves it like that, he's going to scorch her slacks. "Barge into your life? Barge? If anything, you invited me in!"
"Oh yeah? Then why did you accept!" Penny shoots back.
"Because I was dismissed!" the angel snaps.
"Oh. My. God. You were actually fired? I thought you were kidding about that—"
"I was jesting about the manner of my dismissal—"
"And that's why you're here? Because you were fired?"
"No," the angel says. "I'm was fired because I disagreed with my superiors about how to best complete my assignment. I'm here because I maintain that my method was the superior one."
"So this is about you being right?"
"No," the angel says. "It's about you not thriving under the general, impersonal—attention I was instructed to provide!"
But Penny notices the hitch in his voice, the hike before attention, and she hears a different word instead. "Oh my god," she says again.
"Yes. Well," the angel says, and carefully doesn't look at her.
"So, uh." She clears her throat. "Is that why you don't, you know—why you can't—" She makes little flapping motions with her hands.
"Partially," the angel says. "Although the incident with the jetpack certainly hastened the decision."
"A jetpack." Ways to respond rush through her head: Are you for real? I'm sorry. No, really, are you for real? That sucks, seriously, let's go teepee a church. Did the jetpack work?
"Like Boba Fett's," the angel confirms.
"Seriously," Penny says, "are you for real?"
The angel looks down at himself, pats his chest, straightens the hem of his Periodic Table t-shirt. "In what sense? I exist physically, I am self-aware—"
"You're a man-shaped being of the world," Penny says. She cross the room and catches his hands, stopping them mid-flutter.
"Or something," the angel agrees.
"So," Penny says, "I picked up some Red Vines on my way home yesterday."
"Yes," the angel says, answering the question she doesn't ask. Divine intervention, ha.
"Good. Great," Penny says, and then, "Hey, you aren't really sexless, are you?"