Prank Wars [1/5]


It started with something Penny hadn't intended to be a prank.

She checked before she began, she really did. She had each ingredient lined up on her counter, far more organized than she ever should be, but she didn't want to get caught without any baking powder again. The last lecture she got from Sheldon about stocking her cupboards with necessities was still ringing in her ears. Carefully, she measured each and every ingredient out, a little careless with exact measurements, but the biscuits wouldn't care if there was a little extra flour involved.

When she got to the milk she started pouring it into the measuring cup and immediately recoiled, her mouth sneering into a grimace and her eyes blinking rapidly as the stench hit her.

Tentatively, she took a whiff of the carton and quickly whipped it away from her face.

Son of a duck. The milk was definitely bad. Penny looked at the expiry date, almost expecting it to be well past due, but instead it turned out to be within the best-before timeframe. Thinking back, she could remember buying it last week, which was why it hadn't occurred to her to check to see if it was still good when she had verified there was enough for the biscuits.

And yeah, ok, so she had accidentally left it on the counter for the entirety of her early morning shift on Wednesday, but it had still felt cool to the touch when she got home eight hours later and she had checked the smell before putting it back in the fridge. It had been fine.

So really, it wasn't her fault. Maybe there was something wrong with her fridge. Maybe there was one of those airborne mould pathogen things Sheldon talked about living inside her fridge, just waiting to spoil perfectly good milk just before she needed it to bake a biscuits.

It wasn't her fault at all. She had no control over airborne mould. It wasn't like she could see it and fight it off with her baseball bat.

Sighing, Penny scurried over to her computer and Googled 'can you bake biscuits with sour milk.'

Surprisingly you could, but apparently it wasn't advisable with homogenized milk. Penny grew up in Nebraska, even she knew what homogenized milk meant. Besides, the answer she wanted was a solid 'no', so she ignored all the tips she found on how to proceed making sour milk biscuits, and focused on the fact that she could not proceed without real, nonsolidifying or sweaty feet smelling milk.

Feeling validated with what she was about to do, Penny grabbed the keys for apartment 4A and scurried across the hallway. The boys were at work for the next few hours and that was more than enough time to breach the perimeter of their apartment, steal their milk and bake biscuits. Within moments she was back in her kitchen, Sheldon's milk in her hand, measuring out two cups of milk. If she had known this was going to be another one of those times she had to steal from her neighbours in order to feed herself, she wouldn't have made a double batch with the intent to freeze half the dough, but the dry ingredients were already mixed and at this point she couldn't exactly afford to throw it all away and start over.

Living hand-to-mouth really sucked, but the shoes she bought with the money earmarked for this week's food were so worth it. They were knee high boots made with butter soft leather and framed her calves luxuriously. She'd found them for 75% off, and there was no way she could have passed up a deal that good, even if she had ended up spending over $100 in total.

So yeah, she kind of needed these biscuits for her breakfast, lunch, and probably supper for the indefinite future.

Sheldon's milk definitely felt emptier than it had when she started. She could validate stealing the occasional ounce for coffee, but he would notice this. She was going to have to fess up to her thievery and deal with the resulting lecture/strike.

Or...

Breathing through her mouth, Penny quickly measured out two cups worth of her sour milk and poured it into his milk carton. It would have been easier to put her own milk back in place of his, but Sheldon's brand was different than hers and he would know. This, well this would puzzle him but there was a good chance he would never figure out that she was the reason his milk was inexplicably bad.

Penny couldn't help but snicker as she replaced his milk back in the fridge, thinking of the resulting cleaning binge he was likely to go on now, believing those airborn mould thingies had compromised his fridge. He'd never know that it was actually her.

Foolproof.

x.x.x

Penny didn't really care about vintage video games, but Howard had lost a bet with her two weeks ago that stipulated he picked up the tab for each and every meal she joined them for until the end of the month. So for the last week, Penny made it to Thai night, Halo night, pizza night and now Chinese night.

"Penny, my lovely Penny, back for your fourth taste of the Wolozitz dating experience?"

She responded by giving him a cheesy grin. "Yes Howard, you fill me right up." She accompanied this with a suggestive wriggle of her eyebrows that had him choking on his fried rice.

When Howard got up for something to drink, Penny silent encouraged him to go for the milk but he grabbed a diet coke out of the fridge and shoved a dollar into the drink jar Leonard had implemented to support communal drinking habits. For this very reason, Penny started bringing her own bottles of water over filled with tap water.

She couldn't even afford bottled drinks. That's what her life had become.

Once she finished eating, she stuck around as the boys set up the original Zelda game. Sheldon was going on and on about how it was the original quest and puzzle game, or something like that, and the first game to include an internal battery to save data. Howard was commenting on the attractiveness of the princess, and Raj silently pretended to sword fight with thin air.

"I always found Link to be a cutie," Penny said. "Do you guys think they'll ever make a movie or a live action television show? Maybe I could be Princess Zelda."

"There's always a possibility," Leonard told her, head behind the television as he plugged in the console.

"There certainly is not," Sheldon snapped. "Princess Zelda is a statuesque woman of nobility and heritage with delicate features reminiscent of the Vulpes corsac. Penny is not. Furthermore, the Nintendo franchise has no current plans for optioning the title as either."

"Penny's plenty foxy," Howard leered, but she barely even noted that he said anything, too focused on Sheldon.

Oh, he didn't just insult her height, her face, and her lack of title. He totally did, as if the argument that she wasn't born a princess was a good one. What the heck ever. She didn't even feel bad about the milk anymore. "Ok, first of all Sheldon, I'm an actress. I could be so regal you would be kowtowing to your Queen all over the place. Secondly, bite me."

It felt good to storm off.

The next morning, Penny crawled out of bed at an ungodly time for a Saturday, just before the buttcrack of eight am, and prepared for an early morning audition. The role was for an extra on NCIS, but as her agent had told her, they were looking for someone with a Midwestern housewife look, and Penny didn't know anyone who looked more Midwestern than she did. The housewife part she wasn't too sure about, but she decided to go with a more natural makeup base to match with her patterned blouse.

Her mug of coffee was poured before she realized, duh, she didn't have any milk and apartment 4A didn't either.

Buuuut, Penny remember, Sheldon usually woke up at 6:15 on Saturdays, and if his usual behaviour was anything to go by, he probably woke Leonard up at 6:16 to go buy more milk for his early morning Doctor Who ritual. Oh yeah, she could see him doing that.

So Penny grabbed her Good Morning is an Oxymoron mug and practically crawled across the hallway.

"Good morning, Penny," Sheldon said from in front of the television.

Penny pointed her mug towards him in response, gesturing towards the slogan and almost sloshing the coffee over her arm. She expected him to comment that he didn't think she knew what oxymoron meant, or to quiz her about his sour milk, but he did neither. In fact, he was surprisingly cheerful this morning, especially for someone whose routine was likely compromised. Even on mornings where everything went perfectly, he always berated her for entering their apartment without invitation and helping herself to his milk.

Some days she did it just to annoy him, since the milk was not a shared item in the fridge and therefore he felt more ownership over it than he did the juice.

This morning, however, she found the fool in her foolproof plan. In the fridge was the exact same container of milk she had contaminated the day before, untouched. Penny hesitated, hand hovering indecisively for a second. There was no way he hadn't found the milk yet, as Sheldon did not deviate from his rituals.

She was pretty sure this was a trap.

Penny grabbed the milk out of the fridge and poured it in her coffee, schooling her expression into one of unwitting innocence. Sitting next to him, Penny placed her coffee on the table in front of her, and leaned back on the couch. "I have an audition at 10," she moaned. "Why Saturday?"

"I am assuming that is a rhetorical question."

"Yeah huh," she said. "Why do you wake up so early on a Saturday? Most people who have Saturdays off like to sleep in, but instead you wake up earlier."

Instead of giving her a long, complicated, and impassioned speech about his circadian rhythms, he simply responded, "I like the quiet."

She could kind appreciate that. Heh, who knew? There probably weren't many opportunities for Sheldon to be alone in his own apartment, what with having a roommate and their living room being the adult equivalent to the neighbourhood tree fort. "When I was living with Kurt I enjoyed the nights when he was working and I wasn't. It was relaxing," Penny agreed, nonchalantly picking her coffee up.

She had already scoped out the immediate vicinity. Sheldon was lucky the coffee table was empty, because she was terrified of accidentally ruining one of his nerdy toys or comics that didn't look special but really cost two thousand dollars. If there had been anything on the table, she probably would have spit her coffee all over him, instead.

And while Sheldon dripping coffee spit probably would have made her morning, she didn't think it would do anything for their friendship.

"Blurg," Penny choked, coffee spewing from her mouth and all over the glasstop table. "Sheldon, why did you let me drink this! The milk is bad!"

"Is it?" he asked, the epitome of innocence.

For a moment, she was fooled. Just for a moment, but then she realized he wasn't looking at her in disgust and horror like he should be considering she just spit all over his living room. Sheldon should be having an aneurism based on the lack of hygiene involved in that alone. Instead, he looked only mildly concerned, mildly angry, and mostly challenging, his brows arched ridiculously towards his hairline.

That's when she realized that this entire thing was a setup. The reason the coffee table was cleaned off? He had anticipated the possibility of her sitting here, probably as one of at least a dozen ways she could react.

It was far too early in the morning for this, but even without the coffee in her system, Penny felt her mind become alert. "You did this on purpose," she accused him. "You knew the milk was bad when I poured it into my coffee and you deliberately didn't stop me."

"You were just as aware as I was. I ran a succession of tests to determine why the milk was contaminated, thinking I would require more rigid sanitary standards, but while calculating the butterfat and protein content based on the microwave absorption technique, I noticed a discrepancy. Namely, the milk was not 2% but rather closer in consistency with skim milk, which is your preference. So I cleverly devised a plan to determine your guilt."

"Ah huh," Penny said, running her tongue over her teeth and grimacing at the horrible taste in her mouth. "How did that work out for you?"

"Fact 1: You did not ask for milk with your Kung Pao chicken."

"I've eaten that without milk."

"Yes, but the statistical likelihood of that is one in three. Fact 2: You carefully watched everyone who went to the fridge."

"I'm curious!"

"Fact 3." Sheldon continued, not even dignifying that with a response. "You hesitated before taking the milk out of the fridge this morning. Though, I must admit that you played the rest of the scene out very convincingly."

"Thank you," Penny said, giving him a small smile. "But that doesn't prove I knew anything."

"Fact 4!" Sheldon emphasized. "I have a small camera set up inside the refrigerator that begins to record when the door is opened."

"Oh."

"Yes, oh. As they say, the jig is up." He looked at her intently, his jaw tense. "And I will get my revenge. Muaha."

They stared at each other, obviously at an impasse. Penny gave him a challenging look. "If you mean that, it is so on Sheldon, and I swear this time it won't be me crying home to your mommy."

He narrowed his eyes at her. "Then it is on," he said, enunciating the words in a low, measured tone.

She stared at him for a moment, carefully placed her mug on the table and walked out. Ha, let him scour the living room clean on his own. She had an audition to go to and a prank to think up.

x.x.x.x

The issue with the milk prank, if it could even be called that, was Penny wasn't sure whose turn it was. She hadn't meant the milk thing to be any kind of joke, but she had intended to get one over on him. Of course, Sheldon just had to go be a genius freak on her and study the milk to see why it went sour. He probably saw this as her contribution to what looked like a developing war. In retaliation, he forced her into drinking it, setting up an elaborate scheme that probably had components she hadn't walked into just waiting offstage if Plan A. didn't work.

Did that count as his revenge? Or was it his turn to pull something on her? Should she even be thinking of this in terms of "turns" or was it more suitable to use a take no prisoners mentality to this, adopting a philosophy that was somewhere between her Halo strategy and how she navigated her love life.

Did she even care? Sheldon was the one who had rules about his rules. Penny was the one who broke them.

Once she got back from the audition, she immediately got on her laptop and started researching practical jokes. She saw one of two good ones, bookmarked a few she definitely was not going to use – evidence to the contrary, she wasn't entirely stupid. She knew pilfering internet from geniuses probably meant they knew when she was looking up Puck/Rachael fanfiction at three in the morning – and opened her email account.

A few months back, she had made up a friend with a drug problem and asked Sheldon for his cousin Leo's email, citing that she thought Debbie could use the support of a recovering addict.

She did this just to mess with him. She knew a hammy stage actor when she saw one. It was her vocation, after all. It was like putting a string theorist in front of Sheldon and not expecting him to recognise a fellow scientist. Of course, it had taken her a few days at the time to figure it out, but honestly, who went that far to back up a simple fib?

Besides Sheldon, of course. No normal people did.

Heya Leo, she wrote.

Thx 4 ur help w/ my friend Debbie. She rly appreciated all the info u sent 2 her and she said it was super organized 2. U must have a bit of the more crazy Dr. Cooper jeans than u thought. Neways I'm trying 2 think of a prank to pull on Sheldon. Do u have ne advice? Can u think of nething he rly hated as a kid? I've got nothing.

Penny

Oh man, she snickered. He was going to hate this. Jeans. Epic.

She couldn't wait to get a response. Either he was going to have to give her advice on how to prank himself, or he was going to have to fess up to the entire thing. Of course, there were other options; his surprising ability to burst out of the box when provoked was what would make this fun.

x.x.x

Penny just had enough time to go to the library before her shift at the Cheesecake Factory. She had a few ideas about generic pranks she could pull, but she wanted something amazing, something personal, that would teach him not to mess with the master. The last time they had done this, it had gotten far too personal too fast, and ended up with her underwear displayed for all the world to see and his mother's number stored on her phone.

Honestly. She called his mom and tattled. How embarrassing.

So she set herself up in the computer lab and did another search for joke ideas, this time more specific than when she searched on her computer. She thought about doing something easy like switching the sugar for salt, but 1. that would also effect Leonard, and 2. it was far too simple.

After jotting down some ideas, she shoved the piece of paper in her tampon holder, not that she thought that would stop Sheldon or even give him a pause, it just felt like something she needed to do to maintain secrecy.

Spiders, she thought. She'd put a bunch of plastic spiders between his sheets. The boys always made her kill spiders for them, and she really didn't mind. Spiders weren't too bad, it was the cobwebs that really bothered her.

Or maybe she'd take out a personal ad for him.

Nemesis Wanted: SWM, 28, into comic books, Halo 3, and rock climbing (by day), justice, honour and vengeance (by night). Seeking arch-enemy, possibly crimelord or deformed megalomaniac. Will Wheaton need not apply.

Actually, she didn't want him making friends. Maybe a better idea would be to make up a normal single white male looking for single white female one and post it on craigslist.

Why was this so difficult? Seriously, she was over thinking this.

With 15 minutes left before she needed to leave, she Googled Morlocks.

After work, she found herself opening the door to 4A without really thinking about it. She also found herself smiling wanly at Sheldon as he watched television and heavily sitting next to him so that he bounced as the couch jerked.

"Did I miss supper?" she asked.

"We have eaten, yes," he responded. "Though in order for one to have missed the breaking of bread, one should have been expected first."

"Ah huh," she said. "Have any leftovers?"

He shot her a look of consternation, started to turn his attention to the television and then gave her a harsher frown.

Damn, biscuits for supper again.

And then, startlingly, Sheldon nodded. "There is a takeout box in the fridge."

Penny stared at him, trying to discern his expression, his motives, anything. Sheldon did not willingly offer leftovers. If there were portions of his supper not eaten, he had it mentally earmarked for something that wasn't her stomach.

Like maybe a prank? But no, that couldn't be it. Even Sheldon wasn't enough of a mastermind to anticipate her coming to his apartment for food. Only, she did do it all the time, and the best pranks were pulled based on rituals and knowledge of the other person. And he was a freaking genius, maybe he noticed habits she didn't even know she had, like stopping by on Saturdays when there was enough time between work and going out to play.

Penny grabbed the container he mentioned and settled back beside him. She hesitated, wondering if she was giving him too much credit.

Sheldon noticed her uncertainty and smirked his quasi-normal evil-mastermind grin.

Penny ate the food, almost expecting it to be covered in hot sauce or something, but it wasn't. It was perfectly normal, and tasty. Sitting in companionable silence with him while watching reruns of Stargate SG-1 was so ordinary that she actually forgot they were at war, and she was able to relax.

"Oh hey Penny," Leonard said towards the end of the episode. "What are you doing here?"

"Watching The Fifth Race episode of Stargate."

Leonard gave her that surprised look he had, the one that said 'you aren't fitting into my world view of hot Penny.'

"I like this episode," she said defensively. "It makes me feel all tingly and proud to be human, thinking that we're one step closer to being a fifth race of really smart alien people. Especially sitting here next to Sheldon, who would probably make the Asgard step up their estimations on how long we have to evolve."

Even Sheldon looked surprise at that, but gave her that small smile hovering on the edge of his lips and the careful duck of his head that she had thought so cute that first day they met. It made her feel all tingly and proud in almost the same way, as if eliciting this response was as huge of an achievement as humans being smarter than almost the whole galaxy.

"Oh," Leonard said, pushing his glasses up his nose and puffing out his chest in an effort to look more important. Seriously, last week she had been watching a blowfish documentary on the discovery channel with Sheldon and he had pointed out that a blowfish does exactly the same thing as Leonard when feeling threatened, and now she couldn't unsee it. "How was your day," he asked, getting a can of 7-Up from the fridge.

"Fine. I had an audition that went ok. I went to my day job. I accidentally instigated a prank war with Sheldon. You know, the usual."

Leonard paused mid-step, forcibly drinking his mouthful of pop. His eyes darted back and forth between the two of them on the couch, and then back towards his bedroom.

"Don't worry about it," Penny said, waving her arm in a dismissive manner. "I have nothing planned for Sheldon tonight, and I think I would have fallen into it already if Sheldon had something planned for me in this room, so I assume you're safe."

Leonard cleared his throat. "I am uncomfortable with the number of uncertainties in that sentence."

"Don't be a baby," she said.

"Wait a minute," Leonard said. "Is that the leftover angel hair pasta with Bolognese sauce that I was saving for lunch tomorrow?"

Penny's eyes cut to Sheldon. "Sorry," she shrugged. She couldn't even count this as a prank, sadly. It was just Sheldon being Sheldon. She asked for food, and when they ordered pasta they usually shared it between the two of them, so technically it was still half his even though Leonard called dibs.

Leonard sighed and went to sit on the couch next to her. Penny didn't really know what happened next, but suddenly there was a fizzling sound, her front was soaked through, and Leonard was rolling off her lap and onto the floor, sticky soda flying everywhere.

"Oh my God," he expressed, awkwardly climbing to his feet. "Are you ok?"

Penny looked down at her work uniform, noting that she was coated in 7-Up, and then back to him, dumbfounded. "Am I ok? Are you ok? Did you hurt yourself sweetie?"

"Leonard! Leonard! Look at this mess. If I wanted a sofa covered in sticky substances, I would have bought one second hand from a frat house!"

Penny's attention whipped away from Leonard and towards Sheldon. Ok, right, he said stuff like that without realizing the double entendre meaning all the time. It always threw her for a loop though, as if things referencing sex just shouldn't come out of his mouth at all, even though he didn't even realize he was saying something referencing sex.

Plus, she was pretty sure she saw Sheldon move his foot at the last second so Leonard would faceplant on her lap.

That didn't happen, right? It didn't fit in her world view at all. It was even less likely than him saying 'sticky substances' and meaning cum.

Leonard was glaring hostilely at Sheldon, but moved towards the sink for a damp towel and Penny took this as the best time to leave. She didn't want to give Leonard an opportunity to feel her up as he tried to clean the 7-Up on her clothes.

And dammit, this meant she was going to have to do a wash tonight before her shift tomorrow. Tonight was Laundry Night, and though she wasn't opposed to doing laundry at the same time Sheldon was, she wasn't exactly in the mood to sit through a rinse cycle. She had plans for tonight that did not involve fabric softener, unless things got super freaky and she sure wasn't going there.

Penny was thinking about exactly what freaky things could be done with fabric softener as she stripped off her uniform, tossing it on her floor in a ball, and stepped into the bathroom. She was humming a Taylor Swift song under her breath as she stepped into the shower—

And screamed, batting against the sticky, clinging threads brushing against her naked skin. Her arm was coated in the stuff, and she flailed uselessly, almost jogging on spot.

"Get it off! Get it off!" she chanted in a high-pitched girly shriek. It was disgusting, and oh god it was all over her arm and brushing against her side, and almost invisible, like something out of a horror movie and WHAT WAS IT?

"Penny!" she heard Leonard call from next door, followed by what sounded like laughter.

That's when it hit her. This wasn't a real spider's web, it was something Sheldon had set up as a prank. So that bastard had tripped Leonard on purpose so she would be forced to take a shower to get the 7-Up out of her hair. He was playing dirty.

She really should have spit on him this morning. She still might the next time she saw him.

Angrily, she jerked the spray of the shower on, watching in satisfaction as the web disappeared down the drain, almost dissolving before her eyes. Narrowing her eyes on the wall that separated her bathroom from their living room, Penny slammed her fist against the wall in a succession of beats, hoping she remembered the one phrase she had bothered learning.

In the next apartment, Sheldon quickly translated, "F. U." He frowned in confusion. "FU what, Leonard?"