Disclaimer: I don't own The Big Bang Theory, or any of the characters... just the fantasies in my head.

Penny was always amazed how often she met her two next-door neighbors at the mailbox. Then again, given Leonard's obvious crush on her, maybe it was less of a coincidence and more by design. Still, that would hardly explain Sheldon's presence. She glanced over at the taller of her two friends. Not for the first time, she thought it was rather a shame that Sheldon seemed completely oblivious to the opposite gender. She remembered the very first day she met the two of them, how Sheldon had glowed when she complimented his work and given her the sweetest shy smile. She'd thought there'd been a connection between them, but then a whole lot of crazy had ensued. Now, almost three years later, she just thought of him as her weird friend.

Penny glanced down at the mix of catalogs and bills in her hand… nothing very interesting there. As she reached up to close her mailbox, some faint noise caught her attention. She turned her head. Leonard was flipping through some scientific magazine, but Sheldon was staring wide-eyed at a piece of paper he was holding. Whoa, wait a minute, something's seriously wrong, Penny thought. His face was almost as white as the paper. Before she could react, he swayed and toppled over.

Both the crash and Penny's scream jerked Leonard away from his article and back to reality. He turned to see the woman of his dreams kneeling before the prone figure of his roommate. Although of course he was concerned about Sheldon, he couldn't help the flash of irritation that once more Sheldon was getting all the attention, just like he always did. He never did get why women (grad students, especially) threw themselves at his roommate when he had the social skills of a preschooler.

"Sheldon needs help. Go get him some water," Penny ordered.

Leonard sighed. All this fuss over what was probably just allergies. "I could slap his face. That might make him come round," he offered a little too eagerly.

Penny shot him a look of utter scorn and turned back to Sheldon. Curious, Leonard picked up the paper that had fallen to the ground next to Sheldon's unconscious form. As he read it, his eyes grew wide. "What the frak," he said faintly.

Penny looked up at him, and her expression darkened as she saw what he was doing. "Are you seriously reading your roommate's mail while he's lying unconscious on the ground?" she hissed. Leonard was saved from having to respond by a groan from Sheldon. She helped him into a sitting position.

"What... where..." Sheldon mumbled, obviously still disoriented.

"Shh, it's okay, sweetie," Penny soothed. "You're in the lobby. I think you fainted."

"Yeah, I think I'm having a hard time processing this myself," Leonard cut in belligerently. "Sheldon, how the hell do you have a kid?" he demanded, waving the letter.

Penny gasped, and Sheldon's eyes rolled back in his skull once more. His head fell back onto her lap. When he came to once more, it became clear that Sheldon was in no condition to talk about the contents of the letter, so she and Leonard helped him upstairs to his apartment. She made him some hot cocoa and tucked him into bed. Then she came out into the living room to talk to Leonard.

"What did that letter say?" she demanded. "How on earth could Dr. Whackadoodle, the man who hates shaking hands, have a kid?"

"The letter's from the Texas court system. It says he's ordered to undergo genetic testing to establish paternity. I would've thought it was impossible for him to have a child, but apparently not, from the way he reacted."

She frowned. "Yeah, I guess if there was absolutely no way he could have a kid, he wouldn't have fainted. Did you know anything about this? Did Sheldon ever mention any old girlfriends?"

"We're talking about the same Sheldon, right?" Leonard asked with an incredulous laugh. "He didn't have any friends at all before I moved in," he sneered.

Penny bit her lip. "It's been years since he lived in Texas. Sheldon's kid could be almost a teenager by now." She tried hard not to laugh at the mental image of him trying to deal with a moody, hormonal teenaged daughter, but quickly sobered. Sheldon simply didn't have it in him to deal with a child. Whatever happened to him was sure to have an impact on their entire group of friends.

Leonard, Howard, Raj and Penny were gathered in the living room of apartment 4A as requested by Sheldon. Leonard had barely waited until he got back to the apartment to text the news to his friends. After taking few hours to gather his thoughts and compose himself (at least, that was what his friends assumed he was doing ensconced in his room), Sheldon let them know that he preferred to address their concerns as a group. They were all dying of curiosity to hear what Sheldon had to say about the letter from the lawyer. Quite a bit of money was riding on it too, as the boys hadn't been able to resist making bets about his news. Howard was convinced Sheldon had managed to clone himself. Raj imagined a tragic, forbidden love story. Leonard had convinced himself it was simply a case of mistaken identity.

Sheldon entered the room, hands clasped behind his back, and immediately the whispers died down. "Thank you all for coming to this brief informational meeting. Please hold all of your questions until the end, and naturally, you must raise your hand to be acknowledged," Sheldon spoke up. The boys exchanged glances, and Penny rolled her eyes before they turned their attention back to Sheldon.

He began, "Fourteen years ago, when I was earning my master's degree, I was approached by another graduate student. Her name was Laura McMillan, and she was researching two genetic markers which she believed were responsible for genius-level intelligence. As one of the few bona fide geniuses on campus, she approached me to ask for my assistance."

"Apparently, he gave it to her pretty good," Howard murmured under his breath, earning a glare from Sheldon and a smack upside the head from Penny.

"Ms. McMillan asked me for some... reproductive cells, which I agreed to provide. Of course, I presented her with a contract detailing what she could and could not do with my genetic material, and she signed it. Except for a few emails describing her inconclusive results, I haven't heard from her in almost twelve years."

"Let me get this straight..." Leonard began.

Sheldon cleared his throat pointedly. "Does anyone who has their hand up wish to ask a question?"

Leonard sighed, raised his hand and said, "Let me get this straight. You donated sperm to a crazy grad student and thought a contract would make magically make everything okay?"

"She assured me she had no interest in using it for reproductive purposes and only wished to analyze my DNA," Sheldon retorted.

"She lied," Leonard said tiredly, looking up from where he had propped his head on his hand.

"So if you have a contract, she can't sue you for child support, right?" Penny asked. Unfortunately, she knew far too much about court battles over custody and child support from her older sister, whose marriage had disintegrated after she "accidentally" shot her husband as he was sneaking back into their house through a window at two in the morning.

"That is the most likely scenario, although I will have to research paternity and child support laws specific to Texas," Sheldon replied.

"Dude, that's still harsh," Raj commented, holding the light beer which enabled him to be a part of the conversation while Penny was in the room.

"I have a cousin who's a lawyer—" Howard began.

"Whom I sincerely believe would be of absolutely no use whatsoever, unless he or she happens to be Texan and specializes in child support. Does he... or she?" Sheldon faltered, stymied by the awkwardness of his attempt to be grammatically correct.

Howard shook his head and looked down at the floor.

"Sheldon, nobody's talking about the elephant in the room," Penny protested. "If you do have a child, don't you have some responsibility to the kid to be in their life in some way?"

"Absolutely not," Sheldon snapped, looking horrified. "This is exactly the reason that courts and the legal system exist, to protect the innocent. I have done nothing wrong, and I shouldn't be held responsible for someone else's poor judgment. This meeting is adjourned." With that, he retreated to his room, leaving his friends to pointlessly continue discussing the subject without him.

Penny had been silent for a while, just listening to the guys gossip. Finally, she spoke up. "I need the three of you to do something for me."

"Sure, anything," Leonard said eagerly. Howard rolled his eyes behind Leonard's back.

"I want all of you to promise me you won't tell anyone else about this yet," she said.

There was a lot of uncomfortable squirming and shifty-eyed expressions. She sighed in disappointment. "Facebook?"

"And Twitter, maybe some texts, and a few emails," Howard muttered.

"Let me see," she demanded, holding out her hand palm up. Shamefaced, the three men handed over their phones. "Okay, I think we can work with this," she said at last, after several minutes of scrolling through their messages. "So far, you guys were focused on the idea that Sheldon might be a dad. By the way, those comments you were making earlier about cloning were really rude. He may be as awkward as a wooden puppet without strings, but he's your friend. He needs you to have his back." She sighed as she handed back their phones. "I see none of you got to the part yet where he was basically just a sperm donor. At least you had the decency to wait until he left the room to start gossiping about him," she drawled sarcastically. "So now you're going to promise me that you won't tell anyone about this whole test-tube baby thing." Over loud groans and protests from the guys, she continued. "Look, we all know Sheldon's kinda crazy, but he's also our friend. He has no idea how to relate to people, so lots of them, like the rest of your nerd buddies at Caltech, think it's okay to be mean to him. He's already gonna take enough heat from this rumor. Maybe if people believe he used to have a girlfriend and a life, they'll treat him differently."

Reluctantly, and not without implicit threats of junior rodeo action from Penny, the guys all gave her their word.