A/N: This story is for WendWriter's Can We Talk? forum's November Writing Challenge, "Different Strokes." The rules: can be for any fandom. Must be about alienation or being different, and the consequences of this, whether bad or good. Must contain the line, "Don't ask me, I'm just a _______." somewhere. Doesn't matter where, or what you use to fill in the blank, but it has to be in there somewhere.

Hope you enjoy it! Please R&R.


"Dad, what's taking her so long?" Sheldon whined to his father.

Bob sighed. "Son, don't worry about it so much. You'll be fine."

But the young seahorse was a worrier at heart. He kept peppering his father with questions ("Is she taking so long because it's bad news?" "Why do I keep sneezing?" "Is there something wrong with me?" "Am I – A-CHOO! – going to die?") until Bob could not take it anymore.

"Sheldon, I don't know! You probably just have a head cold! Now sit there quietly and stop asking me these questions, or so help me, I will– "

"Sheldon Equus?" said Dr. Sturgeon as she swam through the coral entrance of her office. Sheldon replied by sneezing.

Bob, embarrassed at having been caught disciplining his son, sheepishly greeted her. "Oh, hello, doctor."

The skinny piscesiatrician swam over to the seahorses and lowered her head. "Mr. Equus, I'm afraid I have some bad news. Your son's tests came back positive for H2O intolerance."

Sheldon started trembling. "What's that?" he whimpered, in sync with his father, who was also clueless about this so-called "H2O intolerance."

"It's an extremely rare, though not unheard of condition," Dr. Sturgeon began. It was obvious that she had been expecting this reaction. "When an H2O intolerant sea creature inhales, the gills begin to swell from contact with the allergen, which is, of course, water. After, say, twenty breaths or so, the gills are too swollen to exhale. The sea creature must then exhale the water and air by sneezing. This, for reasons no one can quite understand, brings the gills back to normal and the process starts over again."

Bob stared at her, seriously considering finding a doctor for his son who was slightly less crazy. "You're kidding me, right?" he said.

"I'm afraid not," Dr. Sturgeon replied solemnly. She then proceeded to continue, ignoring the rolling of eyes coming from Bob. "Sheldon will be able to live normally, as long as he doesn't participate in any roughhousing or activities that require high stamina and keeps out of areas with high water pressure." He turned to Sheldon, who was still quaking with fear. "Oh, sweetie, it's okay! You're going to be just fine."

Sheldon believed her. He always believed Dr. Sturgeon. But he was about to realize that everyone is wrong sometimes, even doctors.


"Hey, Shel-dork! What kind of mental disorder did Sturgeon find lurking around in your tiny brain?"

Shannon, Sharon, Sharie, Shelley, and Shara were the five meanest older sisters in the entire ocean. They made fun of Sheldon for being small, dumb, and younger than they were. He would usually respond to a snarky comment from them by swimming toward them at high speed, screaming and thrashing about, until their father interfered. But he had heard Dr. Sturgeon said: No roughhousing.

This time, he replied with a snarky comment of his own (or at least he intended for it to be snarky.) "I don't have a mental – A-CHOO! – disorder. I'm H2O intolerant."

"H2O intolerant?" Sharon inquired. "What the heck does that mean?"

"It means that your little brother is allergic to water," Bob replied as he entered his home. "It's a very rare but not all too serious condition, and you are going to respect Sheldon for it."

"Allergic to water?" Shelley scoffed, ignoring her father's warning. "Talk about a little freak of nature."

Shara chimed in. "How is he going to survive?" She laughed. "Not that I care."

"Girls! Stop making fun of your brother. He's going to be fine. It'll just be harder for him to breathe, and he'll sneeze a lot more than usual. But that does not mean that you can tease him about it!" Bob shouted.

But the girls did not stop poking fun of and making jokes about Sheldon. For example, his birthday was about three weeks after the initial diagnosis. His sisters planned a "special" party just for him. It was all Shannon's idea. They made a huge seaweed cake that looked and tasted delicious. However, they also made sure that it had a lot more little water pockets than normal. This resulted in a massive sneeze that sent Sheldon sailing halfway across the room, crashing into the coral walls. They also customized his birthday song to make it "extra special":

"Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday, dear Shel-dork! Happy birthday – A-CHOO!"

To add salt to the wound, Sheldon actually did sneeze at the very moment that his sisters faked it. Bob declared the party officially over after this.

Later in the year, when Shannon, Sharon, Shelley, and Sharie were sick with the plankton flu, Bob treated Sheldon and Shara to a reef hockey game. It was Sheldon's first game, and he was ecstatic. That is, until halftime. The announcer declared that any kids in the crowd could go down to the field and participate in the halftime relay races with Little Boy, the team's human mascot.

Sheldon wanted to do it, of course. "Can I go down and race with Little Boy, Dad?"

Bob looked at his son with pity. "Sheldon, you can't go down there. It'll be way too hard for you. You'll choke, and they'll have to cart you off to the hospital. It's not worth it."

Shara looked at her brother's disappointed expression and sneered. "Can I go race with Little Boy, Dad?" she asked in a syrupy sweet way.

"Well, sure if you really want to."

Shara snickered as she passed Sheldon. "Loser," she whispered. Of course, she told her sisters all about it when they got home.

And it wasn't just his sisters. All of his father's friends would baby Sheldon and give him special treatment as if he had some sort of terminal illness. Sheldon really didn't like having attention drawn to it, but it seemed as if it were all they thought about. The only people he knew who really treated him like he wanted to be treated were the two clownfish who lived in the anemone next door, a kid about his age and his father. Unfortunately, Bob didn't really seem to like them all that much, and wouldn't let Sheldon see them.

Sheldon felt tortured by his sisters' teasing. But he couldn't do anything about it. He was forbidden from attacking them like he had in the past, and his words, no matter how hard he tried, had no effect on them. One day, he got fed up with being helpless. He needed to find a way to cure himself. When his father wasn't looking, he snuck out of his home and swam toward the surface. He figured that if his head was above water, his H2O intolerance wouldn't effect him.

That turned out not to be the best idea ever. Sheldon was up there for nearly fifteen minutes before Bob realized he was missing. By then, he had nearly drowned. He was in the hospital for three days. Of course, this was the perfect opportunity for his sisters to come up with a new nickname for him. He was no longer Shel-dork. Now, he was known as "Air-Breather."

"What's up, Air-Breather? Is the surface world nice today?" Sharie would ask him.

"Shut up," Sheldon would mumble. Sharie would either ignore him or laugh.

When Bob said that it was time for Sheldon to start school, Sheldon was not happy.

"Nobody there is going to like me! They'll all – A-CHOO! – make fun of me," he argued.

"Sheldon, you are going to school tomorrow. No questions asked," Bob replied.

And that is how Sheldon ended up swimming reluctantly behind his father into his town's school sandlot.

He looked around cautiously. His dad always said that anyone could be a potential friend, but Sheldon knew that anyone could be a potential enemy, too.

But he didn't want enemies. He wanted friends. He studied two kids who were floating far away from the others. They were a butterfly fish and a pink octopus who were swimming in a circle, apparently chasing each other. Suddenly, the butterfly fish turned around and shouted, "Boo!" The octopus screamed and emitted a coal-black liquid. "Aw, Tad! You made me ink!" she whined.

The butterfly fish, Tad, ignored her. He had noticed Sheldon looking at them. The octopus was still glaring at Tad angrily, but then she followed his gaze and saw Sheldon as well. She smiled and motioned him over with one of her tentacles.

Sheldon wasn't surprised, but he knew it wouldn't last long. These kids were probably going to be nice to him at first since he was the new kid, but once they found out about his allergy, they would label him as a weirdo and abandon him. He went over to them anyway, hoping that his dad's motto was right this time.

"Hi!" the octopus said happily as Sheldon approached them. "I'm Pearl."

"And I'm Tad!" Tad added.

"I'm Sheldon," Sheldon said. "Sheldon Equ –" But before he could finish his sentence, he let loose with a tremendous sneeze. "A-A-A-CHOO!"

"Bless you!" Pearl said.

"It's okay. I'm H2O intolerant," said Sheldon. Seeing Pearl and Tad's confused looks, he added, "I'm allergic to water." He sighed. "You guys probably think I'm weird. You don't want to be my friend, do you? Nobody does."

Tad laughed. "Weird? Nobody wants to be your friend? Hey, we know all about that! Everyone calls me 'obnoxious.' I don't know what it means, but I think it's bad. And people don't like Pearl, either, right?"

Pearl giggled. "Don't ask me, I'm just an inky octopus." She turned to Sheldon. "I ink at everything. My brother's like to jump up behind me just to make me do it. They call me Ink Butt." She made a face. "I don't know what a 'butt' is, though."

Sheldon's mouth dropped open. "Your brothers make fun of you? My sisters do, too!" He tried to give her a high-five, but both his fins and her tentacles were a little too short.

"You know what, Sheldon? I think we're gonna be pretty good buddies!" Tad exclaimed, bumping into Sheldon from the side.

The gesture triggered a sneeze that sent Sheldon sailing three feet back, followed by a coughing fit. "Just don't– " (cough) "– do that again.– " (cough) "Allergies, remember?" Sheldon managed to tell him.

"Sorry, buddy," Tad replied sheepishly.

After school, Sheldon raced to his dad, who was talking to Mr. Ray, the teacher. "Dad! Guess what? I made two friends! And they don't even care about my allergies!"

Bob smiled. "That's fantastic, Sheldon. It's great to see you find your place in the world. Isn't it?"

"Yeah, Dad, it really is. A-CHOO!"


A/N: Please R&R!