This is a much longer and more full-bodied sequel to the story Pay For It, which you won't need to read if you're good at piecing together backstory on the fly. This story is a christmas gift for a very old reader, and a very good friend.

I'm Your Problem Now

Jimmy did not, exactly, participate in extracurricular activities. What he did do, exactly, was smoke underneath the bleachers and sometimes above them, passing out obscenities to football players who happened to step too close to his territory in their never-ending quest for the prized lump of inflatable brown plastic. If luck was on his side—which it, by definition, never was—he made it through the whole practice before the coach summoned the energy to start his puffy, red-faced trek down the hill to where Jimmy had his boots kicked up on muddy aluminum.

He made it all of twenty minutes today, before taking a lump of inflated brown plastic to the forehead. The positive side to that was that he never had to deal with a face full of sweaty pink pig meat. The downside was that he was pretty sure the sign post at the bus stop now suddenly tasted like purple. Pretty sure.

He'd caught the four o'clock back to his neighborhood, noticed that the vinyl seats were breathing, and stumbled off the bus all in a vague sort of brown plastic haze. His house was three streets away, and he'd never really thought about that before, three streets, why three? Wasn't two good enough? Did they really need a third one?

No one was home, which was pleasant if not surprising, and Jimmy dumped a collection of bills and ominous looking papers out of the lone chair at the kitchen table. His seat now.

He proceeded to stare at the wall for an immeasurable amount of time until a knock at the door startled him out of something steadily approaching cross eyed nirvana. He refocused his stare on the door for a long minute, and compiled a short list of people who might be knocking on his door:

1. Freakish glaze-eyed Christian zombies
2. His dad, thrown out of the bar
3. That vacuum salesman that was always coming by when his dad was at the bar (but only then)
4. The other kind of freakish glaze-eyed Christian zombies

Well, if it was zombies then they'd get in no matter what he did, and as Coach Cardiac-Arrest was always yelling, the best offense is a good defense. Or something. He'd always assumed the best offense was a good offense, but that might be the reason he wasn't currently employed as a high school football coach. That and he was like two hundred pounds under the prerequisite two-fifty.

Jimmy swung up to his feet and made his way to the door, grabbing the handle for balance when he tripped over a fallen stool. Well that wasn't there this morning. He pulled the door open.

"Look," he announced, "let's just make it clear that I'm totally not letting you chew on my brain meats, and I don't care which scripture you—You!"

The man on the step sported a familiar bewildered look. Bewildered, and he had a goatee—and he had the distinct look of someone who had never, in the face of all natural expectation, been anything resembling a deviant sex fiend.

"Oh," the man said, grabbing nervously at the straps of his backpack. "Hi, uh, Jimmy, wasn't it? You had the cat allergy."

Jimmy stared at him for a bit longer, and then snapped his fingers. "Edgar! The fag!"

The older man's hesitating smile took on a frozen aspect. "Uh. Right. I guess."

"Saved my life," the teen went on, with the sort of smile that usually accompanies a bruisingly overenthusiastic slap on the shoulder. "'Course we're even now. Definitely even. Totally. Made sure a that."

Edgar coughed discretely. "I remember."

"Come inside!" Jimmy insisted, grabbing Edgar by the starched white collar and dragging him through the door. Edgar's eyes went wide as he clutched at the peeling wall and at Jimmy's hands, feet stumbling over various things too dimly lit to make out. When Jimmy let go and stood back, he took a shaky, somewhat relieved breath.

" So…" he said, "this is where you live, then? It's very…"



"What's with the backpack? You getting into the hobo-ing business?"

His neighbor glanced down at the straps over his shoulders as if they had only just clambered up and cinched on now. "Oh. No."

"'Cause I hear it's a lucrative profession, in this economy."

Edgar stared at him like you would stare at a goldfish who had just begun to extol the virtues of a good sunbath. "Who told you that?"

"Everybody knows that."

"…I'll just bet. But the backpack is full of bibles, actually—"

Score one for the zombies.

"—I don't suppose you'd be… interested in one? I've got a script, but honestly I think you've thrown me off it a bit. We don't usually… come inside."

Jimmy shrugged. "Pretty sure we used to have one of those, but I don't think I should get another, if that's okay with you. The last one nearly gave me stitches."

"A—a bible? How?"

"I was between the book and the window. It's not a safe place to be."

"Er. Okay. Then. I'll just be on my way…"

He backed up, bright white sneakers kicking through various rolling objects. Jimmy frowned, disliking this turn of events.

"Nah man, come in the kitchen, we got… uh, koolaide. I know we have koolaide."

He grabbed Edgar by the hand and pulled him along, stumbling again, into the better-lit kitchen. In a quick twist-and-turn, he slid Edgar's backpack off his shoulders and tossed it onto the nearest flat surface. Damn, that thing was heavy.

Edgar glanced over his shoulder, and then back at Jimmy with a flickering nervous sort of gaze. "You know, I really have to make it to Paper Street by the end of today…"

"C'mon man, I never have visitors! It'll be fun! I don't know you, you don't know me, we can have all sorts of questionably legal fun! I've been wanting to see you again."

"I…I… maybe some other time."

The teen crossed his arms. "I have a concussion."

"Oh," Edgar said. For a second he looked inexplicably relieved. "You know, you should probably see a doctor about that. I heard you should never sleep after you get a concussion."

"Really?" the younger man replied. "Think I heard that before, actually. But how're you supposed to do that, unless getting a concussion gives you psychic non-sleeping powers? Like immortality, but instead of dying it's sleeping?"

"I… hadn't thought about that."

"Well, I've had plenty of concussions," Jimmy informed him, "and I've never had any trouble sleeping afterwards."


"Hey, do you smell something weird?"

Edgar looked around and then sniffed, lightly. "No… wait. Yeah. It's kind of like burning plastic."

Jimmy froze. Slowly, he rotated on his heel until he was facing the nearest flat surface. Which, because every other surface in the kitchen that would have been flat was covered in something else, happened to be the stovetop. Which, while now occupied, might have been previously unoccupied for a reason, come to think about it.

"Did we really leave that on all day?" he asked the refrigerator.

And then Edgar's bag burst into flames.

He rushed in—they both did—and pulled it off into the sink, which was mostly empty on account of Jimmy having eaten takeout and crackers for the better part of a week, and wrenched open both sides of the tap so that it was pouring out the absolute maximum of liquid fire extinguisher.

The fire faded to wisps.

Beside him, Edgar was staring unblinking at the charred and soaked bag. "My bag," he mumbled. "My books."

"Uhhh…" Jimmy replied. "If it makes you feel any better, I think Christians tend to have a positive view of book burnings?"

"I… god, I hope I don't have to pay for those…"

Jimmy chewed on his lip. This was Not Good. He had just passed his bad luck off to a pretty nice guy, all tawdry homosexual quirks aside. And that meant that he'd unbalanced the system again. "I'll make it up to you," he offered, a little too earnestly.

"No," Edgar replied, still dazed, "I'll just go."

And that only made Jimmy more nervous. "Seriously, I'll make it up to you, promise!"

Edgar just picked up his dripping bag, turned on his heel, and walked straight out the kitchen and out the door. Like a wind up doll. The door smacked shut behind him.

Well… well damn.

Jimmy was beginning to think he'd never be debt free again.

The day after that, Jimmy showed up on the door step (front door step, since last time the back door hadn't gone over well for some reason) of 665 Dormier Street. He knocked twice, and then bounced a little on his heels.

There was a flicker of movement behind the glass. Man, if you had glass in your door on his side of the neighborhood… just saying…

Edgar's muffled voice punched through the barrier. "Jimmy, what are you doing here?"

"I'm making it up to you!"


"Come on, we can go to the store and I'll buy you something and then you'll forgive me and we can be friends and get in fights together and have a secret handshake and wear each other's clothes and it'll be great!"

"You… you haven't had many friends before, have you?"

"Not really, no."

After a moment, Edgar opened the door and peered out at him, freshly patched backpack hanging from one shoulder.

"Look… I was about to go out on my rounds. I wouldn't really have time, even if I wasn't pretty sure that you'd set something else of mine on fire after five minutes of us being out together."

"I would not. I ran out of lighter fluid like a week ago."

"Regardless, I've got a job to do and you… Frankly, you're a very strange person."

Jimmy grabbed the man's hand, two pale white ones burying a warm brown one. His arms buzzed, from finger to shoulder blade. "Please. I just wanna make it up to you."

A moment passed. Birds chirped. Dust floated awkwardly out of the way, a little confused. Finally, Edgar sighed and started down the steps.

"Whatever keeps you from showing up on my back porch in your underwear," he said.

The walk there went by without incident, which was probably because Jimmy walked as close to his blithely confident neighbor as he could without grafting himself onto a rib, which no doubt confused Luck into hesitance. Goddamnit, he was clever.

At the entrance to the store, Jimmy had to nearly drag the older man inside once he spotted the iron bars over the windows. It was only 'nearly', because about the same time One Eyed Bob shuffled up to the door Edgar's legs started working in earnest, and they popped right through the door and came to a wobbling stop about an inch from the liquor display shelf.

Jimmy grabbed his hand and pulled him towards a familiar side of the store, where he snatched up a couple items and pocketed them before pulling a couple kerchiefs down from the display and handing them to Edgar.

"Hold those for a sec, will you? I need to grab some hairspray from the other side of the store."

"They have hairspray?"

"And lipstick, although I never bought any 'a that. Oh, hey, you want some? I could buy you some, like as my sorry for burning up your bag thing?"

Edgar blinked at him. "Why would I want lipstick?"

"I dunno. Girls like lipstick, fags are basically… like, girls with dicks, right?"

"Jimmy, pardon my language but who the fuck have you been talking to about this?"

Jimmy shrugged. There was a black can of hairspray that looked about the right size and viscosity, and he was fairly certain he had enough cash for it too. He tossed that at Edgar as well.

"So what d'you want?" he asked, gesturing at the many dusty rows of goods. "Sure you don't want any of that lipstick?"

"Positive," Edgar replied, firmly. He took a look around the room, lips pursed suspiciously. "I really don't want anything, Jimmy."

"Oh come on, you gotta want something."

"No, really," the older man insisted, staring at a shelf labeled cold medicine/engine cleaner. "I don't want anything."

Fuck, he was never going to get this cleared up. Jimmy glared into a future where he died an inglorious death choking on a wishbone in some back alley because he was never able to clear up his metaphysical finances.

"Fine," he huffed. "But I'm gonna pay you back one way or another. Just you watch."

Edgar gave him a very serious look. "I may not have the stomach to."

Jimmy grinned, grabbed his goods, and marched up to the register with his newly conscripted friend following tentatively up behind him. The guy at the register knew him, which was not a convenient thing in Jimmy's world. He sort of wished that it had been the new guy at the register, just today, for the one time he had somebody watching over his shoulder. Somebody who wasn't a social worker, even.

"Just this," Jimmy said, hoping that they could slip out without a fuss this time.

"Nrrk," said the guy at the register.

Jimmy crossed his arms, defiant. "What, I don't even have any pockets today. You gonna search my underwear or something?"


"Oh, shove it up yours. I have money."


"Did not."


"You leave my mom out of it and I'll leave out yours, okay?"


"Edgar, Edgar man, tell this dickwad that I didn't steal anything."

"Well, I…"


"Fuck you I didn't kidnap him!"

Edgar slammed a palm down on the counter with a resounding smack. The register guy and Jimmy both stared at it.

"Look," Edgar said, teeth clenched, "if it gets me out of this place and away from the shambling man with the one eye any faster, I will buy this stuff."

"Nrrk," said the register guy. He gestured vaguely at the backpack.

"He wants to know if you're a hobo," Jimmy translated, noticing the nonplussed look on Edgar's face.

"Er. No."


"He says that's a shame, it's supposed to be a lucrative profession in this economy."

Edgar rubbed at his temples. "And to think I could be selling bibles right now. Alright, I am putting money on the counter now. Take it or leave it."

The other two men considered this.

"Fine with me," Jimmy acceded. He could just pay back when they left the building.

"Nrrk," the register guy agreed.

There was a ding followed by the sound of coins. "Come on," Edgar sighed, "let's go." He re-shouldered his backpack and stalked out the door, making a wide parabola around One Eyed Bob. The younger man took the change and ran after him.

"Register guy's really a pretty pleasant dude," Jimmy remarked, looking back over his shoulder as he hopped into step with his neighbor. "Had a great singing voice before that Pomeranian chewed his throat out."

"I," Edgar replied, "am just not going to ask."

A couple days later, Jimmy ran into the object of his uneasy mind on the way to the bus. The bus stop was just past Jimmy's favorite store five blocks away and very homey, in a plastic-cubicle-covered-in-dirt kind of way. You had to pass through some disputed territory to get there, but hey, nothing good comes free.

In the middle of said territory, Jimmy had spotted Edgar turning onto the same street, only a few feet ahead of him. Two things occurred to him at the same moment: that this was no street to be waltzing down like you owned the place, and that there was probably nobody else who would take the time to warn Edgar of this. The obvious action was indeed obvious. Jimmy tumbled into a run and hooked an arm around his shocked neighbor, taking special care to drag him into the bushes mere seconds before the warning whistle went off.

After a second, he remembered to unhook his arm from Edgar's ribcage and climb off.

Breathing hard, Edgar palmed at his heart and gave Jimmy a wide-eyed look, partially obscured by the hedge that was attempting to swallow his head. After a moment, the adrenaline-shocked expression faded to one of pointed doubt.

"You know, there's a very short list of reasons why someone would pull someone else into a bush. Which one is yours?"

Jimmy peered out at the silent street. "Local gang," he said, by way of explanation, "they're having sort of a turf war, and I know I don't wanna land myself a cherry bomb to the face for stepping on the wrong crack. I just did you a favor."

"What kind of gang uses cherry bombs?"

"The kind made up of ten-year-olds?"

"Oh, for the love of Pete. Come on, I'm not sitting in this bush for a bunch of ten-year-old thugs."

And then he just stood up and walked off, like nothing at all. No explosions, no nothing. Jimmy took a tentative step after him—so far so good—and then another, and then another…

And then a firecracker went off less than a foot away from his military surplus boots and he bolted after Edgar like his life depended on it. Which it probably did.

Whelp, looked like that wasn't going to pay back much.

"Hey," Jimmy yelled, "you goin' to the bus? I know the way to the bus!"

Jimmy heard something that might have been an "oh god."

They caught the bus uptown, although Edgar seemed to be surprised to find himself still in the company of a seventeen-year-old acquitted arsonist with a pocket full of still-unexplained handkerchiefs, rather than back in the neighborhood selling bibles door to door.

"I'm beginning to wish I hadn't moved back into the old house," the older man muttered, as Jimmy dug through the pockets of his patched backpack. "I just… don't remember the neighborhood being like this when I was a kid."

"You grew up here?" Jimmy asked, levering an elbow underneath the stack of hardbound books.

"Mhm. What are you looking for?"

"I dunno. I just felt like looking."

The younger man retracted his arm and went searching around his own person. The cash tucked into his waistband made a new appearance.

"Here," he said, offering it up. "For yesterday. I'd give you back the jingly bits but you probably saw I used 'em for busfare."

Edgar sighed, expression softening a little. "You don't have to pay me back, really. It wasn't much. It was worth it to get out of that store."

"Yeeeah, the huge purple scar on dude's neck is kinda crazy, I guess. But seriously, take the money."

"It's really not—"

"No, man. Take it. Take it now. I don't owe people."

With the same sort of careful look that was becoming familiar, Edgar gently picked up the crumpled bills and tucked them into his backpack.

Days after that, Jimmy skipped school and followed Edgar to the college campus. He'd been there a couple times before, but never for anything as serious a reconnaissance. And reconnaissance was serious business. Although no one had ever accused Jimmy of "subtlety" or "tact", he was—when the inspiration took him—a top notch stalker.

He followed Edgar from one classroom to another, managed to slip into one of the lecture halls that was especially crowded, and generally made himself just scarce enough. In the course of the day he noticed:

1. Edgar had some intense classes that appeared to be taught exclusively on the subject of gibberish
2. There was this boy that Edgar kept talking to
3. Jimmy had the intense urge to punch that boy
4. In the library, some dickwad grabbed up whichever book Edgar was reaching for at least four times

He also wasn't certain, but he was pretty sure Dickwad had already hidden the last book that Edgar had gone looking for. Dickwad had a pointy, beady-eyed sort of look to him, and the same narrow stare as the kid who had stolen a much younger Jimmy's lunch money day after day right up until the day Jimmy had come back from break and bitten a hole in the kid's cheek. Jimmy figured this weasely dickwad would benefit from a similar vivisection as well.

The last class of the day brought Dickwad back into Jimmy's radar in a very big way. As far as Jimmy could tell past the screen of shrubbery and the huge frigging pillar, Edgar had been studying up for some kind of test on the bench outside the hall when the beady-eyed shitweasel came slithering up. There was a moment of silence and generally pointy looming, and then Dickwad opened his ugly little mouth.

"Ready for the test, Vargas?"

Jimmy ducked a little closer.

"I think so," Edgar's voice replied, lightly. "I'm sure you'll be incredibly well prepared. Tell me something, are you planning on returning them at some point, or are you just going to hold onto them to spite future generations?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"The books," Edgar explained, as polite as if he were talking over a tea table. "In the library? The ones that you happened to reach before me—all five of them? I had no idea you were into knitting, Rigby."

Dickwad paused, hand tightening visibly around the strap of his own heavy-looking backpack. "Yeah, well, it's for my mother."

"Funny how you just happened to think of it at the exact same time as me, eh?"

"Don't try to be smart, Vargas. You'll find yourself severely outclassed."

"Oh Rigby, I'd never dream of going toe-to-toe with a knitting wizard like yourself."

"Okay," Dickwad spat. "Enjoy the test, smartass."

And then the little weasel snatched up Edgar's notes and tossed them into the overflowing ashtray by the door, where a still-smoking stub sent it all up in a smart burst of flames.

The weasel stomped into the classroom, leaving a silent Edgar in his wake—probably frozen, insofar as he wasn't leaving his spot behind the pillar—and a pile of grayish smoking trash on top of the ashtray. Underneath the bush, Jimmy had the overwhelming urge to crack his knuckles.

This, you realize, meant war.

Finally, Edgar's voice trickled out, stunned. The sound was soft, and carried all the heartbreak of dead Christmas puppies.

"Go- Je- Oh, fuck me."

Three days later, the newspaper headlines read Local Man's House Targeted by Arsonist—damage inexplicably limited to one room.

Jimmy got himself a copy, and circled the line about the distraught family, and underlined the line that read "cause apparently traced back to a bottle of cheap-ass hairspray and a pocketful of dime-store handkerchiefs". Then, for good measure, scribbled targeted with extreme prejudice at the bottom of the clipping.

That one didn't even count. That was just a matter of civic pride.

Attempt number two (the real one, not the warm-ups) took off a few days later, after some fancy footwork on Jimmy's part and an unusual amount of good luck, which made him feel both nervous and vaguely vindicated. Good returns good and all.

He rang Edgar's doorbell, and ran like hell around the side of the house. He was in hearing range, barely, which was good enough. His palms were sweating, which was weird, and his heartbeat was about on par with a frightened rabbit's, which was also weird but sort of nice, and he found himself holding his breath as the front door creaked open. If he'd just had more time, he could have gotten up on the roof—that way, he could have seen Edgar's reaction. He felt a bit cheated.

The door closed. Silence, and then…


And more silence. And then-

"Oh, I just fucking bet."

And more silence.


A short pause.

"Well… truth be told I did always want one of these. It's… kind of…"

There was the sound of a door closing, and opening again quickly after, like Edgar had gone dashing through the house and took the steps back down in one jump.

"I know you're still there, Jimmy, and I'm telling you I can't keep it," the older man called, sounding a little preoccupied. "It's, uh, a nice thought? But I can't keep it!"

Another pause.

"It is a nice thought though. In a… weird sort of way."

And then the door closed again.

After a couple minutes of nothing, Jimmy peered around the corner. No Edgar. Hesitantly, he started off across the grass to where his gift was standing, chewing on some grass, with its huge bow crafted unsteadily from a rarely used scarf Jimmy had discovered in his closet.

The teen stared at the pony. The pony stared back.

The huge cardstock card attached to the bow had been shifted, and Jimmy flipped it open. "I thought this pony would make you smile," it still read. "Don't get too close, it bites." New, however, were the faint indents underneath the familiar words. He turned it over. On the back, there was now a paragraph of blue writing scribbled hastily across the page.

Jimmy, you know I couldn't possibly take this pony. I'm not zoned for it, for one thing. But I know a guy who will take it, if you can't give it back to its original owner. He's a nice guy, I'll put his address below. Thanks for the thought. You're not so bad, really. Still weird, though.

Deep in Jimmy's skinny chest, disappointment warred with something as unusual and interesting as a cheerful tentacle squeezing at his heart.

Jimmy's next try was a box of waffles. Waffles, he reasoned, were pretty much the only decent thing humanity had ever come up with, aside from lighter fluid. It seemed like the ultimate, most natural gesture of goodwill, from one man to another.

He left a note on them, saying "Sorry. Have some waffles."

When he opened his own door for school the next morning, a matching box of toastable breakfast foods was waiting on his front step. There was a note attached.

"In good conscience," it said, "I can't accept food from a guy whose wrists are skinny enough to slide out of standard handcuffs. Eat them yourself."

Jimmy pocketed the note, and spent the rest of the morning wondering how Edgar knew about the handcuffs.

His final attempt found him back on Edgar's doorstep, next to a box full of supplies he'd picked up from an acquaintance a year or so back. They made a heavy jangling noise when he set them down to knock. He had lost a couple pieces during a run in with the long-and-somewhat-overweight arm of the law not too long ago, but they had all been for different sorts of jobs anyways.

A shift behind the glass, and then Edgar cracked the door open.

"Oh," he sighed, "good morning Jimmy. I don't suppose you're here selling cookies."

"No. Do you want cookies? I can get you cookies."

The older man rubbed at his temples.

"So anyways," the teen went on, hands in pockets, "just stopped by to ask, what kind of car do you want? Just to look at though, unless you know how to drive a hotwired car. Probably want to pick out something that matches the lawn, or, I dunno, however you people do that."

"You... Don't tell me you're going to steal a car."

Jimmy shrugged. "Well, I won't if you don't want me to. Tell you, that is. Still gotta steal it."

They looked at each other for the tick of a clock. Edgar leaned forward and grabbed both of the younger man's upper arms, which tingled like he'd been sprayed with friendly pepper spray. Edgar gave him the sort of look that he recognized from television, the kind of look that said I want you to pay very close attention now, are we clear?

"Jimmy, honestly," he said, "the only things I really want right now are some text books."

Jimmy frowned. "I could get those."

"Textbooks aren't cheap. They cost way more money than they have any right to, actually."

Jimmy blinked. "What's your point?"

"Well… I mean… to be blunt about it, you're kind of dirt poor, aren't you?"

"Oh," the younger man said, flicking an uninterested hand. "Yeah. Don't worry, I don't usually pay for stuff anyways."

Edgar sighed and pulled off his glasses, swiping at the lenses with the bottom of his shirt. A strip of light brown skin flashed underneath.

"Look, I'm definitely not going to accept something you stole," the older man informed him, slipping his glasses back on. The shirt remained untucked. "I just don't want anything, alright? The whole burning bag incident is really no harm done, I only lost two books and the patch job on the bag itself is holding up perfectly well, and you've been trying so hard it's really… kind of sweet, I guess? Can I just call off whatever debt you think you owe me?"

This was considered. He'd never had someone offer to call off a debt before, mostly because he hadn't owed much of anybody more than a good punch in the teeth before Edgar showed up. But his metaphysical debts weren't being managed by Edgar, they were on the books of Luck and Luck was not a Lady. Luck was a Bitch.

"Doesn't work like that," Jimmy replied, at last, a little disappointed himself. "Wish it did."

"Huh." Edgar leaned up against the door and stared at empty air, fingers tapping idly across the leg of his khaki pants. "Well. I guess I've been ignoring the obvious solution."

"…I could bring back the pony and burn down the zoning office?"

"No, Jimmy. No ponies, and definitely no arson."

"Well what then?"

Edgar started tapping again, looking vaguely leftward and sort of uneasy. "I guess, you could kiss me again."

Jimmy considered this. "I dunno. I did that 'cause you saved my life last time—"

"They were cats, Jimmy, they weren't going to kill you."

"—and it's not like life-saving levels of debt this time. There'd be, like, change left over."

Now it was Edgar's turn to consider. After a second, he smiled a sort of slight, thoughtful smile. "That might not be a bad thing," he replied. "I get the feeling you're not going to leave me alone after this, and it might be convenient to have the scales tipped in my favor for the next time you destroy something of mine." He refocused again, blue clouds flashing in the reflection of his glasses. "Anyways," he added, "you know, it might be kind of nice to have someone owing you for a change."

The mysterious tentacled monster in Jimmy's chest cavity started slipping an appendage up around his heart again, which beat faster in a vain attempt to shake the invader off. Yeah, truth be told, he kind of liked the idea of Edgar owing him. "Alright," he said.

Edgar stared at him. Somewhere down the road, a bird chirped. "Well?"

"Well what?"

Edgar's fingers stopped tapping, and he let out a little groan. "Fine. Fine. Come over here."

A small part of Jimmy's brain was reminding him that you should never stand too close to a homosexual, but there were plenty of other parts saying plenty of other things and it sort of got lost in the mad jumble of ideas pouring out of Jimmy's various warring lobes. This had been easier when he was wearing girl's pajamas.

He stepped closer.

With a sort of steeling breath, Edgar stood up properly and leaned in, fixing the inch or two difference in their heights. His hands hovered for a moment, and then settled over Jimmy's shoulders, and he made an uncertain humming sound.

And then he kissed Jimmy.

Despite knowing it was coming, the sudden press of lips startled him, and the chest creature took advantage of his momentary shock to loop all its many tentacles around such vital organs as his lungs and squeeze like it was trying to pop him. Jimmy did something he'd seen on television, that thing where you move your lips in the middle of a kiss, and Edgar made a sort of surprised noise, and Jimmy reached the interesting conclusion that, overall, Edgar tasted like warm.

And then Edgar pulled back with a nervous little laugh. He shoved his hands in his pockets and looked around, and generally completed the impression of a guy who had never, in the face of all overwhelming expectation, been any kind of depraved sex fiend.

"Uh," he said, eloquently.

"It's not an allergy."

Edgar squinted, clearly not following. "Beg pardon?"

Jimmy waved a hand. "Cats. I'm not allergic to them."

"Oh." Edgar blinked a few times. "Oookay. Cats. Right. Then… why are you so scared of them?"

Jimmy gave him a very serious look, and leaned in close. "Cats," he said, "are dangerous at both ends, and crafty in the middle."

Neither of them said anything for a long time.

"Well. Glad that's cleared up. Yep. Good to know." A pause, and then a sigh. "Oh, come on, I'm going to get coffee. And although I don't think anyone ought to purposefully put coffee into your hands, I guess I can dish out for a bagel. You look like you need it."

Another pause, in which he looked around the street and gave a particularly sidelong glance at his next-door neighbor's window. There was a flicker as of a curtain quickly drawn closed.

"God I'm glad I was already out," Edgar sighed, and pulled the door closed behind himself.