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Hombres como las estrellas

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"I don't even know your name," Poe shouts as he guns the Cadillac's engine and takes off, tires spraying up gravel and broken shells. The kid's hanging out the window, one knee on the seat, firing the guns he held in both hands.

Poe is so exhilarated, the thrill of escape drives his thoughts in the most absurd directions: the kid looks for all the world like a cinema hero, someone larger than life, holding off the black hats, defending the stagecoach.

Poe doesn't know a lot at the moment -- who this handsome kid, too big for his old uniform, with eyes too soft and pretty for one of Faget's men, is, why he'd decided to help, where they are going, what for the love of god they are going to do -- but learning his name seems the most straightforward question at hand.

When Poe takes the curve off the seaside road too hard, the kid falls back inside, bouncing off Poe and the steering wheel, one leg flailing. He rights himself, blinking owlishly, both guns aimed at the car's soft top.

"Your people don't use your real names," he observes as he reloads.

"True enough." Poe lets out the gas and builds speed on the flataway. The three dark cars are still giving chase, high beams piercing the dark; he has not gained as much distance as he'd thought. "So who do you want to be?"

Kneeling on the seat, one arm around the headrest, the kid all bur pours himself out the window again. Over his shoulder, he says, "Surprise me --"

A bullet grazes Poe's side of the car, then another. The kid is more outside the car than inside now, one foot braced on the window, torso plastered against the side, firing back.

The turn-off for Guanabacoa is approaching quickly. Barely more than a soft depression to the left, it's all too easy to miss in broad daylight. At night, going so fast, he'll be lucky to --.

"Fin!" Poe yells, then twists the wheel as hard as he can. "How's Fin? An end, a beginning?"

Out of ammunition, the kid slithers back inside the car. His face shines with sweat; his sensual mouth curves into a huge, guileless grin. "I like it! Hey, watch out --"


He still doesn't know if a bullet blew out a tire or he jumped the bank at a bad angle. All Poe knows is that the crash knocked him several meters into the scrub brush; he remembers flying, fire, the rumble of more cars, and then nothing. He woke in a banana grove and crawled on his belly deeper into the jungle, away from the road, far from the ocean.

Comrades found him two days later, woozy, wrist broken and an infected gash over his eye.

The kid was nowhere to be seen. If BRAC got him back, he's dead for sure.

Poe can't go back to Havana, not for a good while at least. He hasn't heard from his cell leader beyond her curt order to "stay low".

He's keeping out of sight in a safehouse in Cienfuegos, writing dispatches under various aliases for American and European outlets. He's bored, restless, short-tempered. He's smoking too much, drinking more than that, anxious to be called back to action even as he nurses the guilt of having been arrested in the first place.

Were it not for Fin, he, too, would be long gone.

One evening he detours along the seawall on his way back to the apartment, two bottles of rum in a paper sack tucked under his arm. He ducks down to light a fresh cigarette, The evening is chilly, nondescript, the beach deserted. This matches his mood quite well. His suit jacket flaps in the breeze, as do his trousers. The sand before him looks a little dirty, pitted with earlier rain.

Twelve matches die before he gets his cigarette lit. He straightens up, leaning against a tree, watching the waves in the bay. The water is gray and blue, the foam a dirty white, the shade of an old man's dress shirt.

When someone taps him on the shoulder, Poe nearly spins around, fist swinging wide. But he catches himself, remembers his cover and fakes a stumble instead. "Sorry, no money."

This is no beggar. He's seeing a ghost, fleshed, standing before him with hands clasped, a ghost gone angelic.

"Fin," Poe says, low as a prayer. Now he would drop his package, take him into his arms, embrace him for as long as he's allowed. He will.

The boy nods, eyes warm and intent, but he's still frowning. "Can you help me? I need your help."


It's stupid, and dangerous, and he will, to be sure, pay for this, but Poe takes Fin home to the safehouse. He owes the kid his life. He doesn't want to let him out of his sight again.

Neither of them has anywhere else to go.

Fin paces the small front room. All the windows are open, but the flat is still stuffy, and Fin has stripped to his undershirt. He gestures broadly, trying to explain his escape, his life on the run since, his search for safe harbor. His voice is hoarse for all his antic movement. Poe realizes that Fin has barely spoken to anyone since the crash.

"And then I saw you and I thought it was over," Fin concludes, sinking into the armchair, rubbing both hands over his face. "I thought, for sure, this is it, I'm dead."

"Eat," Poe says, nudging the tray on the low table between them closer to Fin. He never has much in the house, but the family downstairs gave him the remains of their dinner.

Bending at the waist, Fin shovels the rice rapidly into his mouth. "You, too," he says with mouth full. "You look like hell."

"Too kind of you." Poe spreads his arms and nods his thanks.

Fin all but tosses the plate at him. "Eat. You're skin and bones."

Sitting back in the rickety folding chair -- another item borrowed from the Flores family -- Poe crosses his legs and lights another cigarette, waving away both the stinging smoke and the food.

Shaking his head in frustration, Fin grabs the plate back and finishes it off, nearly licking it clean.

"Can I have one?" Fin asks, pointing at the nearly empty pack of cigarettes.

Poe pauses, hand on the pack. "You've smoked before, of course?"

"Yes, of course," Fin says stoutly. He even throws out his chest a little, as if he's insulted by the insinuation.

"Liar," Poe says and tucks the pack into his jacket pocket. "Don't start, it's filthy."

To his credit, Fin neither pouts nor protests. He just laughs, long and hard, at Poe. "Whatever you say, grampa."

Poe points the cigarette at him and says sternly, "Respect your elders."

"Even when they're Communist agitators?"

Poe pours another few fingers of rum for them both. "Especially then."

Fin nods, making a show of taking it all in. When he throws back his drink, however, the pretense breaks and he coughs, spluttering.

"You see?" Poe says, getting up to knock him on the back. "If you'd waited for my toast, maybe this wouldn't have happened."

He's never known, never even heard of, a Cuban child who can neither hold his liquor nor smoke with ease. But Fin, he discovers, is from the rural provinces, raised by a strict aunt and uncle dedicated to their Baptist faith and little else.

BRAC was his way out; after his military service, they recruited him, offered him a post in Havana, more money per month than he'd ever had, and he'd thought his luck was only going to get better.

"To be sure," Poe puts in drily. "Who can resist a chance to repress liberty and bully the nonconformist?"

Fin shrugs, calmly refusing the bait. "Mostly I mopped the floors."

"Are bloodstains so difficult to clean as they say?"

Now Fin scowls. He looks down at his hands. "Yes, as a matter of fact."

Poe shifts in his seat. He feels worse when, usually, a good cutting remark is more than enough to lift his spirits. "I'm sorry."

"No," Fin says, looking up again, and he meets Poe's eyes with the same frank openness he'd worn the night they met (you need a driver, don't you? Yes, fine. I need a driver.) "I am. Some of it was your blood, after all."

Poe raises his glass. "To tomorrow, then. Not yesterday."

Fin nods, rapidly, relief breaking over his face like dawn light.

Poe drinks, but the warmth of the rum on his lips, down his palate, is not, for once, what he's seeking.


They share the narrow bed. The flimsy sheet tangles between them, caught between Fin's legs and hooked over Poe's hip. The bedroom's windows are open to the sea, the shutters banging, but the air is still close.

Poe turns to the wall, palming his erection roughly. This is inappropriate, and dangerous, and wrong in almost every way, except the way that counts. Need has a way of asserting itself and defending its illogic against all comers, and he needs, very much, to measure the breadth of Fin's shoulders with his fingertips, taste the sweep of his clavicle, learn the curve of his lips and weight of his wide palms.

The kid is his guest, however, a runaway, without anyone in the world. To take advantage of that would be reprehensible, no matter what Poe's need feels, argues, all but shrieks.

He wakes early after a fitful sleep. Fin sleeps on soundly, round cheek pressed to the thin pillow. His lashes are long and pretty and Poe has to curl his fingers into a fist to keep from touching them.

In the small toilet, he pulls himself off quickly, desperately, before standing under the hesitant fall of water that constitutes his shower. Hours later, fantasies still haunt him, dogged, clinging: images of kissable lips, broad competent hands, poet's murmurs in a peasant's voice.


Shocked by the empty cupboards, Fin offers to go to the market. Poe is distracted by what he's writing -- verb tenses, how authoritative to make the voice of the piece -- so he hands over a bundle of bills without thinking.

When Fin returns, soaked to the skin with rain, he busies himself in the kitchen. Singing softly, dancing lightly on bare feet, he washes and chops, scrubs the few pots, sets them cooking, filled with his market prizes.

Poe has had only coffee -- and a lot of it -- all day, but doesn't realize until his gut twists sour and empty around midday. Fin waves him back to the desk and carries in two plates, balanced on one arm, a bottle of seltzer water in his other hand.

"For your stomach," he says, pouring Poe a glass.

Poe scowls but drinks it all. He was thirstier than he thought.

"You shouldn't have cooked," he tells Fin even as he digs into the food, soft beef falling apart beneath his fork, rich beans and rice. "You're not a servant."

Fin looks at him sharply. "I didn't think I was."

"All right. I simply didn't want you to --"

"Feed myself and you?"

"-- feel obligated," Poe concludes. He finishes off his stew and drinks down more fizzy water. He's so full that sweat's beading his upper lip.

Fin is perched on the loaned chair, his plate balanced precariously on the corner of Poe's desk. And yet he's the one who looks perfectly comfortable and composed. He piles food on his fork neatly, precisely, each bite the same size as the last. After a bit, he sets his fork down.

"Is there a difference between feeling grateful and feeling obligated?" he asks.

"Certainly." Poe clears his throat, ready to elaborate, but doesn't get the chance.

"Good," Fin says, nodding slightly. Getting to his feet, he takes up Poe's empty plate and his own. "Get back to work, then." When he reaches the doorway to the kitchen, he turns back. Silhouetted against the afternoon light, he looks slimmer and taller, radiant. "I'm a good cook. I want to do this. All right?"

Poe swallows, thirsty again. "All right."

He has even more trouble writing that afternoon, despite having eaten.


In the evening, after dinner, they go for a walk. Back along the seawall, where the flaccid, listless sea of the previous day has been replaced by a dark, low-growling beast. There is little wind, but the air feels fresher all the same, thanks to the rain earlier.

Fin wears one of the jackets left in the flat by a previous occupant. It's a little too large and he jokes as he rolls up the sleeves that it must have belonged to an American.

"Know many Americans, do you?" Poe asks.

Fin shrugs. "There were a few at..." He trails off, clearly unsure what to call the BRAC torture house. He lifts his chin, grimacing. "There."

That is interesting; there have been rumours for years about the Americans' collusion with Batista's security forces, but little in the way of hard facts. Poe tries not to show his excitement. "There were?"

"Of course." Fin claps him on the shoulder before quickening his pace.

The wall curves away from town, taking them from bright lights and car noise to the anxious crawl of the sea and shouts of birds.

This is farther than Poe has ever walked by himself. He's out of cigarettes and starting to feel the craving. He'd like to bite his nails, score the sharp pieces on his tongue.

At the edge of a small stand of trees, where wiry grass battles with sand for prominence, Fin is waiting for him.

"Is it true," he asks, looking out at the sea, his voice hushed, "the things they said about you?"

Poe clears his throat. "What sort of thing was that?"

Fin does not look at him. There is very little light out here, but it all seems to gather along the curving lines of his profile, embellish him like scrollwork.


No one else knows who they are, where they are, how they get on. They find a strange, rough kind of freedom in this isolation. Poe writes in the morning while Fin does the shopping and cooking. At first, he admits now, he'd been nervous about going back to the market. What if he were recognized, what if someone found him?

"But it's an odd thing, isn't it," he says over dinner, "to realize that you're invisible."

Poe pours himself another drink. He has cut his consumption under Fin's watchful care, but he hates to think of what it would be like, sharing such close quarters with this man, were he entirely sober. Harrowing would only be the start of it.

"You're not invisible," he says eventually.

"Might as well be." Fin starts to stand and clear the desk but Poe catches his wrist, urging him back down. He looks up, quizzical but ever-patiently trusting as Poe stands and, belatedly, releases him.

"Let me." Poe needs two trips to clear everything, and he only piles the dishes in the sink, but he's pleased with his effort all the same. When he brings a bowl of pineapple pieces back to the desk, Fin is sitting back in his chair, one arm hooked over the back, and the way he smiles at Poe is almost too much.

"You never did tell me what they said about me," Poe says a bit later. The fruit is long gone, and his mouth and chin are sweet-sticky with juice.

Fin shrugs and cuts his gaze away. "I should do the dishes before they dry."

Shrugging, Poe takes out his book and pretends to resume reading. He's very warm, however, and strips off his shirt. Sitting in just his trousers and undershirt, he struggles to concentrate on the page. Fin makes undershirts look comfortable, natural as skin, but Poe can't help but feel half-dressed, neither natural nor neat.

The kitchen light switches off, then there's a single footfall on a creaking floorboard.

Poe frowns, looking up, then over.

Fin approaches him, face almost stricken, hands empty at his sides.

"Perversions," he says, looking past Poe, his voice dull and hesitant, barely his own, "predilections, preferences..."

Poe sets his book aside. "Amid all the lies they tell, those are the truth, yes."

Fin stumbles when he reaches Poe, falls against him, and Poe catches him by the elbows, guiding him down to his knees. He cups Fin's round cheeks, traces his chin and lips with his thumbs.

Fin does not flinch. He turns toward the touch, arms going around Poe's waist.

"I'm sorry," he says.

"No," Poe replies as he folds himself over Fin, stroking down his back. "There's nothing to apologize for."


On the bed, they kiss, for hours, and hours. Poe's head swims, thoughts gone syrupy, everything reduced down to sensation and slow, happy need. They're both so sweaty, long past resisting it, now nearly wallowing in it. Sometimes they stick together, come apart with an obscene pop. His lips burn; his incipient beard is bringing up a flush, hot to the touch, on Fin's cheeks.

He kisses Fin's rose-pink palm, then each coral fingertip, and again. Fin tugs him back up, arms around his neck, mouth open and slick, somehow yielding and assertive all at once.

Their legs are tangled together, hips slowly grinding. The moment stretches into hours, near lifetimes, expanding and enveloping, holding them captive together.

Then it snaps apart, breaking into something faster and brighter, sharper and clearer. Fin nips at Poe's lower lip, then his chin, before pulling away, pushing himself down the length of Poe's body. Both their flies are open, and Fin drags down Poe's trousers and drawers.

Poe manages to catch him by the chin, tilt his face up, and Fin is smiling at him, tip of his tongue in one corner of his mouth, then the other. He nods, then dips his head to take the head of Poe's cock inside his mouth.

His eyes flicker back up as his cheeks hollow. Poe arches into Fin's mouth, feels his entire body bend and reach, yearning, as Fin pushes his legs up until they're bent at the knee, Poe's feet flat on the bed on either side of Fin's head.

Poe catches the back of Fin's skull, digging his fingers into the soft, springy hair, thrusting up, feeling everything he has drawn into Fin's hot, strong mouth.

He hears the bedsprings creak, feels his ass bounce a few times, then Fin's forearm across his belly, pushing him down and holding him still as Fin shifts the angle and swallows around his shaft.

Poe comes, fist in his mouth, other hand on the nape of Fin's neck, shoots himself raw, then hauls Fin upward before he can swallow or spit. He sucks himself off Fin's tongue, licks him clean and shining as he reaches down to stroke him just as hard and needy as he's starting to feel again. Fin fucks Poe's hand, grinding it into the bed, his face buried in the curve of Poe's shoulder, teeth in his skin. He comes with a heave and a whine and rolls, heavy and clinging, into Poe's arms.

Poe kisses his face, his eyebrows, the bridge of his nose, the sweaty border of his hairline. Fin's eyes are drooping and Poe urges him to sleep, lightens his kisses.


To tomorrow, then.