TITLE: Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
AUTHOR: Julian Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CATEGORY: Leo/Josh; pre-White House
DISCLAIMER: They are *so* not mine. Aaron would never do this to them.
ARCHIVE: Anywhere you'd like; just let me know.
SUMMARY: Because the '80s weren't going to be anything like the '70s.
NOTES: This one's for Ellen D, for a plot bunny that would not go away and for asking all the right questions. I flagrantly lifted the title from the painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, which you can see at http://www.abcgallery.com/B/bruegel/bruegel5.html. Hey, if you're gonna steal, steal from the Masters, right?
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Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Julian Lee
The problem was that Josh was 21, unaccustomed to being drunk, and possessed of a self-confidence bordering on the megalomaniacal.
The problem was that Leo was 37, far too familiar with drunkenness, and very unsure of himself lately.
The problem was that Josh kept looking at Leo with something like hero-worship, and that Leo kept looking at all at this brilliant boy who looked like Adele Lyman and talked like Noah, and that one long weekend in Boston still burned too brightly in Leo's memory, no matter how many bottles of scotch he tried to drown it in.
The problem was that the party had been going on for fifteen minutes and already there were too damned many problems.
Leo wove his way across the room and gently wrapped his hand around Josh's as it reached for another champagne flute on the tray of a passing waiter. "Don't you think you've had enough, Josh?" he asked softly.
Josh swallowed hard and bit back a retort about Leo being no judge of that. **That's the alcohol talking there, buddy.** Because no way would a sober Josh Lyman think of making such a statement to his father's oldest friend, the man he'd wanted to be like -- other than the alcohol -- for as long as he could remember. It was because of Leo that Josh first realized that heroes could be people you knew, living people, not just long dead statesmen and explorers. It was because of Leo that Josh knew he could go to law school and not just be living in his father's shadow. He laughed nervously and brought his hand away from the tray. "I guess so."
Leo waved the waiter off and looked at Josh, and Josh looked back, and Leo remembered that his hand was still covering Josh's. He removed it slowly and wiped his palm on the leg of his trousers. "Do you want to sit?" he asked.
"Okay. Yes. Let's sit," Josh said. And so they sat, and continued to sit, without a thing to say to each other. **Well,** Josh thought, **this is painfully and unexpectedly awkward.** He couldn't understand why; he had known Leo almost his entire life, and they had talked hundreds of times with no discomfort whatsoever. Why was everything going wrong this time? Was it because he was drunk? Because they both were? Because suddenly it was the '80s, and the '80s were not going to be like the '70s?
Leo sipped his drink and tried not to think of Josh naked, because it wasn't really Josh he was thinking about; it was one or both of Josh's parents, and if that wasn't the shortest road to insanity then Leo didn't know what was. He took a larger drink and looked out over the glittering people on the dance floor.
The '80s, Leo could already tell, were going to be a different kind of decadent than the '70s had been. This decade wasn't going to be free love and LSD; it was going to be high-priced hookers and designer drugs -- it was going to be having enough money for the "best" vices available. The children who had thought of free love and LSD were children no longer, and they had begun waking up to the realization that sleeping in the back of a VW Microbus just to hear The Band was pretty stupid. So they would move out to the suburbs and build enormous houses with swimming pools and maids, and they would use cocaine because it was trendier than acid.
The loss of "free love," if it had ever really existed, was what Leo would mourn most of all. No more free love meant no more justification for partner swapping and foursomes, meant he'd never sleep with Noah or Adele again. Which might have explained why he couldn't stop staring at their son.
"Good party," Leo said finally.
Josh nodded too fervently. "*So* much better than the fundraiser." He giggled. "Although there was plenty of good alcohol at the fundraiser, too."
Eyebrow raised, Leo said, "You should know. You drank almost all of it yourself."
And because he was very, very drunk, Josh allowed himself to clap his father's oldest friend on the back and say, "I think we split it." Leo flinched, but Josh didn't notice any more than he noticed that his hand was still on Leo's back.
Leo noticed. Leo noticed keenly, licked his lips, and cursed Noah and Adele Lyman. "So, Josh," he said, "one year of school left."
Josh dropped his hand and threw back his head. "Thank God! One year to sweet freedom."
"What comes after? Or don't you know yet?"
"Law school," he said immediately.
Leo laughed. "So much for sweet freedom."
"Hmm. That's true." He snapped his fingers. "At least it won't be Harvard."
"I'm ready to get the hell out of there. I'm thinking Yale."
Leo rolled his eyes. "Yeah, 'cause that'll be such a big change."
Josh laughed. "Shut up." There was something far too casual and intimate in the way he threw that out, and they found themselves staring at each other, a light flush on Josh's cheeks, a thin veneer of sweat on Leo's forehead. Then Josh cleared his throat and chuckled shakily, and Leo swallowed hard and looked away, and this time when Josh took a champagne flute from a passing tray Leo kept his mouth shut and grabbed one for himself, as well.
"I, um...I hear this might be Jed Bartlet's last term in the House."
Leo swallowed a mouthful of champagne and let himself drown for an instant in the swirl of angry voices that had been his last encounter with Jed Bartlet. "I hear that, too."
Josh blinked. "Don't you two--"
"Not lately," he answered flatly, and the silence stretched out between them once more.
"So, um, how's Mallory?" asked Josh desperately.
"She's great. Really doing well."
"Good. Great." If Josh put his finger out, he could poke the tension between them.
"How are your parents?" This was one of the last things Leo wanted to know, but it was the only one he could think to ask.
Josh's eyes danced. "Super -- though Mom's begging me to come back to Connecticut; she says that being the sole beneficiary of Dad's useless trivia is going to land her in the nuthouse. You should come up more often. Dad's always whining about how they never see you anymore."
Leo nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah. I know." He offered no explanation or apology, and he sensed Josh just past the edge of his peripheral vision, not expecting any.
Out on the dance floor, a woman in a silvery fringed dress and shoes at least two inches too high to dance in twisted her ankle and went down hard. At least a dozen people flocked around her, but she wasn't acting like she was in pain. She was laughing hysterically and motioning for her date -- who was also laughing so hard he was almost doubled over -- to help her up. Dead drunk, Leo thought, and probably something else. Cocaine, maybe. He didn't know it well enough to identify people who were on it, the way he could with hash or acid or Valium.
Watching Leo watch the rich idiots on the dance floor, Josh suddenly knew two things with absolute certainty: he had to get away from this party, and he had to take Leo with him. It was about the way Leo stared out ahead, lost in himself but also seemingly cut off from himself. Or maybe it was about the square planes of his jaw and the strength Josh imagined in his hands. "Do you, um, want to get out of here?"
"More than anything."
But his eyes were clouded and uncertain, and Josh shook his head, wanting to be absolutely sure Leo knew what they were talking about before he agreed to anything. "I mean...do you want to *get out* of here?"
Leo licked his lips and his eyes cleared a little as his hand clutched the tablecloth. "Lead the way," he whispered.
And it was odd when they arrived at Leo's hotel room, since neither of them remembered actually leaving the party. Leo realized that he had Josh Lyman standing in the middle of his room, eyeing the bed with a mixture of lusty anticipation and abject terror. He reached up and touched Josh's face, and Josh twitched so violently he nearly fell over, so Leo dropped his hand. "We don't have to do this," he said, even though it had been Josh's idea, but the husky grain of his voice made it clear that if there was stopping to be done, Josh would have to be the one to do it. "I mean, if it isn't--"
And suddenly Josh realized that maybe it *wasn't.* Maybe sex with Leo McGarry wasn't going to be okay; wasn't really something he'd wanted since he'd been old enough to want such things. Maybe it would be flying too close to the sun.
Josh sat on the bed because it was the only thing he could think to do, and when Leo stood in front of him he swallowed and looked away and tried not to notice how close his mouth was to Leo's crotch.
Leo put his hands on Josh's shoulders. "I wouldn't ever want you to think that I would--"
And all Josh wanted was for Leo to stop talking, so he started unbuckling Leo's belt because it was the only thing to do. But then his fingers froze. "I know about Boston," he whispered, though he hadn't meant to bring that up at all.
Leo closed his eyes. "Oh." He hadn't been prepared to talk about this tonight. "How?"
"Something my mom said once, accidentally. I don't even know if she realized she said it." He dropped his hands back into his lap and raised his eyes to Leo's. "I don't--" He cleared his throat. "It doesn't change...tonight, I don't think. I just -- I wanted you to know. That I know."
"Okay. Okay. I don't -- it was the '70s. It was one weekend. Your parents, Jenny, and me. Everybody slept with everybody else, and then everybody, you know, slept with everybody else." He had no idea why he was explaining this to Josh. "It was just one weekend. I wouldn't want you to think..." He sighed. "I'm not in love with either of your parents, or anything." (**I'm probably in love with both of them, in my own fucked-up way. Oh, Josh, I'm so far down; don't get mixed up with me.**) "You're not a...a stand-in."
Josh nodded once. "I know." Then he was removing Leo's belt and unbuttoning his pants, and Leo put his hands over Josh's and pulled him up off the bed. Whatever was going to happen -- he couldn't have it happen without having kissed Josh first.
The kiss was fire and glass. Josh felt himself melting like wax as Leo's tongue slipped into his mouth. But suddenly that very talented tongue, which had been busy at his upper lip, was gone, and talking. "Have you ever -- I mean--"
"Not since I was 14," Josh said, trying to move back into the kiss, but Leo held him off.
"Christ. What were you *doing* when you were 14?"
Josh groaned in frustration, and his hands clenched around the waistband of Leo's pants. "Please, Leo. Can tonight not be about Boston, or what I did in my crazed adolescence? Can it just be about...about tonight?"
Leo's eyes fell slowly shut, and before he could open them again, Josh's mouth was covering his. Josh kept his hands at Leo's waist, and Leo's arms snaked around Josh's back and down to his ass, pulling him roughly closer. Their erections touched through far too many layers of cloth, and Josh moaned against Leo's mouth.
Josh may have thought, briefly, after they rid each other of their clothes, after they somehow made it onto the bed, he may have thought, as Leo drove into him, and Leo's hands dug into his shoulders, he may have thought that sometimes the melting wax and the plummet into the sea just has to be the way things happen. Sometimes that's the price.
By the time Josh woke, the previous night was a blurred memory of alcohol and something else that might have happened. A newspaper rustled, impossibly loud, in his ear, and he moved his head as little as necessary to see Leo sitting at a small table, working a crossword puzzle in ink. Josh clenched his eyes shut again and remembered what he was doing naked in Leo McGarry's hotel room.
"Good morning, Josh," Leo said, looking up from the paper. "How are you feeling?"
"Ngh," Josh grunted. Sore. He was feeling sore. He swung his legs over the side of the bed, the sheet drawn up around his waist, and started looking for his clothes.
"You talk in your sleep."
"Oh? Say anything good?" He winced and wished his pants weren't so far away.
Leo shook his head, frowning. "Something about wax."
Josh tried to laugh, but the sound wasn't there.
"There's orange juice," Leo said. "I wasn't sure you'd want anything to eat, but drinking something might help."
Josh struggled over to his pants -- and then into them. He staggered to the table and picked up the tiny carafe of orange juice, drained three quarters of it before stopping with a gulp and looking apologetically at Leo. "I'm sorry. Did you--?"
Leo laughed and waved a glass of scotch at him. "Hair of the dog that bit me." Josh nodded and finished the orange juice. Then Leo was standing, leaning across the table, kissing him -- a long, slow kiss, even though last night's alcohol mixed with this morning's orange juice couldn't have been a pleasant taste. When Leo pulled back, Josh swayed backward and gripped the edge of the table. "Hair of the *other* dog that bit me," Leo said triumphantly.
"Josh." Leo's voice was a command to open his eyes, so he did. "I don't regret what happened last night." Josh opened his mouth, but Leo shook his head and kept talking. "I'm sure you do, because I'm your father's oldest friend and you've always respected me." He rubbed his face. "Hell, maybe I should, because I'm your father's oldest friend and you've always respected me. Maybe I should because you're only 21, and this morning you think less of me than you did last night. But I don't."
Josh's eyes felt gritty. His whole brain felt gritty. "I need a shower," he croaked.
Leo's eyes were unreadable as they searched Josh's equally unreadable expression. "Yeah." He sat and went back to his crossword.
"Leo?" Josh paused at the bathroom door and waited for the other man's head to come up. "I don't--" He shook his head. "My only regret is that we were both drunk."
Leo's laugh was harsh and his eyes were hard. "I'm always drunk, Josh."
"Yeah. Okay. Yeah." Josh looked at Leo for a moment longer, but Leo wasn't look back.
When Josh emerged from the bathroom, not feeling much cleaner despite having taken the longest shower of his life, Leo was no longer working on the crossword, though whether that meant he had finished it or abandoned it Josh didn't know. He was reading the first section of the New York Times, and the front page screamed about "Reaganomics," and all at once Josh *had* to get out of this room. "I, uh, I have to go, Leo," he stammered, transfixed by the headline.
Leo flipped down the corner of the paper to see what had Josh so panicked, and Josh thought he wouldn't understand, but the corner of Leo's mouth quirked up slightly, sadly, and he said, "It's the '80s."
Josh pressed the tip of his tongue against the sharp point of his right canine, reassured by the pain. "It's the '80s," he agreed, nodding, standing awkwardly by the end of the bed.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
He nodded, then shook his head, then laughed. "I don't think I have an answer for that." He came to the table.
"I understand." Leo stared at him. "I may have done an unforgiveable thing."
"No, Leo, I -- I'm an adult; it was my idea--" He remembered that.
"Damn it, I promised your father I'd take care of you while you were here."
Josh smiled gently and touched Leo's cheek across the table. "You did."
Leo blushed. "All right, then," he said softly, not getting up, which relieved Josh immensely, though he couldn't say why. "Call me the next time you're in Washington."
He nodded again, more enthusiastically this time. "I will. And if you ever get to Connecticut to visit my parents--"
The bizarre shake of Leo's head could have been either affirmative or negative. "We'll see," he said.
"Well," Josh said, far more cheerfully than he felt, grabbing his keys off the nightstand and crossing to the door, "kiss Jenny and Mallory for me." They thought of the kisses they had so recently shared and blushed slightly.
"I will. Give your parents my love."
And they thought of Boston and blushed deeper. "I will," he said, choking on it a bit. He fiddled with the doorknob. "Uh, good bye?"
Leo smiled. "That's usually what you say when you leave, yes." His smile faded, and he stood but did not leave the table. "Good bye, Josh."
"Good bye, Leo," Josh said quietly and slipped outside.
Leo stared at the door for a while, then sank into his chair. He reached for the section of the paper he'd been reading, tossed it aside, reached for the crossword, discarded it, as well, and settled for the scotch.
As Josh walked toward the parking ramp, he could not bring himself to think about what had happened, what he had just done. Instead he thought of Bruegel's "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus," one of his mother's favorite paintings. In the painting, Icarus is really very small, just a pair of legs disappearing into the ocean from a crowded bottom corner of the scene, and no one sees him go. Josh considered that -- how easy it was to fall and simply vanish. Several groundskeepers worked in front of the hotel; the parking ramp attendant dozed in his booth; and a number of early-rising tourist families scurried off to take in the pre-approved sights of Washington. Josh tried whistling as he walked to his car. No one saw him go.
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