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Fell Clutch

by Ryo Sen

[Story Headers]
     In the fell clutch of circumstance
       I have not winced nor cried aloud.
     Under the bludgeonings of chance
       My head is bloody, but unbowed.
     From Invictus, byWilliam Ernest Henley.

Does ecstasy make you hallucinate?

It's her first clear thought when she looks up, her vision still blurred, water dripping from her chin, streaking down her wrists. She blinks, one hand frozen in the act of reaching for a paper towel, because there are two men dressed in black, one on either side of her. They look almost like regular clubgoers, but they're not supposed to be in here. They're in the women's room, and one of them is smirking just a little, and it's then that Zoey sees what looks like a gun.

Zoey can feel her sleeves beginning to stick to her arms, the fabric cooling as it absorbs the water on her skin. Reflexively, she starts to turn around, to face these strange apparitions, to make sure she's still in the club and not in a nightmare. "What--?"

And then there's a hand grabbing her arm, wrenching it behind her back. In a moment of sickening clarity, she knows, suddenly, that this is real. She's bent over the countertop, the sharp edge digging into her hipbone, her face just inches from the glass, which fogs up each time she exhales. Her eyes look unnaturally large, unnaturally dilated, and her gaze shifts to the figures behind her.

The drug haze dissipates in her panic. More hands, on her hip, on her arm, on her back. Pushing and pulling. An arm as stiff and unyielding as a metal bar encircles her chest. "Let's go," says a rough voice, the words brushing grotesquely over her neck. Zoey stumbles as they jerk her upright, her legs shaky with fear or maybe the ecstasy in her bloodstream. She can hear her own loud, quick breaths even over the club's sound system. There's something wrong with her eyesight. The lights are too bright, and they leave little trails as she's pulled past. She catches obscene glimpses in the mirror -- the familiar and unfamiliar. Herself and her attackers.

She knows basic self-defense, but when she tries to move, tries to shake them off, tries to get her arms free, her body reacts sluggishly and the hands tighten on her in response. Zoey opens her mouth and manages a scream that ricochets around the empty bathroom.

A sunburst of pain under her eye, over her eye, the whole right side of her face, and it takes her a moment to realize that she's been punched. She's never been punched before, never been handled so roughly, and the intensity of the pain surprises her. Shocks her into temporary silence.

They're still pulling her forward, through the bathroom door, into the darkened hallway. Zoey can see the dance floor. She can see lipstick smiles and strobe lights and rhythmic gyrating -- why doesn't anyone see her? Why is no one watching? Where are her agents?

Her stomach twists and a wave of heat burns her cheeks and Zoey's certain she's going to throw up. Instinctively, she hunches over, but the two men don't slow down. There's a staircase and they're half-carrying her down when she remembers her panic button. It's in her back pocket and she reaches for it, encountering angry fingers digging into her back.

"Looking for this?" A hot puff of breath on her skin and amusement in the rough voice now. Against her will, Zoey looks at the hand thrust mere inches in front of her face. At first, all she can see is the gun. Black and shiny and deadly. Then she sees her keychain looped over his pinkie finger, her panic button dangling uselessly in front of her.

They're outside, fresh air on her face and panic pooling in her stomach. She can't stop staring at the small piece of plastic, and she struggles harder, against the hands holding her. Her keychain falls end over end towards the pavement, accompanied by a sick chuckle from behind her.

The plastic and metal sound of her panic button hitting the ground is surprisingly loud, and Zoey can't look away, craning her neck to see over her shoulder as she's roughly propelled down the alley.

It takes Zoey a moment to realize that the strange whining noise is coming from her. She makes herself stop, and then she sees something in the alley up ahead, and even with the drugs dulling her powers of perception, she knows the shape is wrong. She tastes bile in the back of her throat, swallows hard. Every muscle in her body goes rigid and she won't go, she won't let herself see what's in the alley. She tries to dig her heels into the pavement, tries to use her weight as some sort of anchor to slow them down.

"Don't." A large hand tightens painfully around her arm and her knees buckle.

They're nearly on top of the crumpled form before it resolves into a body.

Molly's body.

Zoey's crying now, tears streaking down her cheeks as she mumbles, "No," over and over. She closes her eyes, unable to look, hoping something will be different when she's brave enough to look again. But with her sense of sight shuttered, her concentration shifts to the rough hands on her body, the arm locked around her waist.

Her eyes snap back open, focusing against her will on Molly's pale face, on the angry hole in her forehead. Zoey's sure she can smell the blood on the pavement, and she knows she's going to throw up. Her stomach churns and her head spins and she needs to sit down. She needs someone to save her, because the hands holding her are too strong, too determined.

She wilts a little in defeat, but tells herself to keep fighting. She tries to think, tries to figure out how to escape, but they're still marching her inexorably toward the mouth of the alley, toward an idling van. When they reach it, when they shift their hold on her to open the door, Zoey spreads her arms wide, blinking away the absurd memory of trying to force her cat into a cat carrier. She has one hand on the sliding door, the other on the roof, and she locks her limbs.

Hell, no, we won't go, she thinks, stifling a hysterical laugh.

The inside of the van is dark, a black void. She suddenly hears Liz's lecturing her on crime -- "Don't ever go willingly to a secondary crime site; you'll be killed." She sees CJ's frozen face at the funeral for that reporter held hostage in the Congo. She hears her father's infuriated lecture on protection -- "Do you get it!?" A dozen brilliant movie escapes flash past too quickly for her to catch, but none of them matter when a fist connects brutally with her lower back.

The pain is sudden and deep and she reaches instinctively for the injury.

More hands, grabbing and shoving her into the van. She isn't ready, one arm still held behind her back, and she lands awkwardly. Something in her shoulder gives, and this is so much worse. This pain is hot and white and blinding, lifting the drug haze for several excruciating seconds.

Her sweaty palms slide along the metal floor of the van, and Zoey glances at the door. She grits her teeth, gets one hand underneath her, and lunges for the door, but five hands slam her body back to the floor of the van. The door slams closed and the van lurches away.

Zoey can't think about anything save the sharp, brutal pain in her left shoulder. She knows she should be clawing her way out of the van, but she needs a minute for the pain to ebb.

She hears someone whimper just before the world goes black.


Zoey wakes with a start, her throat painfully dry, panic flaring at the deep darkness. She blinks hard, opens her eyes again, and is suddenly, sickeningly sure that she's blind.

She can't get hear bearings; she's on what feels like a floor, curled up on her right side, and her entire body aches. The overwhelming darkness is quiet, save the sound of her harsh breathing. She's having trouble thinking, she feels sluggish and frantic all at once, and her body hurts all over.

Zoey tells herself to calm down, to figure out what the hell's going on, where the hell she--

She moves and the dull pain everywhere else fades in comparison to the unbearable burn in her left shoulder. She's crying now, and the pain lances her confusion, leaving her shaking with dread.

No. Calm down.

Slowly, carefully, Zoey rolls onto her back -- onto her arms, really, which hurts like hell. She tries to shift, to ease the tension on her shoulders, but her hands are tied together. Now that she's aware of it, the rope is cutting roughly into her left wrist; her body weight on her right arm for however long she was unconscious must've cut off circulation, because she can't feel her other arm.

When she rolls her head to the left, she has to swallow a sob.

Light.

There's a small line of light. She's not blind. And as she follows the line of light, it resolves into the crack underneath a door. A door. Escape.

She feels herself start to hyperventilate, feels the tears stinging her eyes, and concentrates on calming down. She needs a moment to process everything.

Rough hands. Guns. Molly.

Oh, God. Molly's dead.

She sees Molly's blonde hair splayed obscenely on the cobblestone, she sees the sickening reddish hole in her pale skin.

Someone killed Molly.

Someone killed her secret service agent and she's been kidnapped.

Just thinking the word makes Zoey starts to tremble.

Kidnapped. Shit.

She wonders if her other agents are dead, if Wes is dead. She wonders how long she's been unconscious. She wonders why she's been kidnapped.

Panic hits, sharp and sudden, when she realizes the dirt on the floor is grinding directly into the skin of her upper arm. Her shirt is missing.

Oh, God. What if they--?

She peers frantically down at herself, but there's not enough light. Oh, God. Oh, God. She can't think, her mind blank save sudden dread, and she can't tell for a long, horrible moment if she's wearing anything at all.

Then she lifts her shoulder and tilts her head, and she can feel the straps of her tank top. The underwire digging into her ribcage registers. Her bound hands shift, reaching, finding the rough material of her pants.

Zoey sags into the floorboards with relief. She's still dressed. Thank God. She's still dressed. And, really, she'd know if she'd been raped. She has to believe she would.

Of course, she's tied up on the floor of what seems like a closet, and the Secret Service don't seem to be able to find her, so God only knows what's going to happen to her. God knows what those men have planned for her. Maybe raping an unconscious woman isn't as fun as an awake, aware, terrified woman.

Oh, God. Oh, God.

The burning need to run, to escape, threatens to overwhelm her, and she makes herself think about logistics. She's her father's daughter, and she'll use her head and she'll get out of this.

"Calm down," she whispers, the sound of her own voice oddly reassuring. She shifts, rolling back to her left as she lifts her legs, feeling along the door with her feet until she encounters the doorknob. A flare of hope as she determinedly ignores the pain in her shoulder and tries awkwardly to turn the knob.

It's frustrating work, and she's worried that the door rattling in its frame will attract unwanted attention. Unless--

She freezes.

What if they left her here? What if they left her for dead?

Calm down. Breathe. "Breathe," she says aloud, but the shrill tone of her voice is almost unrecognizable. The air feels too thick, too hot, like she might choke on it. She inhales through her nose, counting to eight, then exhales slowly. "Breathe," she says again, and it sounds better this time.

She feels ill again, but at least the adrenaline rush helped clear her still fuzzy mind. Zoey slides her feet along the floor and almost immediately hits a wall. She's pretty sure she's in a closet.

She turns her attention to the door again, pressing her cheek into the floor, ignoring the dirt scraping along her skin, clinging to a layer of sweat. She can't see much through the crack under the door, but the movement sends more waves of pain from her shoulder.

Clenching her jaw against the pain, she tries again, peering into the dimly lit room. Still night, then, Zoey guesses. Though probably if you're planning to kidnap the president's daughter, you'd invest in some decent window treatments.

Frustrated, she turns her head away and stares at the darkness where the ceiling's supposed to be. Now her eyes have adjusted, she thinks she can see the slight variation in the texture of the blackness that signals the ceiling. Small victory, but it helps anyway.

Still, she's locked in a closet by some gun-toting men who killed Molly and are probably planning to--

No. Don't think about it.

She seriously considers giving in to the rising hysteria, but it seems counter-productive. Her mother wouldn't approve. In fact, Zoey imagines that her mother would sit as straight as possible, injuries be damned, then cross her legs at the ankle and calmly harangue her captors into releasing her. The mental image is almost enough to make her smile; instead, she decides to emulate her mother as much as possible and pushes the panic away.

As long as she's channeling her mother, she figures she should try to catalogue her injuries. She's not completely conversant in medicalese, but she thinks it's probably a safe bet that something's very wrong with her shoulder. The pain seems to be radiating from her clavicle. Very, very carefully, Zoey tilts her chin down until it touches the swollen skin over her collarbone, but all she gets for her efforts is another wave of agony.

Zoey breathes through it, remembering the time she fell off Quince and broke her arm. Did it hurt this badly? She doesn't remember it hurting like this, but she thinks it's a pretty safe bet that her collarbone is broken. Little bit of a monkeywrench in her plan to work her hands free and fight her way out if necessary.

But she doesn't have time for self-indulgence, so she holds her breath and pulls herself upright, swallowing a scream. Her right arm is still mostly asleep, though the tips of her fingers tingle with returning blood flow. She tries very hard not to jostle her left arm, which moves her collarbone, which is probably broken, which hurts like mad.

"Okay, then," Zoey mumbles softly. "I won't use my arms." She braces her feet and pushes herself along the floor until her good shoulder is resting against the cool plaster. Exhausted, she tilts her head back and closes her eyes for a few moments. It's hot in the closet, and she's breathing hard. She can't quite get her back up against the wall with her hands bound at the small of her back, but at least she's no longer sprawled helplessly on the floor.

Of course, her new position brings another complication to her attention. She had half a bottle of champagne hours ago, plus an apple martini, and her bladder is painfully full. Zoey considers her limited options -- even assuming she wants to try, there's no way she can get her pants down with her hands tied behind her back. Tears threaten again, but Zoey lifts her chin and pictures her mother at her haughtiest.

Zoey clears her throat and shouts, "Excuse me," ignoring the fear slithering through her body when there's no immediate response. Maybe they did really leave her for dead. Locked in a fucking closet. She leans more heavily against the wall and kicks the door so hard it rattles loudly in the doorjamb. "Hello!"

Still nothing.

She lets the fear overtake her, adrenaline-laced panic fueling her desperate, repeated kicks to the door. Out. She needs to get out, out, out.

Her legs swing wildly, arcing through the air and slamming into the floor as the door is yanked open, spilling bright light into the closet. It's overwhelming, and then Zoey hears a light switch and it's like a supernova behind her eyelids.

"Do you want me to kill you?" a man's voice asks, heavily accented.

Zoey forces her eyes open, squinting up at the silhouette in the doorway. "I want you to let me go," she says, her voice shaking.

He snorts and reaches for the door.

"No, wait. Pl--" She stops herself. She will not beg this man for anything.

"What?" he asks flatly. Her eyes are adjusting and she can make out some of his features. Her memory from the club is very hazy, but she thinks he's the one who was smirking at her. He's tall -- or at least he seems tall from her vantage point on the floor -- and damn scary.

Zoey injects every last bit of disdain into her voice she can muster. "I need to use the bathroom."

"No."

"I need to," Zoey repeats, swallowing a plea.

He stares at her, then raises his voice and calls out in a language she doesn't recognize. Moments later, another man appears holding, of all improbable things, a Polaroid camera. The first man steps aside and before she can do more than sit up straighter and try to turn away, the camera flash blinds her.

"Get up," the first man commands.

Zoey blinks the dark spots away and gives him an exasperated look as she complies, tucking her legs underneath her to kneel, then stand. Her left shoulder aches with each jarring movement, and her head is still throbbing from the drugs and alcohol and probably from being punched, but she does her best to ignore it. Luckily when he reaches for her, he grabs her good arm to tug her along.

They're in a bedroom furnished only with a dingy twin bed, two plastic deck chairs, and an old wooden end table. The room is long and skinny and Zoey thinks it might be a mobile home. Down a short, bare hallway, then Zoey is pushed into a tiny bathroom. There's a window over the toilet, and Zoey's heart thuds unevenly, throwing her a little off balance. It's dark outside, very, very dark, and she thinks the window's big enough for her to squeeze through. She turns, awkwardly trying to hold her bound hands out to him.

"I can't--" she begins, but he steps into the bathroom behind her and closes the door. Shoving his gun into his waistband, he reaches for her.

Zoey tastes fear as she jumps back. "No!"

"I will not untie your hands."

Bastard. She angrily blinks back tears. "But how will I--?"

"You won't." He moves toward her, backing her into the corner by the toilet. "I will."

There's an undercurrent of eagerness in his voice, and Zoey is frozen by the implications. No, no, no, she thinks. God, please, not this, too. Her gaze drops longingly to his gun; she'd made Gina take her to a gun range a few times, and she was a decent shot. Especially up close. If she could just--

His hand encircles her right arm and she tenses. "Decide," he orders.

One way or another, Zoey is going to be humiliated. But there's also the possibility she'll be raped. Of course, it's not like they can't do that anyway, since she's tied up and they have guns.

God. Zoey closes her eyes for a moment, unable to comprehend the obscenity of the moment. A few hours ago, she was torn between Charlie and Jean-Paul, unsure which man she'd rather date, and worrying how her vacation might affect her father politically and personally. Now she's facing the increasingly real possibility she'll be raped and murdered. It doesn't make sense. It doesn't feel real.

She lets herself wish she was back at her graduation, standing in between her proud parents. She sees her mother watching her with unmistakable admiration and love, and she sees her father's happy grin, and she tells herself she can't let them down.

Zoey lifts her chin and fixes her kidnapper with her mother's best glare. "Fine."

Hands fumble at her waist and she fights the urge to shrink away. Rough fingers slide down the sensitive skin of her hips, pulling her pants down, and Zoey bites hard on her cheek to keep the terror at bay. As soon as he lets go, she drops onto the toilet, willing him to turn away.

Instead, he leans casually against the wall much too close to her and crosses his arms. Zoey stares at the peeling floral wallpaper in front of her and conjugates Italian verbs as she urinates, not allowing herself to feel ashamed, not allowing him to humiliate her.

He doesn't reach for the toilet paper, and Zoey lets out a small sigh of relief. She steels herself and stands, blocking out the feel of his hands on her body. He pulls her clothes back into place roughly, leaving her panties twisted across one hip.

She's in pain and she's terrified and she feels incredibly dirty. "Can I wash my hands?" she asks.

He grabs her arm and pulls her toward the door. "No."

"But--"

Zoey hits the wall with her right shoulder, but the impact is enough to send shockwaves of pain through her rib cage.

"I said no."

Her vision blurs from the pain. A few choked breaths later, fingers wrap around her good arm and pull. Zoey stumbles along behind him, unable to pay attention to her surroundings because it takes all of her considerable willpower not to cry. And she refuses to give him the satisfaction.

She's shoved back into the closet, blind again in the sudden darkness. She doesn't move as she hears the sound of a deadbolt sliding into place. She turns and stares at the door. A simple doorknob lock she could probably have dealt with -- assuming she could get her hands free -- but a deadbolt? Shit.

Zoey stands in the small closet, at a loss. What the hell is she supposed to do now? Sit here in the dark and go crazy as she waits to see if they'll kill her outright or rape her first?

Dropping to her knees, then her right hip, Zoey leans against the wall and draws her legs up to her body. She tries, but she can't quite muffle her sobs.


Zoey's throat aches from crying and her head pounds from the drugs or the sobs or probably the combination. She's trying to figure out how long she's been in this hellish closet, but she has no frame of reference. The events at the club are hazy. Almost dreamlike.

Or, really, nightmarish.

Either way, she has no idea what time she was kidnapped or how long she was unconscious.

If it's been more than an hour or so -- and she's almost positive it has been -- she's in serious trouble. If it's been a few hours, that means the kidnappers were successful.

But thinking about her kidnappers makes her vaguely sick and thinking about how long she's been missing makes her wonder how her family is handling this. Picturing her distraught mother, her terrified father -- it makes her eyes sting, so she decides to catalogue her music collection instead.

She's got too many CDs -- her own eclectic tastes augmented by her parents' favorite jazz musicians and, of course, Frank Sinatra, and her ex-boyfriend's blues additions. She's tries to make an alphabetical list, but doesn't get very far.

She decides to make top ten lists instead. But top ten CDs of all time is too difficult, so she concentrates on subcategories.

Top ten rebellious anthems. (Ellie at seventeen, her voice dripping with that elder sister's special brand of disdain: "Zoey's playing that Nirvana crap again.")

Top ten remakes of classics. (Her father at home in Manchester, frowning in that way of his: "Now I was never a big Elvis fan, but no one should attempt to remake Blue Suede Shoes. Technically, of course, Elvis's version was itself a remake, since Carl Perkins recorded it first, but I think it's safe to say that Elvis's version is quite rightly considered the standard.")

Top ten bubblegum pop songs. (Charlie, half-amused, half-exasperated: "If I promise to take you out to dinner at a reasonable hour tomorrow night, will you please stop torturing me with these boy bands?")

Top ten hymns. (Her mother whispering during mass: "Oh, 'Ave Maria.' This has always been my favorite.")

Top ten love songs. (Jean-Paul, kissing the tip of her nose: "This song reminds me of you, ma petite.")

Except then she remembers that Jean-Paul drugged her, and then she remembers the bathroom spinning oddly around her, and rough hands, and terror, and then she's back in the dark closet fighting panic. She swallows hard and thinks about movies.

Top ten screwball comedies. (CJ on a campaign bus years ago, horrified that Zoey hadn't seen 'Bringing Up Baby' and vowing to rectify the situation as soon as possible.)

Top ten tearjerkers. (Liz, patting her back as they watched 'Steel Magnolias.')

Top ten horror movies--

Except that she's never been more terrified in her life, and why the hell can't she think of something that doesn't lead somehow back to being kidnapped?

Zoey closes her eyes and thinks about books. She tries to remember 'Little Women' word for word -- "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on

the rug -- but then she gets stuck. She thinks about Jane Austen and mumbles, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a great fortune must be in want of a wife." She smiles, remembering her father escaping to his study with Dickens as the Bartlet women settled in to spend five quality hours with the Bennett women and, of course, Mr. Darcy.

But then she wonders if she'll ever see her sisters again, if she'll ever see her parents again. Her body is very, very cold even in the pressing heat and she's having trouble breathing properly. Zoey slides carefully down the wall, wedging her back into the corner and curling up on the dirty floor. Trembling, she closes her eyes and concentrates on Josh's advice in the months after the shooting. She focuses on her therapist's recommendations for fending off panic attacks.

With difficulty, Zoey brings her breathing under control. She thinks about the meadow near their home in New Hampshire, about riding Quince in the summer, following the low, crumbling rock wall. She remembers the smell of the leather saddle, the coarse softness of Quince's mane, the weight of the black velvet helmet on her head.

Her aching shoulder never lets her believe she's safe, but Zoey does her best to wrap herself in warm memories. She's sure she'll never be able to fall asleep, but she tries anyway.


Zoey is startled awake, squinting up at her captor's tall form. Somewhere it registers that the room behind him is lighter, and she realizes it must be daylight.

God. Daylight.

She must've been missing for six or seven hours by now. At least. The likelihood of being found, of being rescued...

Zoey can't let herself think about it. Especially not when his words register.

"Your father quit," he practically spits at her. His body is tense with anger.

Zoey blinks, moving awkwardly to sit up. She doesn't even notice the pain in her shoulder. "What?"

"Your father is no longer president."

That doesn't make any sense. Zoey shakes her head. "But--"

"Do you think President Walken will ransom you," he asks viciously, "or should we kill you now?"

Walken? The Speaker of the House? Well, yes, the line of succession --Zoey can't process this. She's half-afraid to believe it. She shakes her head again. "I don't understand."

Without warning, he lashes out, slapping her hard, his rough fingers rasping against her skin. Her cheek feels hot; the blow reverberates in her skull.

"Don't play stupid. What is the plan now?"

The heat turns to a stinging pain. "I don't--" She breaks off when he threatens to hit her again, and the anger pouring off of him makes her think he's telling the truth. Her father -- he's not president. A flare of panic hits her hard.

Did the Cabinet -- no. They wouldn't remove him in the middle of a crisis. He must have--

He resigned.

The realization is ice water in her veins. The United States does not negotiate with terrorists. She remembers her father's enraged lecture years ago when she didn't want Secret Service protection, and she closes her eyes because she knows it's true. This was his nightmare, too.

Her father stepped down, and that means her father's daughter is no longer a valuable commodity for these people. By resigning his office, her father preserved the country's no-negotiation policy, but he may have done it at the cost of his daughter's life.

She feels the tears on her cheeks and curls her fists, stabbing her fingernails into her palms.

Zoey opens her eyes and meets his gaze. "There is no plan," she says, willing her voice not to tremble. "The United States does not negotiate with terrorists." The truth of her statement sits heavy in her abdomen.

Her kidnapper glares at her. "The United States will not allow the daughter of the President to be killed."

Zoey figures that about a dozen federal agencies are frantically searching for her right now, but she knows the government won't negotiate with this man. If they don't find her in time, she'll be killed. Her father stepped down, which means whatever value she had as a hostage is pretty much gone. They have no reason to keep her alive anymore. She thinks she should be terrified, but she feels oddly... numb. "You said my father resigned," Zoey points out. "I'm the daughter of an ex-president."

"This is a tactic," he insists. "And you know what will happen next. Tell me."

"Or what?" Zoey scoffs. "You'll kill me?"

"Yes."

"You're going to kill me anyway."

His smile drips with malevolence. "You're right."

She swallows, letting his cold certainty sink in. She's going to die, and the knowledge is strangely liberating. Recklessly, she pushes herself up to her knees, up to her feet. "Then why postpone the inevitable?"

His gun is out, suddenly, and pointed at her. "Don't tempt me."

She's really going to die. She doesn't know what she's doing -- part of her is cowering in the corner of the closet, hands ineffectually shielding her head, but somehow she's on her feet goading this ruthless man into shooting her. She can't let herself think about what her family must be going through. The least she can do if she's not going to get out of this alive is end their suffering as quickly as possible.

Her voice is low when she says, "What are you waiting for?"

Zoey freezes as cool metal presses into her forehead. His finger on the trigger is too close to her eyes for her to really focus, and her bravado deserts her suddenly, leaving her in knee-trembling terror. She stares at his belt buckle, and she can't stop wondering what a bullet to the brain will feel like. Josh once told her that he didn't know he'd been shot at first. She hopes it's like that. She closes her eyes and hopes she'll be dead before the pain has a chance to register.

And then a large hand shoves against her breastbone, and Zoey falls back against the wall, landing painfully on one hip. She opens her eyes and the gun is once again tucked in his waistband.

"You're a pawn," he tells her. "You're a means to an end. And if our original goal is unattainable because of your father's decision, perhaps we can figure out a way to insult America. Defile you like your soldiers defile Arabia."

Despite her determination not to show weakness, Zoey shudders at the implication. A large hand grips her chin, holding her still. Reluctantly, she meets his dark, angry eyes.

"Remember," he tells her. "Your father chose his country over his daughter."


Minutes drift by too slowly. The dark is like another person tucked into the small closet with her, and Zoey can't stop imagining her funeral.

After they kill her, she figures they'll leave her body somewhere it'll be found pretty quickly. She wonders who will have to tell her family. There's a gnawing pain in her gut when she tries to picture Leo shouldering this awful responsibility. Leo will feel he needs to be the one; Zoey remembers his determined stoicism that awful night at GW as he waited for Adira Lyman's arrival. But it will be worse this time because Josh was still alive, but she'll be past saving when Leo has to tell her parents.

She can't imagine him saying the words, but then he probably won't have to -- the look on his face will be enough, and then her father will--

She shies away from the image.

Maybe it will be Ron Butterfield. She supposes this whole situation qualifies as a security-related matter since she's being held hostage for political reasons.

Zoey swallows a sob. Maybe the new president will learn about her death in the Situation Room. Maybe he'll have to tell her family.

Will Liz be there, she wonders. Ellie's just an hour or so away, but Liz will have to fly in. Zoey's not even sure the Secret Service will let her sisters travel -- what if they're targets, too?

The panic tightens around her chest, making it difficult to breathe again. If they were able to get to her, they can probably get to her sisters, to her niece and nephew.

God. Please, no. It's bad enough with just her, but Annie's only fourteen.

Zoey doesn't let herself think about that possibility, but she's wondering, suddenly, if all of her agents were killed. She knows Molly is dead, but what about the others? If they were alive and in the club, how is it possible that these men managed to kidnap her? What about Wes? Was Jean-Paul killed?

If not, will he dare show up at her funeral? The FBI must know by now that he spiked her drink with ecstasy. Jean-Paul has the casual fearlessness of the very rich, but there's a difference between arrogance and bravery and she doesn't think he has the courage to face her family.

Her parents.

She bites her lower lip to keep it from trembling. It's so hard to think about her parents, about what they must be going through. She hopes this doesn't completely ruin their lives. Her mother never wanted her father to run for a second term, but she'd never, ever want this to be the reason they return to New Hampshire.

New Hampshire. Zoey frowns, wondering if they're even still allowed in the White House if her father resigned his office.

Which begs the question -- if her father resigned, who will make the announcement to the press? Zoey remembers CJ's shaken strength the night of the shooting. Even if the new president has his own staff, she hopes it will be CJ with her compassion and her composure who makes the statement. Zoey tries to picture CJ saying the words -- "Zoey Bartlet was killed early this morning by her captors" -- but she can't quite do it.

She tries to imagine Toby writing an announcement, arguing with Will over whether CJ should say "killed" or "murdered" or "executed" or "assassinated." She tries to picture Toby writing a speech for her father.

Zoey tells herself not to be morbid. Her stomach grumbles, and it takes a moment for her to realize that she's hungry. How strange to feel something so normal in so abnormal a situation.

Well, hell, Zoey thinks, if I'd known dinner would be my last meal, I would have paid attention.

She had dinner at the White House with her parents and some old friends of the family. Try as she might, she can't remember what the chicken cordon bleu tasted like.

She can still taste the apple martini. She can still taste the fear.

God, she wishes she'd been sober when those bastards grabbed her. She knows she would've been able to fight, to get away if she hadn't been so sluggish. That bastard Jean-Paul--

She wonders if he'll blame himself for her death.

She knows her father will blame himself. The public will see a brave, grieving father at the funeral -- will it be a state funeral, she wonders --but in private, he will hold himself responsible.

In private, her parents will be devastated and--

And abruptly Zoey knows she has to survive this hell. She can't possibly die here. Not now. Not like this.

She's shaking violently, remembering the sickening feel of cool, deadly metal pressed against her forehead. She can't believe she'd taunted her captor, daring him to kill her, because, God, does she want to live. She needs to live.

She needs to find a way out.


Zoey's confused, because just a moment ago she was trying to plan an escape, and now the door's open again.

Large hands reach for her, and she wakes fully.

"No," she mumbles, struggling in vain to stay where she is, because it might be terrifying to be locked in a dark closet, but she'd rather stay there for a month than go anywhere with this man.

"Up," he orders, ruthlessly pulling her to her unsteady feet. It's the same man as before, and Zoey wonders how many people are involved. If it's just this man and the one with the camera, maybe she can escape. Maybe she can get her hands free. Maybe when they lock her back in the closet she can unlock the door with... with... the underwire of her bra. Maybe she'll be able to get out a window--

Zoey's gaze falls on the gun at his waist.

Maybe escape won't be that simple. Not with a broken collarbone and hands that won't come untied and men with guns. She's pretty sure that she could get her hands in front of her if her shoulder weren't completely messed up. Now, though, she figures if she tries, she'll pass out from the pain before she makes any progress. And with her hands tied behind her, she can't see what she's doing. It doesn't look promising.

Still, this time as she's dragged into the small bedroom, she pays attention. The room is dingy, the wallpaper showing its seams, the rug displaying its age. The window occupies Zoey's attention; it's dark outside. She wonders how long she was asleep. She wonders how long she's been missing.

Then she tells herself to pay attention. The window's definitely big enough to climb through, and she could use the small end table or one of the plastic chairs to boost herself over the ledge. She wants to study the window, but her kidnapper is dragging her in the other direction, to the far wall.

She resists until she sees what's on the floor.

USA Today.

She sees her face smiling up from the front page, but her focus shifts to the blaring headline, "WHERE IS SHE?"

The words blur and Zoey blinks rapidly, desperate for more. She craves information, news of her parents. She hears footsteps just as the second picture resolves itself into the Speaker of the House and -- her father. God.

She tears her gaze away when the second man enters the room, holding that stupid camera and a small bottle of water. The two men exchange a look, and the first kidnapper spins her around, tugging at the bonds holding her wrists together.

The pressure increases, then releases suddenly. Zoey yelps as her arms drop limply to her sides, reawakening the pain in her left shoulder. It ripples down, radiating through her torso, and she holds herself as still as possible.

"Sit."

Zoey forces her eyes open, forces herself to breathe slowly, breathe through the pain as her cramped muscles register their disapproval. Carefully, she stretches her fingers, then curls them into fists. She feels oddly weak. The man with the camera holds out the bottle and it takes her a moment to react, to accept the water. She upends the bottle, gulping desperately at the liquid, soothing her aching throat.

She's not nearly sated when the bottle is wrenched from her hands by the other kidnapper. He points to the floor. "Down."

She bristles at the command, but the paper's on the floor and she wants to see it. There's also the small matter of the gun pointed at her head. Zoey obeys, cradling her left arm against her body as she moves. Her right arm suffers from severe pins and needles as she stares at her father's face. He looks awful. He looks small and broken, standing beside the Speaker of the House.

He doesn't look like a man who sold out his daughter. He looks like a man in an impossible situation, and Zoey swallows a sob.

"Hold up the paper."

Another picture. They want another picture. With the paper. To prove she's alive.

Zoey tries not to let herself feel relieved. She tries to tell herself this might not be a good sign. They might take the picture and kill her. But maybe they're still trying to use her as leverage. Maybe they're making absurd demands of the president, assuming that the government will cave. Maybe they'll keep her alive a little longer.

Please, she thinks, please, please, find me. Find me.

Zoey picks up the paper, her gaze dropping again to the lead story. There's a smaller picture, just above the fold. It's her mother, standing in the door of the press room with CJ at her shoulder. The dazed look on her mother's face... God.

It's worse than she thought it would be. Her parents are falling apart. She feels the hot rush of tears and refuses to give in.

"Hold it up," the man barks impatiently.

Zoey turns a murderous glare up at her captors. The man with the gun takes two steps and brings the gun to her temple. "Hold up the paper," he repeats icily.

Hands shaking, Zoey complies. He backs off as the man with the camera lifts it and aims it at her. Against her will, Zoey looks right into the lens. She's trying to be brave, trying to look fearless, but she's pretty sure it's not working. The paper trembles in her grasp.

The flash breaks the last of her reserves and she curses the tears on her cheeks. Zoey brings the paper to her lap, tracing her mother's face. She wants to read the article, but the print is too small and her vision is too blurry.

"Get up."

"No."

Fingers bite into her arm, her injured arm, and pull her upright. The pain is blinding and she thinks she might be screaming. Her arms are twisted behind her back again, and Zoey thinks she can feel the jagged edges of her collarbone tearing through muscle.

She whimpers as the rope tightens on her wrists, wrenching her shoulder again, but she still has the edge of the paper in her grip. Even through the pain, she holds onto it, her link to her family.

"Move," he orders, and then the newspaper is torn from her grasp.

"No!" Zoey yells. "Please," she says, beyond caring that she's breaking her promise not to beg. "Please, let me keep the paper." She struggles as best she can, considering her shoulder, but she's back in the closet already. "The paper," she repeats, turning as the door slams in her face.

"No," she screams. Because she needs that paper. She needs her family. She needs something to hang onto, even if she won't be able to see it in her dark prison. "No," she says again, but she's crying too hard to yell.

Zoey falls to her knees and slumps forward, her forehead on the floor as the pain and the situation and her parents' ruined faces combine to overwhelm her.


It feels like she's been unconscious for a long time when Zoey opens her eyes again. Her eyes are swollen from crying and her head is throbbing. She's so hungry she'd happily devour broccoli or spinach or any of the green vegetables her mother used to insist the girls eat.

Her mother. She wants her mother so badly.

She wants the farmhouse in Manchester, with Quince and the cats and the peaceful meadows and that feeling of unquestioned safety. She wants her sisters and she wants her father and she wants Charlie and she wants to go home.

Zoey shifts on the floor, beyond feeling dirty now, beyond feeling sore. Her joints ache as she tries to sit up, almost too weak to manage it without help.

"How long have I been here?" she mumbles, slumped against the wall. "I want to go home." She doesn't feel like crying, but there are tears on her cheeks. She's too exhausted to wipe them off. "I want my mom," she says plaintively. "I want my family."

She sounds tired and she sounds young, like a little girl. She supposes she's regressing, and she doesn't really care. Her plan to be brave and strong and escape doesn't seem to be working out, so maybe she'll take a crack at quivering and cowering like a little child.

No, she thinks, surprised by a surge of anger. I refuse.

She kicks the door. "Find me!" she shouts, not caring if it angers those assholes holding her, those pricks putting her parents through hell. "Find me!"

Footsteps approach the door, and then a fist pounds on it. "Stop it," orders the kidnapper.

"No," Zoey answers. But she does it quietly. She's angry, but she's scared, too, and she doesn't want to tempt him to hurt her. She'll keep her defiance quiet for now. Breathing slowly, she counts to 36 before his footsteps recede. Indulging a bit of her childish pique, she makes a face at the door. "Asshole."

Restlessly, she shifts in the closet. Rising to her feet takes far more effort than it should, and Zoey wonders again how long she's been in this hellhole, how long she's been without food. She moves carefully, bumping into the pole before she gets her bearings. It's so, so dark that she still can't see anything but different shades of black.

She paces slowly, two short steps from wall to wall. She wonders what will happen if she's found. Her kidnappers don't seem like the kind of men who would go down without a fight. If the FBI burst in, Zoey wonders, would these assholes make sure to kill her before they died?

Probably, she thinks darkly. They probably would kill her.

Pacing isn't helping and she's too tired anyway. Zoey sinks back down to the floor, restless and frustrated.

A tactical team. Probably the FBI would send in a tactical team and take out the kidnappers silently. Maybe she'd survive if they died one at a time.

She's shocked by how little that thought bothers her. She's never considered herself a vengeful person; her parents taught her about forgiveness and turning the other cheek, and she grew up to be a good little liberal Democrat, against the death penalty and for the rehabilitation of criminals. But she's reached a place she never thought she would, a place where it might well come down to kill or be killed, and she's surprised to find she thinks she has it in her to kill.

Anger and bone-deep terror are a potent mix.

"I want to go home," she moans. She thinks again about escape. Unless they do it when she's asleep, she's pretty sure the kidnappers don't spend any time in the bedroom, and the bedroom has a window. If she can get into the bedroom, she can get out of the house. Of course, she has no idea where they've taken her, but she'd rather die in the woods than at the hands of these men.

Her hands are numb again, but she does her best to flex her fingers. When they tied her back up, she's pretty sure they did it quickly. Maybe she can get her hands free. Her gaze shifts to the door. She knows the biggest obstacle is the deadbolt, but she figures she'll worry about that after she frees her hands.

She tries moving her injured shoulder again, and gasps at the pain. It's hard, but she clenches her jaw and presses on, scrabbling at the ends of the rope, bending her wrists at impossible angles. The rope brushes against her palm, against her fingers, but she can't get a grip on it.

"Shit!"

She keeps trying, pressing her palms against the wall to trap the short end of the rope, but she still can't get any leverage. Clearly, if she wants out of here, she needs to get her hands in front of her.

"Okay," she says. "I can do this." She could when she was little, anyway, and she's determined to succeed now. Zoey takes a moment to regulate her breathing. In. Then out. In. Then out. She shifts into a crouch and hunches over, trying to compact her body, to make herself as small as possible.

She inhales slowly, filling her lungs, and then she uses her right hand to pull her left down, trying to get her arms down and under her hips.

God, it hurts. It burns. It throbs and tears and brings tears to her eyes, but she keeps pressure on her injured shoulder, keeps pulling down.

Then she collapses into a heap. It's not working and the pain is unbearable and maybe she won't live through this and where is God when you really need him and why is the closet spinning like that?


Her tongue feels thick and dry and too large for her mouth, and Zoey tries to remember how long the human body can go without water. She thinks it's something like three or four days, but she's not sure and she can't concentrate long enough to dig the knowledge out of her memory.

Her body aches and her shoulder throbs and her clothes feel grimy from cold sweat and too many hours on a dirty floor. It's unbearably hot in the confines of the closet and she fantasizes about a bottle of water, a big bottle. A liter. First, she'd gulp down half, then dump the rest over her head. When she gets home, she decides, she'll spend hours in a bubblebath, soaking away layers of terror.

She tries to imagine it, the feel of soothingly warm water on her skin, but the darkness presses in on her, its impenetrable stillness the same whether her eyes are open or closed. Zoey's never been particularly claustrophobic, but the inky blackness is like constant pressure on her skin, invisible weight on her frayed nerves.

But she can't let herself think about her 10 square feet of space. Whenever she does, she imagines dying in this tiny corner of hell, wasting away for days and days until her body gives up. Or maybe she'll die of thirst instead; she hopes dehydration will lead her into delirium before it gets too bad. She tries to stay optimistic, but she's been in here too damn long with only her thoughts and the pressing silence as companions, and those bastards haven't given her a single crumb.

She hums to herself to break the silence. First, it's whatever pops into her head. Frank Sinatra. Fiona Apple. Miles Davis. Miss Saigon. 'N Sync.

But after a while -- she has no way of knowing how many hours -- she starts singing hymns to herself, songs she'd mumbled her way through every Sunday of her childhood. She closes her eyes and sings The Magnificat and pretends the floor is the hard wooden pew of Our Lady of Peace.

She's sitting uncomfortably, her legs straight out in front of her and crossed at the ankle, her torso listing sideways to keep weight off of her shoulder. She's halfway through On Eagle's Wings, sniffling a little through the chorus, when it happens.

Breaking glass. Shouting.

Then unbearably loud concussive blasts coupled with flashes of light so bright that her dark closet is illuminated briefly. She sees dirt on her black pants before the light disappears.

Zoey's stunned into momentary paralysis, her exhausted mind taking a few elastic seconds to process what's happening.

A bomb?

Oh, God. Oh, God. Someone's here. She's torn between hope and terror.

Her ears ring mercilessly, and she rubs her good shoulder against her cheek. It doesn't help, and she can hear more shouting now. Louder, voices high and panicky.

Zoey scrambles backwards, gritting her teeth through the pain. She curls her body as best she can, trying to make herself the smallest possible target as the gunfire begins.

It's so loud, terrifyingly loud, she can no longer hear the shouting.

Zoey drops her forehead to her knees. She can't hear her own voice as she whispers, "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name..."

The sounds are louder now, closer. Zoey orders herself to stop shaking. It doesn't work.

Heavy steps, and someone is at the closet door. Booted feet.

"Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners..." Zoey squeezes her eyes shut.

A loud metallic sound, like a gunshot only quieter, and the closet door is thrown open.

"Clear," yells a voice.

Zoey goes still. It's a new voice. An American voice.

"Zoey Bartlet?"

She moves slowly, lifting her head, wincing at the light streaming through the door. The looming figure is backlit, a menacing silhouette with black boots and what looks like an assault rifle of some kind.

Then he drops to a crouch and a flashlight beam swivels to his face, to his chest. Zoey's gaze follows, taking in black skin, a black flak jacket, and an American flag patch over his name. Agent Fielding.

"Zoey Bartlet?" he repeats, his voice kind. "I'm Peter Fielding. I'm with the FBI." He doesn't look away from her, but turns his head slightly and raises his voice, "I've got Bookbag. Get me a medic."

Fielding moves backwards a little, and Zoey looks past him, taking in the identically dressed agents fanned out in the bedroom beyond.

"You're safe, Ms. Bartlet."

Safe.

Zoey blinks. Safe. When she tries to speak, her voice comes out tiny. "Okay."

"Let's get you out of there," Fielding says, "and we'll untie your hands."

Zoey's still trying to process this concept. Safety. She's safe. It doesn't make sense, not yet. "Are they--?" She can't finish the question.

"Yes," Fielding answers evenly. "They can't hurt you anymore."

Zoey nods. They're dead. Her kidnappers are dead.

She understands this on an intellectual level, but she can't quite believe it yet. Safety is too large a concept for her to grasp at the moment. Right now, she wants out of this closet. Out. She needs to get out.

Belated panic -- what if they come back? -- propels her to her feet, and she flinches hard when Fielding reaches out to help. "No!" Zoey misjudges and slams into the wall, jarring her shoulder. She inhales sharply, tears pricking at her eyes, and tries to explain. "My collarbone is..."

She can't figure out the words she needs. She's breathing fast and she feels dizzy, like she might topple over. She tries to focus on Agent Fielding. "I'm a little..."

He dips his chin once. "May I help you?"

Zoey studies his face for several long moments, then nods. She takes one step, then another, and she's out of that fucking closet. Fielding takes her good arm, his large fingers curling around her elbow as he helps steady her. A medic appears suddenly in front of her.

"We're going to free your hands," Fielding tells her.

Zoey nods again, too tired to come up with words. She feels fingers fumbling at her bonds and stiffens. She can tell she's starting to hyperventilate and tells herself to calm down. Then her arms are free and, God, it hurts.

Her shoulder sparkles with pain, and the voices around her blur into an unintelligible mass. The medic slips something over her head, then apologizes softly as he slides her injured arm into a sling. The throbbing eases slightly, and the room around her fades back into focus.

She feels a little like she's encased in a cotton; everything seems far away and a little blurry, but she's aware enough to refuse the stretcher. Some small, stubborn part of her is determined to walk out of here.

Fielding seems to understand, guiding her with a polite hand on her elbow. She thinks he tries to block her view with his body, but Zoey sees a small kitchen, sees the Polaroid man crumpled on the floor in a small pool of blood. Her eyes burn a little, and Fielding moves her faster.

She blinks, but the image stays with her as she emerges from the small, ramshackle house into the cool night air.

Stars. She looks up and she can see stars.

"Over here," Fielding says unnecessarily. There's a small army of emergency vehicles, their red and blue lights flashing frantically. That sight more than anything makes Zoey think this might actually be for real.

Agent Fielding helps her into the back of an ambulance, and two paramedics bustle around her with careful efficiency. Zoey feels disconnected, somehow, numbly answering their questions about her injuries. When asked, she tilts her head back and lets them flush her eyes with saline. Something about tear gas, which maybe explains the burning. She accepts a bottle of water and drinks it eagerly. It's almost painfully cold and it's difficult to swallow. Her throat aches.

"Easy," says one paramedic. "Take it slow with the water."

Hands run warm cloths over her face, her neck, her palms, and Zoey shivers.

Agent Fielding appears again at the open back door of the ambulance. There's another man with him, an older man in a dark suit, but his name slips past Zoey. Only Fielding's words register: "Your family is coming."

"Thank you."

The paramedics tell her that she's going to be fine, that the doctors will want to keep her overnight. Zoey nods and accepts the blanket draped over her shoulders. They help her move, still unsteady, to the tailgate. She settles in to wait.

She's half asleep when she catches sight of her mother, her father, her sisters. After hours of wishing for this, of craving her family, she can't quite believe they're here. She can't believe she survived.

The numbness starts to recede a little, and Zoey stares at her family as they reach her, drinking them in. Her mother yells her name.

Zoey starts to shiver, just a little, and reaches for her mother with her good arm.

Finally, her mother's hands touch Zoey's face. Warm, loving hands that reach through the last of her haze.

She's safe.

Her family is here and she's safe, and for the first time since this nightmare started, Zoey feels herself start to smile.

THE END

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Fandom:  West Wing
Title:  Fell Clutch
Author:  Ryo Sen   [email]
Details:  Standalone  |  55k  |  04/20/04
Summary:  In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud. Fifty hours with Zoey Bartlet.
Notes:  spoilers: From Commencment to Jefferson Lives.
Disclaimer/Other:  They still belong to Aaron Sorkin, reality be damned.
thanks: This story would not have been written without the lovely and talented Jo March, who read the first part and insisted I keep going. And it would be nothing without the beta-rific talents of Jo, Marguerite, Ria (who suggested the title and epigram), and Emily (even if she didn't want to read it ::g:: ). Thanks so much, ladies.
author's note: While I'm not 100% sure this will be my Last Ever West Wing Fic, the show, for me, has lost its sparkle and, with it, my obsessive focus. I still love these characters, and it's possible Wells & Co. will write something that will rope me back in, but I grow less and less optimistic as each Sorkinless episode airs. Therefore, I'd like to take a self-indulgent little moment here and thank the West Wing fandom for so kindly embracing Jo and myself. My run in this fandom has been a wonderful, creative, prolific time, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Extra special thank you to members of our update list and to all of those readers who've sent feedback over the years -- you'll never know how much that means to me.

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