Descent Into Panic

Chapter 11

"Sam, no!" Al couldn't believe what he was hearing. Surely Sam wasn't that badly hurt? Ziggy was still being typically reticent to give a straight answer to a simple question.

"Go!" Sam commanded the young man.

"Sorry, sir. No can do." Drew looked him in the eye and smiled. "You're a guest. I'm responsible for you."

"Just go." Sam said again. "Save yourself. Please."

Drew deliberately sat down. He wasn't sure if Mr. Quincey was mortally injured, or just in shock, or what, but he was not leaving without his friend.

"Listen, sir. I wouldn't leave anyone up here to die. Not even those folks who were mean to me. So I certainly have no intention of abandoning you."

Drew realized that Sam's leg was bleeding. He tore a strip from his shirt tail and made a crude bandage to tie around the wound. Sam didn't cry out, or wince or show any sign he was aware what the young man was doing.

"What's going on in that head of yours, Sam?" Al asked.

He was afraid he knew the answer already. It was starting to sink in that Allegra Mancini had perished in the elevator, and Sam was feeling guilty at not having saved her. In his shock and self-condemnation, he'd decided he had no right to be saved himself.

"Doesn't matter," Sam mumbled. "Nothing matters."

Yup, thought Al. He's on a guilt trip.

"What matters is that you've saved four lives already, and you two are still alive too." Al reminded him.

Al wasn't blaming Sam for the way he was feeling. He could understand how it was eating his friend up. Sam's heart was as big as a mountain. He cared. He cared too much for his own good.

"Giving up and letting yourself fry isn't going to bring her back, Sam." Al told him, sounder rather more callous than he'd intended.

Sam just turned his head away.

"I'm no doctor, sir." Drew pointed out, "So I'm sorry if you're hurt and I make it worse by moving you. But that fire's gonna get us if we don't shift now."

There was smoke on this level now, and flames starting to lick at the far end of the corridor. They would have trouble keeping ahead of it as it was.

"Now, can you walk, or do you want me to carry you?" Drew would carry the old man every step if he had to. Even if it killed him.

"Leave me." Sam muttered again.

"No, sir." Drew shook his head emphatically, "No way. Never." Why was Mr. Quincey being so stubborn?

Al admired the kid. He had a good heart too. He had also given Al exactly the ammunition he needed, "He means it, Sam."

"He'll stay here and die if you don't go with him, Sam. Do you want Drew to die too?"

Sam turned slowly back to face his friend. He still looked despondent, but at least there was a flicker of the old Beckett determination.

"No," he uttered with conviction, but softly, so that only Al could hear.

"Help me up," he commanded Drew, awkwardly undoing the cuff buttons so that the shirt sleeves were no longer over his hands. The underarm seams were both ripped, unable to withstand the strain of his recent acrobatics.

"Thank goodness!" Drew obeyed at once. The old man winced as he stood, bending forward slightly and holding his left lower arm to his chest. Before Drew could question him about it, Mr. Quincey had taken a purposeful step toward the stairwell. As soon as he tried to put his weight on his right leg he stumbled, but Drew caught him. He hoped the old man wasn't having a heart attack, which was entirely possible in the circumstances.

"Please, sir, let me help," Drew insisted, putting the old man's right arm over his shoulder, and his own left arm behind Mr. Quincey's back so he could help support the injured man.

"It's not serious. Just a superficial cut." Sam assured him. "Stings like crazy, though!" he confessed.

And so they began their hobbling descent of the stairs. Neither spoke, concentrating on breathing through the increasingly smoky air and keeping their footing on the ill-lit stairway.

Al didn't speak either for a long while. He knew he could offer little comfort to his friend, who was not yet ready to be consoled.

He didn't bother to point out that Sam might still leap, since that was probably far from the time traveler's mind at this moment. Accepting that he might leap despite failing to save a marriage, or a school production, or something equally trivial in the grand scheme of things might be all well and good. Failing to save a life was something else altogether. Right now, Sam's thoughts would not be on his own future but on the fact that Allegra wouldn't have one despite the second chance. It wasn't fair.

Round about level five both Drew and Sam started flagging. Given that heat rises, the air should have become more breathable as they descended. It wasn't working out that way.

The fire was indeed literally 'hot on their heels', making the air thick with cloying, choking smoke and the heat overwhelming. The metal handrail was hot to the touch and, given their already sore palms, they were unable to take advantage of its stabilizing properties.

Both men were starting to feel dizzy and disoriented. They couldn't focus on anything around them. Their breathing was getting ragged and punctuated with increasingly frequent coughs. It was like being trapped in a vat of scorched cotton candy.

Al kept a step or two ahead and talked now to try and keep Sam focused.

"You're more than half way now, buddy," Al informed him.

"Keep going. You need to keep moving, Sam. I know you're tired, but it's not that much further. You gotta get this kid to safety, Sam."

Al made sure he kept to the immediate matter in hand, and that Sam had no time to dwell on anything but his current mission to make sure Drew got out alive. Of course, the corollary to that was that Sam would get out safely too, but Al didn't draw his attention to that aspect.

By the time they passed the door to level two, Drew was really struggling to keep Sam upright. Both were exhausted and stumbling more or less on automatic pilot, not thinking beyond the next step, the next breath.

Thus, they failed to notice the firemen coming up to meet them until they had almost knocked into one of them.

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