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Retrospective: Air

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The storm that raged around the tower was loud enough to drown out almost everything else, but Harold’s breath was still loud in his ears as he struggled up yet another step, grasping the railing tight and trying his best not to think about all the steps that lay ahead of him.

In his ear, Root’s voice crackled to life. “If you push yourself too hard, you’re going to fall,” she—the Machine—said quietly.

“They’re waiting on me,” Harold gasped out, pulling himself forward. He was winded, and the act of climbing hurt; it was almost too much, but he could do this. He had to do this. Everyone was counting on him. “I’m the one who—I set this up. They’ve done their parts; I have to—complete it.”

“Stop and catch your breath, at least.” The Machine was getting better at mimicking emotions; she sounded quite concerned. “You’re no use to anyone if you just collapse.”

“I can—I h-have—can’t stop to—”

Off-balance, Harold fumbled about in the air a bit before he managed to turn and sit down, trembling and drawing in quick, panting breaths.

“We’ve gone through this before, Harry,” the Machine’s voice said warmly. “As skilled as you are, you’re far from the only one in this battle. And you've got great plans, but when you bite off more than you can chew…”

Harold was far too out of breath to comment.

“You’ve got yourself pulled in so many directions, flitting all over the place… as if you haven’t yet realized that you’re just one man, and you can’t do everything. Much as you might like to.”

“And yet—if I stop—”

“False dichotomy,” the Machine chided. “It’s not a choice between doing all the things and doing nothing. It’s a matter of prioritization. Choose the most important pieces, and do what you need to to see them happen; the rest of the pieces can fit into the cracks or fall by the wayside, and it’s okay to let some of them go. You can't do everything.”

The windstorm picked up so loud that it felt like it was inside, within him, instead of outside, blocked by all the walls around them. At least until he got to the roof of the tower.

Not waiting until he could breathe normally again (because if he stopped too long, he might never get up at all), Harold struggled to his feet again, and started pulling himself up more of the steps. Each small victory brought him a little closer to completion.

“They’ll wait for you, you know.”

“I’m sure they’re—very patient.” But he couldn’t be that patient with himself.