Title: The Exchange
Rating: T (language)
Fandom: Avengers (movieverse)
Characters: Clint

Spoilers: Set pre- and post-movie with spoilers.

Summary: Clint has his own system that allows him to get new reading material without actually having to keep any of it. Mostly, it works. Until it doesn't.

"We read to know that we are not alone." C.S. Lewis

Clint Barton didn't pick up his first book until he turned twenty-nine.

Actually, he didn't even pick that one up, it was thrown at him by one irate Phil Coulson who, after watching Clint nervously pace the room for close to an hour straight, actually raised his voice and said, "Enough. Do something productive."

"With this?" Clint had asked, looking affronted. "This is a book."

"Very good, Agent," Phil returned, never looking up from the surveillance feed he'd been monitoring. "It is a book."

"How is this productive?"

"If it keeps you from distracting me, it is."

Grumbling, but getting the hint, Clint sat down and reluctantly read the cover.

The Count of Monte Cristo.

Deciding, why not, he opened the book, and gave it a shot. The first hundred pages were slow going. Sometimes he had to stop and ask Phil what a word meant, which he could because Phil didn't judge him like that. Sometimes he just had to stop and give his eyes a break. Sometimes he had to go back and read a passage over after having missed some important clue and ending up momentarily lost. Mostly he plowed on because there really was nothing else for him to do and, as he learned the hard way, it's not smart to piss Phil off. And, after another hundred pages seem to go by like nothing, he gets it.

Clint finally gets why people read in the first place.

It's like an aha moment, but one he doesn't share with anyone else. He keeps it to himself because, he figures if he says that out loud, people will think he's stupid. Clint's never been overly concerned with how people view him, but he'd be lying if he didn't sometimes feel a bit inferior. As far as he knows, it's just him and Natasha who have never completed any kind of higher education, but she doesn't count since she's brilliant and probably knows more world history than everyone he's ever met combined. And Clint... he sometimes thinks the only thing he knows is how to shoot people.

It takes the remainder of the mission for him to finish and it feels like an accomplishment, even if it was just a book.

"Well?" Phil asks after Clint dropped the book back into his lap.

"It was good."

"That's it? Good?"

Clint shrugged and Phil scrutinized him for a moment before picking the book up and tossing it back to him.

"Keep it," he said.

"I don't really..." Clint said, looking down at the book and letting the words die off. He wanted to say he didn't really keep things, let alone books. Clint had no personal possessions to speak of and didn't really want any. Having things meant settling down, and Clint had no intentions of settling anywhere ever again.

"It's fine, I've got another," Phil said, missing the point because Clint had never gotten around to making it. "You may want to read it again. I do every few years. And," he said, standing up and rifling through his bag, "since you're done with it and we've got a long flight ahead of us, try this."

Clint reluctantly took the second book and gave the title a glance.

Heart of Darkness.

"Thanks," Clint muttered, not because he wasn't grateful. He was, but he had not even wanted one book, and now he had two, but it gave him an idea.

A solution.

Clint decided he would keep the first book. He wasn't sure exactly why, maybe because it felt like it had been a gift, even if it obviously wasn't. First and foremost, Phil knew Clint hated gifts. Plus, the book was obviously well-read and worth nothing and Clint was pretty certain Phil probably had a dozen copies of it hidden away somewhere. For all Clint knew, Phil handed out books on Halloween and got his door egged for his efforts, that's just how he was. Still, because of that book, Clint had discovered something about himself. He liked reading. It suited him. It kept him occupied and out of the way when he wasn't needed. And it had an escapist quality to it that he honestly lacked and sorely needed in his life. So, he stowed it away in the bottom of his footlocker, finished the second book, and then set about putting his plan in motion.

He wanted to keep reading, but it wasn't like he could get a library card or anything like that. What would be put down as an address? What would he put down for a name? As far as he knew, outside of SHIELD, Clint Barton no longer existed. Sure, he could have bought books for himself, but the problem with that was he didn't know what to buy and he didn't want to start accruing things. Clint probably could have asked Phil, but then he probably would start getting books as gifts, whether he liked them or not, and that was the last thing he wanted. One book felt like plenty after years of having nothing of his own.

So, Clint's solution was to take this second book and exchange it.

Simple. Easy. Problem solved.

His first exchange had been with Natasha. Clint hadn't asked and he hadn't really even picked which book of hers he wanted to try. He just saw an opportunity open up and swapped the second book he'd been given with one of hers. It all happened so quickly that she didn't realize it had even happened at all until months later, but by then he was on his sixth exchange and could barely even remember what had happened to her book.

Sense and Sensibility.

"I didn't steal it," he argued with her. "I borrowed it."

"Borrowing implies consent," she fired back at him, waving the Conrad book at him. "And it also implies you'll return what you took."

"Okay, I didn't borrow it. But, it's just a book. You've still got one. Right there."

"It's not the same book," Natasha said, exasperated by his flat out refusal to understand her anger. "I want my book."

"Fine," Clint sighed. "Give me a second."

Mentally he went backwards through the titles of all the books he'd read. It still wasn't a long list, not back then, and it was easy enough to match the book to its then owner, but it took him a minute.

"Fury," he finally said. "I swapped your book with one from Director Fury's office."

"You left a copy of a Jane Austen romance in Nick Fury's office?" Natasha asked, eyebrow raised in skeptical disbelief.

"Yep," Clint said with a nod, remembering exactly what he'd taken in return.

The Art of War.

"Never mind," she smiled.


"Never mind," she repeated. "Leave it there. I'll give this a try."

Much later Natasha told him that the mental picture of Fury discovering the book had more than made up for the loss. Still, the first book he did end up purchasing had been a new Sense and Sensibility. It wasn't a gift, he'd explained when he gave it to her, it was an apology.

Natasha accepted.

After that he kept right on exchanging, but made up some guidelines. Clint no longer took books from anyone's private quarters. He might not think of a book as being sentimental or as having any particular meaning, but other people obviously did. So, to avoid making that mistake again, he only exchanged books that were obviously abandoned, that the original owner had finished, and ones that were left out in common areas. Additionally, he only read paperbacks. They were easier to carry and conceal, plus much easier to exchange.

At first he thought his reading material might dry up entirely, for suddenly it felt like he was the only one reading at all. Then one day an entire box of books showed up in the shared kitchen and Clint set about reading every one of them. He never found out who had done this, but he'd always suspected it was Phil. After that books regularly appeared all over SHIELD compounds, as more and more people got in on this exchange program Clint had unwittingly created.

Over the years he'd lost count of exactly how many books he'd read. He tried not to read the same book twice, but on more than one occasion he didn't have much choice. And, as Phil had suggested, he did read The Count of Monte Cristo again. Several times in fact. It became his favorite book and remained the only one he kept safely in the bottom of his footlocker where it eventually came to belong.

Clint couldn't say he learned a lot, at least not from the books themselves, but he did learn a lot about the people around him.

He learned that Phil liked the classics, which wasn't much of a surprise after Clint figured out what constituted a classic. They were old fashioned stories with shades of gray to them. Ones where the villain could just as easily have ended up the hero, if not for some cosmic twist of fate.

He learned that Natasha favored romances, but not the bodice ripping kind. Her books were all about emotional connections and a deeper, sometimes even platonic, love. That and they all had happy endings, every single one of them, which for some reason made him sad. After awhile Clint stopped exchanging books with Natasha.

He learned that Agent Maria Hill loved horror. Not just horror, but truly frightening, macabre stuff that no one in their right mind should ever be subjected. After one particularly brutal book, a series of short stories that he couldn't even finish, Clint sought her out and tossed it back at her across the table like an accusation.

"I take it you didn't like it," she said, picking up the book and turning it over in her hands.

"Why do you read that shit?" he asked, because even though he didn't really get along with her very well, and had absolutely no right to question her at all, he had to know.

Hill gave the book a look, as if considering her answer, or maybe even considering if he deserved an answer, Clint wasn't sure which, but eventually she looked him in the eyes and said, "It reminds me of what's out there."

Clint had almost said that there was nothing like that out there, but stopped himself because he knew that wasn't true. He'd seen some truly sick things and knew she was right. He didn't question her taste in books after that, thought he understood, but it was still the only book he never finished.


Appropriate, he realized.

Once he joined up, unofficially, with the Avengers and started living in Stark Tower alongside everyone else, Clint began his exchange program again. It was the quickest way learn new things about his new team and alleviate his boredom at the same time.

Within the first month Clint learned that Tony only read magazines and science journals, along with the occasional mystery. He learned that Bruce didn't read much at all, which was a surprise, but when he did it was poetry, which was more of a surprise. Steve liked science-fiction, the more outrageous and farfetched the better. And Thor, when he was around, picked through biographies and history books, always wanting to know more about the people who made up the world around him.

Pepper, Clint found, had the best taste in books, which apparently made-up for her not-so-great taste in boyfriends. Her interests were varied, but no matter the genre, the books she liked best, and liked best to share, were human and they made him think. Sometimes he couldn't stop thinking about it and would track her down to discuss it. One in particular started what everyone else jokingly called their book club.

The Virgin Suicides.

"But they never say why."

"Exactly," Pepper said with a smile and a shrug.

"And that doesn't frustrate you?" Clint asked. "The whole book is about these deaths and then... nothing. There's no explanation at all. It just leaves you hanging and... Why are you smiling?"

"Think about it," she said.

"I have thought about it," he argued.

"That's the point," she said after a pause. "People we know, sometimes people we love even, can just be gone one day without any kind of reason, or motive, or meaning and after that... After that there are no more answers, only questions you don't get to ask."

They sat there, the table between them, staring at one another for a moment. Finally, he nodded and understood. Pepper nodded along with him and he got it. He did.

It was then that Tony walked in, did a double take as he caught sight of the two of them just nodding at one another, kind of like fools, and then snapped, "Stop hitting on my girlfriend," before walking out again.

After that Pepper was always willing to exchange books with him, and talk them through if he wanted, and once she got the hang of the system Clint had worked out, set up a bin in the living room for all of them to use. Soon enough it was just like back at SHIELD and everyone was in on the exchange.

Until it went horribly wrong.

It was entirely his fault, Clint had no doubt about that, but it had been an accident. He hadn't even given much thought to formalizing the exchange or setting up stricter guidelines because it had been going so well with so little effort. The big no-no was never taking a book from someone's personal quarters, which seemed clear enough, but really wasn't. They all had their own rooms and living areas, but they had also all carved out little corners of Stark Tower that were basically theirs as well. After the fact Clint realized that if someone had taken something of his off of the range, he'd be pretty pissed off about it, and that in hindsight he really should have stopped and thought about it before taking that book from the lab.

But he hadn't.

Clint had been on his way out of the Tower and on a mission for SHIELD. He'd swung through the lab for no reason really, saw the book, and having just finished the one in his bag, made the exchange. He had a long plane ride ahead of him and needed something to pass the time. That was exactly as much thought as he put into the situation.

Six days later, when he had a chance to get back in touch with the real world, Natasha finally got on the line and Clint could tell, just by her breathing, something was seriously wrong.

"Did you take it?"

"Take what?" Clint asked, initially annoyed that this was her first question. No, hello. No, how's it going. No, sorry you got shot, which he hadn't, but she didn't know that. Just an angry accusation.

"The book, Barton," she snapped. "Did you take Banner's book from the lab?"

"The poetry one?" he asked. "Yeah. I left -"

"Shut up," she interrupted, but still sounded relieved. "Just bring it back with you and I'll... I'll let him know it was a mistake."

"I can't."

Clint had the feeling that, if he'd been in the room, Natasha would have slapped him. It was just that, a feeling, but it was a strong one. That's how silent it got between them.

"What do you mean you can't?"

"We stopped in Berlin," Clint said, still not getting what the big deal was. It was a book. It was just a book. "I'd finished it and there was this second-hand book store so..."

That's when Natasha hung up on him.

Fifteen minutes later, Pepper was on the line. She, too, sounded distraught but Pepper, unlike Natasha, didn't sound like she wanted to cause Clint bodily harm. She just rattled off a series of questions and jotted down his responses.

Do you know what store it was? Did you get a receipt? What part of the city were you in?

Clint did his best to answer her, but he was vague on the details. After she'd finished, and thanked him, which somehow made him feel worse, Natasha was back on the phone again.

"That was his property, Clint," Natasha said, stressing her words carefully and keeping her voice low. "I mean, do you have any idea what it's been like the last couple of days around here? Do you know what could have happened?"

"I didn't realize..."

"No, you wouldn't realize."

A silence as long as the distance separating them ensued as Clint began to draw stares from the nearby techs. He tried to ignore them, and the gnawing sensation that was growing in his gut, but he couldn't ignore Natasha's voice in his ear.

"Fix it."

Before he could ask how he was supposed to do that, she'd hung up on him again.

Three days later, after his mission officially ended, Clint found himself back in Berlin, checking book shops and asking questions in what might be the worst German dialect ever, and generally feeling useless because, no joke, that book was gone. Still, for four days, he tried. Clint honestly tried to find it and failed. No choice left, no avenues left to pursue, Clint got on the first flight he could back to New York and slunk back into the Tower defeated.

"Any luck?"

Clint looked up from where he sat on the edge of his bed, not surprised to see her there. Well, maybe surprised she hadn't come armed. But, otherwise, he knew that when he arrived, she'd find him.

"None," he shrugged. "I looked. I did but... nothing. I'll apologize to Bruce and replace it when I get the chance."

"You can't replace it," Natasha said, shaking her head at him. "It was a gift."

"It was a book," Clint countered.

"It doesn't matter what it was," Natasha said, talking to him like he was a child, which honestly was kind of how he felt at the moment. "It's not about that, it's about who gave it to him. It's about what it meant. And you took it. You can't replace that."

"So what do you want me to do?"

Natasha didn't quite meet his eyes as she shook her head at him, which wasn't an answer. She didn't have an answer. And neither did Clint.

The rest of the week Clint avoided everyone. He was pretty good at it, seeing as he'd had years of practice, but it wasn't a permanent solution. The problem was he didn't have a solution. He'd wracked his brain for an answer. Clint spent hours on it that would probably have been more productively spent on the range. Still... nothing. There was nothing he could do and no way he could repay Bruce for his loss, Clint realized.

All he could do was try.

Clint got to the lab early in the morning, knowing he'd be the first one there. He hadn't actually seen Bruce since he'd accidentally stolen his book, and, if he'd been as angry and upset as Natasha had said he was, Clint knew that certain precautions needed to be made. So, as was his norm, Clint picked his spot and waited.

Bruce arrived a little after nine that day, went straight to his work station and almost immediately froze upon seeing the item left on top of his keyboard.

"It's good," he said, picking the book up and turning to where he knew Clint was, high above the lab floor, "but I've read it already."

"Yeah," Clint said, shaking his head. "I kind of thought you had."

"It's a classic," Bruce said.

"It is," Clint agreed and his stomach churned.

"Any particular reason why?" Bruce asked, waving the book at him casually. "Not that I'm complaining. I do appreciate the thought," he said, but he didn't sound like it. To Clint, he sounded strained. "I'd have thought you would at least replace the one you... I'd thought you'd bring a copy of it, if nothing else."

"I thought about it," Clint admitted, but everything else got stuck somewhere between his head and his mouth.

Bruce nodded and looked down at the book, flipping open the cover and frowning.

"Are you going to come down any time soon?" Bruce asked after a near minute of complete silence. "I'm not going to... It's safe, Clint. I'm not going to destroy the lab or anything. I promise."

"I didn't think you would."

"So the tranquilizers you have hidden up there aren't for me?"

Clint had the good grace to appear embarrassed, but didn't admit to more. He just slid off the cabinet and landed cleanly on his feet before crossing the lab and leaning back against the table nearest Bruce to finish what he came to finish.

"Listen," Clint began, forcing himself to look Bruce in the eyes, "I'm going to make this real simple. I'm sorry. It was a mistake. It was stupid. I won't touch anything in here again. I swear it. Okay?"

Bruce nodded, the book Clint had replaced his own with still in his hands. "One question," he said. "Why this book? I mean, is it a joke?"

"No," Clint answered, taken aback by Bruce's response.

"Most people think this book is about revenge," Bruce said, looking at it and shaking his head.

"I always thought it was about forgiveness," Clint returned, and after Bruce continued to stare at him as if he might be crazy, he continued on. "Finding it in yourself to let go. To move on. After you kick ass, of course."

"I think we've had this conversation."

"More or less," Clint said, relieved to see Bruce looking more like the man he knew.

"You still haven't answered me."

"I picked this book because... because it was on hand. It was what I had."

Bruce nodded and leaned back as if considering that answer. Clint was used to drawn out silences from Bruce, he was the kind of guy who thought through what he said, which made him particularly unique amongst the current inhabitants of the Tower. Still, this was a bit much. This was borderline torture.

"That's it?" Bruce finally asked. One last push.

"It's all I had," Clint said truthfully. When Bruce's only response was a questioning stare, Clint sighed and reluctantly continued. "I'm not real big on mementos or reminders or things like that. There's not a whole lot I want to remember. And I don't like gifts, and I don't give gifts, because it makes me feel indebted. I hate owing people."

Bruce nodded and waited. Clint had always thought of himself as a patient man, but Bruce put him to shame. And they'd officially crossed over from borderline torture to actual torture. This was like actual torture now.

"Listen, I know I can't replace what I took. Tasha made that very clear. And let me tell you, when Tasha more or less calls you insensitive, it kind of makes you reevaluate your entire life. So honestly, I didn't know what to do. I don't have things but... but that. I had that. I took something of yours so..." Clint trailed off, certain he sounded like a fool, as he ended up just pointing at the damn book with nothing left to say.

"This is the only thing you own?"

"I have clothes," Clint answered, as if that was obvious. "And weapons. Couple of field manuals but... yeah, that's it. If you want any of that, you're more than welcome to it, but I don't think we wear the same sizes so... book."

"Was it a gift?"

"Why would you think that?"

"Because you can't wear it or kill someone with it," Bruce answered. "Or both so... call it a hunch but I'm guessing someone gave this to you."

"It's... it's nothing. It's a book."

"Thank you," Bruce said.

"It's nothing," Clint repeated, but by this point he'd been looking more at the ground than at Bruce.

"I can't accept it," Bruce continued, holding it out before him.

Clint looked up and folded his arms in front of him. He hadn't expected this encounter to be easy but he really had not counted on this.

"This obviously means something to you, and while I appreciate the thought, I can't keep it," Bruce said, still holding the book out in front of him for Clint to take back.

"it's just a book," Clint said, even though he couldn't even look at it.

"Clint," Bruce sighed, putting the book down on the table between them before pushing his glasses up and off his face, "I'm not going to argue. The fact is that you giving up something of yours isn't going to bring back anything of mine. I know it was a mistake and that you didn't mean for it to happen, but it's gone and... I've made peace with that."

"Really?" Tony asked from the doorway, Pepper at his side with a FedEx package in her hand and a smile on her lips. "Because, I wish you'd have told me that sooner and saved me a lot of trouble."

"You?" Pepper asked as she walked around Tony and handed the bundle off to Bruce.

"You're serious?" Bruce asked as he tore into it with a profound look of relief. "How did you find it?"

Clint didn't say anything, didn't ask any questions, only took a step back and listened.

"Unlike our friend Agent Barton," Tony said, "I speak a language everyone knows. Greed. If you throw enough euros around you can pretty much find anything."

Bruce didn't reply. He just stood there, staring at the cover for a moment as if still unconvinced it was real.

Leaves of Grass.

The room grew unnaturally quiet as even Tony had enough decorum to keep his mouth shut. Bruce flipped open the book and silently ran his finger down the inside page over a handwritten inscription that Clint, whose own reading habits made him skip straight to the title page, hadn't seen during his brief period of ownership. Having read the note to himself, Bruce smiled and shut the book again.

"Thank you, Pepper."

Pepper smiled and nodded, but looked unusually sad. There might even had been tears in her eyes, but none were shed.

"I did have a little something to do with this, too, you know," Tony said.

"I know," Bruce said, smiling at him. "Thank you. Thank you both."

"Finally," Tony said with a self-satisfied tone, "someone appreciates all the work I do."

That was when Clint left.

He didn't want to stick around any longer to witness this. He had no part in it. He'd screwed up so badly that he hadn't even been able to fix it, Pepper had saved him, and while Clint was glad Bruce had his book back, he also hated it. He hated failing. He hated feeling useless. He hated the fact that his stomach was still in knots over this whole mess even after it was resolved.

Because it didn't feel resolved.

The rest of the day he managed to avoid everyone. Natasha was always the hardest to duck, but she either sensed that talking would do no good or just knew, as she always seemed to know, that it just wasn't time yet. It wasn't until late in the evening that he'd even ran across anyone, and that had only happened accidentally.

"We missed you at dinner," Pepper said, catching Clint by surprise as he'd had his head stuck in the fridge, looking for a quick snack.

"Yeah," he said, drawing the word out. "Had some reports to finish. I can't type worth a damn so they take forever."

"Well, since you're done," Pepper continued, giving him an encouraging smile, "we're watching movies in the media room. You're welcome to join us."

"I'll take a rain check," he said, giving her a nod and hoping he hadn't been rude, nevertheless Clint bolted from the room.

An hour later, as he'd literally been sitting in the dark, alone in the room he slept in while at the Tower, there was a knock at the door. Knowing Natasha wouldn't bother knocking, and never having had anyone else come to the door before, Clint wasn't sure who to expect. Although, in hindsight, he should have at least had a guess.

"You forgot this," Bruce said, holding out that damn book again.

"I didn't forget it," Clint answered, walking away from him and back into the living room, hitting the light switch on the way. "I gave it to you."

"In lieu of my own book, which I now have back, so..."

"That doesn't change anything."

"You think you owe me or something?" Bruce asked.

Clint didn't answer him out loud. He just nodded as if he thought that had been clear.

"We're even," Bruce said, getting the point and putting the book down on the nearest coffee table.

"I didn't -"

"Then owe me something else," Bruce calmly interrupted. "Given whatever it is Tony has in store for us all, I'm sure you'll get plenty of chances to repay me, if you really think you have to. But, I meant it. I won't take that as payment. I can't."

"It's just a -"

"Christ, Barton," Bruce interrupted him, again, and this time he didn't sound calm. "You're more screwed up than I am. It's not just a book. You can keep saying that, but it doesn't make it true. I know it was a gift from Agent Coulson. I know you've kept it for years and you told me yourself that it's practically the only thing you own. I read the inscription and it's not just a book. It's a reminder. And, yeah, I'm not really into reliving my past either, but some things are worth being reminded about."

Clint didn't answer him. He couldn't. All he could do was stare at the coffee table and that damn book.

"And, I know this probably doesn't mean much coming from me," Bruce said, lowering his voice to a more reasonable level, "and maybe the two of you already had this conversation... I hope you did, but he was right."

Clint still didn't answer him and hadn't even noticed when Bruce left, having realized that further discussion was pointless. He couldn't concentrate on anything but that book, and whatever words Phil had written inside of it, that Clint had never seen.

He'd never read the inside cover.

He'd never seen or even guessed there was more to it than their obviously was. That it had been a gift, a real one, and that Phil had gone out of his way to not only get it to him but to make sure he kept it. Phil had known Clint didn't accept gifts, didn't want things, and he'd tricked him. Clint wasn't sure if he wanted to laugh or cry, maybe both, because only Phil could have done that to him so easily and gotten away with it for so long without ever once giving it away.

Clint had kept that book for over five years and not once had Phil even brought it up. He'd never let Clint thank him. He'd never asked for thanks.

Sitting down and taking a deep breath, Clint picked the book up and held it for a minute, before flipping open the cover and for the first time seeing the words written just on the inside page.

The page he always skipped, but not this time and likely never again.

Dumas wrote, "Hatred is blind, anger is foolhardy, and he who pours out vengeance risks having to drink a bitter draft."

One day you'll find a purpose greater than this and will stop seeking vengeance upon yourself.

For a long time he sat there, book in hand, simply unable to move as he let the grief and loss of the situation fully crash over him, until finally the knot in his stomach unwound itself and he could breathe properly again.

He wished he'd had that conversation with Phil.

It was wrenching, the realization that he never would.

Settled, as much as Clint could settle after that, he stood up and took his book back with him to the bedroom, where he kept his things, still, in his footlocker. He undid the lock, shuffled some clothes aside, and had just put the book back into its safe spot, the back corner where it could remain out of sight for awhile, when Clint stopped and reconsidered.

Two weeks later, on the day after he turned thirty-five, Clint Barton found something new.

Of Mice and Men.

He knew it was from Bruce because, Clint had learned his lesson, more than one of them in fact, and didn't immediately skip to the title page when he discovered the book outside his door in the morning. And even though he knew it was a gift, and Clint still wasn't sure he wanted to do gifts, he tracked Bruce down to thank him and didn't offer to repay him in kind. He also made no attempt to exchange the book once he'd finished it. Instead, he does something new with it.

He keeps it.

Clint's new book goes on the shelf in his room in the Tower next to the first book he'd ever read, the only one he thought he'd ever own, and the one he still looks at some days as a reminder of all the things that shouldn't be forgotten.

And he gets it, he really does.

They aren't just books.

The End