The first thing he wrote was Being born.
Of course, when he did it, he was a depressed teenager with too much alcohol in his system and the deep sense of loss that came after the death of Jarvis. He crossed it over a few days later, when he hadn't exactly sobered up but, at least, he was no longer sitting on the floor of his apartment, holding a kitchen knife and watching his wrists with too much interest.
As it was, he decided to turn his would be suicide note into a list of all the mistakes he had made. Tony was pretty sure that when Jarvis had given him the leather bound journal for his birthday that hadn't been his intention but Tony had learned that things rarely work as intended.
In his drunken episode he had written fifteen items in the first blank page.
Missing Jarvis' funeral
Explosion in dad's workshop
Ignoring Jarvis' advice
Hitting Rhodey after the time with the mittens
Sleeping with Heather Wheels
Not being good enough for dad
Not being enough for mom
Not being smarter
Making dad waste time with my stupid actions
Said stupid actions
It wasn't the first time he had thought about it, not really, but he always found a way to push another project first, to keep himself from doing more than thinking. But now, with the light of day and the pounding headache of a hangover, Tony decided to think about it seriously, instead of emotionally, for the first time.
He knew he was a mess. Rhodey had said it to him enough times, his father had made it clear with his disapproval and disappointment, but was he such a mess that he didn't deserve to live any more? Jarvis had always said he should be more patient and stop rushing into things...
Tony looked down at the journal and flipped the blank pages. He took a pen a scribbled a new line.
Rushing into things
Maybe there were some mistakes he could correct. In the meantime, he would write, and he would wait. Eventually he would run out of space and time.
There were things that deserved bigger letters.
Yinsen took a whole page.
Amplified sound paralyzer
After Afghanistan and the press conference he used a page for each letter.
And there were names that appeared over and over again.
The last time Tony wrote Stane with a normal script and No remorse for killing him much bigger.
Sometimes he didn't have the names to write. Civilian featured heavily in the book. Sometimes he wrote the wrong ones. Natalie Rushman.
He filled four pages after his birthday party, thinking that in the end it wouldn't matter. His body would betray him before his mistakes could. One rediscovered element later, Tony couldn't stop himself from adding, in a tiny cramped script, Saving myself.
Jarvis knew, of course he did. Jarvis knew everything about him and even though Tony kept the journal carefully by hand, Jarvis kept a digital copy. Tony tried not to ask too much. He didn't want to know how many times Pepper's name was there (1072), the percentage of items done while intoxicated (61%) or how many mistakes he had left (a maximum of 659).
Sometimes Jarvis asked him to erase one line or another, but Tony only used pen and the only line scratched out had been the first. Sometimes Jarvis tried to stop him from writing something, reason with him about how it wasn't his fault.
Tony still used three lines to write down Coulson.
The Battle of New York took a little over five pages. Tony refused to count the ones he had left but he figured he would't have much more time.
He invited The Avengers to move in, knowing that the more people around him, the more people he hurt, the more mistakes he made.
It was still worth it.
Too late to catch Clint
Didn't listen to Cap
Distracted. Natasha hurt
Made Thor sad
Messed up Bruce's experiment
Tony poured himself some scotch and sat down carefully on the rattled sofa he kept on the workshop. His ribs still hurt and the cut on his right arm had started to bleed again. He looked down at the journal on his lap, took a healthy sip of scotch and opened it.
He didn't need to count. Two pages left and he hadn't written anything about today yet.
“Jarvis, call the lawyers and arrange a meeting for tomorrow.”
The AI was unusually silent for a few seconds.
“Sir, those arrangements shouldn't be necessary.”
Tony gave a bitter smile and finished his scotch before picking up a pen. “Yes, they are.”
The Avengers were waiting for him in the living room, a familiar journal on the table.
Tony turned around and locked himself in the workshop before a word could be said.
Letting them find out
“I need my journal back.”
“I believe you left it in the living room after you drank too much last night, Sir.”
“The Avengers are there.”
“Indeed they are, Sir.”
“There are things I need to write.”
“I continue to disagree.”
It's been two days and he's running out of food in the workshop.
“Do they know, Jarvis?”
One of the monitors came to life, showing the living room and Steve angrily holding the book in his hand.
“What happens when he runs out of room?” Steve asked.
There was a long silence.
“The Avengers wish to speak with you, Sir.”
“Tell them I''m busy,” Tony said, tinkering with a new design of arrows for Clint. He wanted to finish them before he... yeah, before.
“They are insistent.”
“And I am stubborn.” Tony busied himself with the circuitry of the exploding device and ignored a new pang of hunger. He would have to brave the kitchen sooner of later. Starving wasn't how he planned to go.
“You tricked me,” Tony said when he walked into the kitchen to find the team waiting for him. Bruce and Thor moved subtly behind him to block the door and Tony walked resignedly to the fridge. If he was doing this, and he very much didn't want to, he could at least have some food.
“At the time of your query all the Avengers were in their own living quarters,” Jarvis replied in a neutral tone that didn't fool Tony one bit.
“Yeah, and you conveniently let them know I was out and about.” Tony found a carton of Chinese food leftovers and pulled it out.
“Tony, we need to talk,” Steve said and the earnest tone made Tony want to throw a handful of rice at him.
“We really, really don't,” he said, finding a fork and flopping down on one of the kitchen tables.
Steve was about to speak again but Clint interrupted him. “So where's the other one?” he asked.
That took Tony by surprise. “The other what?”
“The other journal,” Clint said, taking another fork from the drawer and sitting on the chair beside Tony. “The one with all the good shit,” he said, before helping himself to Tony's rice.
Tony almost choked on a bite or pork and Bruce placed a glass of water on the table. After drinking almost half of it Tony shrugged. “There isn't one.”
“I'm listed many times in this book,” Thor said, taking a few steps inside the kitchen but still keeping himself between Tony and the door. “I fear many of those are without need.”
Tony really didn't want to hear this. He didn't want to see Steve's sad face or Natasha's blank one. He didn't want Thor to speak to him in that solemn tone when he should be laughing about 'amusing Midgardian animated drawings'. He hated that Bruce was looking at him like that. Like he could see right through him.
“Yeah, man,” Clint said, after helping himself to Tony's water as well. “Clint falling is usually Clint's fault. Except that time Thor pushed me, and that was Thor's fault.”
“I deeply apologize,” Thor said and Clint grinned at him. “It's okay. You caught me, anyway.”
“I can take care of myself,” Natasha added, giving Tony one of her inscrutable looks. “You do not need to babysit me, Tony.”
It was the use of his name instead of his last name that made Tony drop the fork and focus on Natasha. “Um,” he said, quite sure that if he added something else he would end up losing one of his fingers.
“You do know that I'm equally responsible for the explosion with the neutron experiment, right?” Bruce asked. “I miscalculated the carbon radius before you decided to add heat.”
“I said some horrible things to you as well.” Steve was looking painfully guilty. “I didn't know you then and I made a mistake. I'm sorry.”
“What the fuck?” Tony asked, suddenly not feeling hungry anymore. “This is totally unnecessary.” He pointed his fork at Steve. “You don't need to apologize. This isn't 'share your feelings' hour. You just give me back my book and we forget about it.”
“What happens when you fill it?” Clint asked, apparently also done with the food.
“That's none of your business.”
“I think it is,” Clint said.
“Because if you kill yourself over this,” Natasha added, “there will be more red in my ledger.”
“No, there won't,” Tony replied sharply. “This is private. Do you get that concept or did you all forget about it when you were casually stepping over my privacy? This is between me and the fifteen year old that started that list.” He stood up and walked out. “Get me another journal if you care so much.”
Clint dropped from the vent over Tony's work station and threw a notebook on the table.
“We do fucking care so much,” he said before climbing back up.
Tony stared at the notebook for a full five minutes. The cover was a cartoon picture of Hawkeye crouching on a skyscraper, and it had the Avenger's logo on the bottom right corner. Tony opened the notebook slowly and recognized Clint's messy handwriting.
THE OTHER BOOK
by Hawkeye The Awesome!
Saved my life that time with the giant tentacle monster
Built custom bow and arrows, like many many times
Saved my life that time with the Doombots
And that other time with the Doombots
And the other
And the other...
(I hate Doom!)
Saved all fucking New York by flying a nuke to space!!!!
Bought me my own Wii with Mario Kart
Lets me live in his Tower
(Which is awesome)
Lets me play with his Bots
Actually built a maze in the vents just for me
And a shooting range
Saved Natasha's life
And everyone's life at least once
In most cases, more than once
Has epic Mario Kart battles with me
Pranks Cap and Thor with me
Hid me from Natasha before The Incident We Do Not Speak Of
Gave the world a Starkpad
and a Starkphone
and CoolDesigns App
and StarkBots App
and a new and improved Quintjet engine
And it went on and on. Every page was filled with Clint's words. The list included items that were simple (Buying me doughnuts), sarcastic (Being a bigger ass than me), uncomfortably honest (Helping save the part of me that Loki tore) and incomprehensible (That shit and the sparrow).
It must have taken him all night to fill the notebook, and it was filled, to the last line on the last page that read, all in caps an underlined three times, BEING BORN, YOU IDIOT!.
It happened again when he opened the email Bruce sent.
There was an eBook attached and Tony's hand hovered over the attachment before he gathered the nerve to open it.
Mostly it was equations. Pages and pages of equations and code, starting with the Gamma Ray tracking they had worked on together on the Helicarrier and on to the last portable MRI machine they had started to work on last week. It was all projects they had done together, small inputs Tony had made to Bruce's research, and some times, mixed between the formulas, a sentence or two.
Wasn't afraid to poke
Long, deceptively inspired rambles
The last section contained a strain of DNA, the Other Guy's DNA, finishing with Largely responsible for turning a monster into an Avenger.
And of course it didn't stop there.
There was a small, gray, cloth bound journal waiting in his bed that night. The paper was thick and Natasha had used a black ink pen to write.
”We learn from failure, not from success.”
It was from Dracula. Weirdly apt for Natasha to quote. The rest of the book appeared to be blank, except for the last page, that only said There are more hues to Tony Stark than red.
Thor had written in parchment.
He had also written runes.
Tony couldn't translate it all, not even with the help of Jarvis, but what he could read there was an oath. A promise from the future king of Asgard to repay his debt to 'The Man of Iron' for saving his life in battle as well as in peace, for giving him a home in Midgard and teaching him the workings and secrets of the relam. For being a shield brother and a friend.
When Tony touched the parchment he felt its power. It was magical and it was binding. Strangely, he didn't feel afraid.
Steve didn't write. He drew.
The sketchpad that was left on the kitchen table with a note reading For Tony was completely filled with pencil and charcoal drawings, of him.
Tony half asleep at breakfast.
Tony fixing a gauntlet.
Natasha and Tony playing cards.
Tony laughing at something.
Iron Man flying by Avengers' Tower.
Bruce and Tony bending over a diagram.
Thor, with his arm around Iron Man.
The Arc Reactor in Tony's chest.
Clint and Tony playing Wii.
Tony looking at his Bots.
The team, including Steve, sitting in the living room, watching a movie.
The last one was a portrait of Tony's face. He was smiling slightly and his eyes looked kind. Instead of Steve's signature, in the bottom right corner it said, Of course we care.
“There is one mistake we would never forgive you for.”
Tony was still sitting in the kitchen table, Steve's sketchbook on his lap.
He looked up at Natasha. The others were there as well but she was the one who had spoken. Steve extended Tony's journal back to him and it took a moment before Tony took a breath and reached for it.
“You kind of broke my brain, you know?” Tony said, browsing through the pages. “Overload. Can't think. No good for puzzles or riddles. Genius is out. Come back on Monday.”
“I don't understand,” Thor mumbled and Bruce said, “He's just being Tony.” And it sounded fond, affectionate.
“Leaving us,” Steve said. “We won't forgive you if you leave us.”
“Yeah, Dipshit,” Clint agreed. “If you off yourself after all that shit I wrote I'll find a way to bring you back as an ugly kitten. And I'll make macros out of you. Lots and lots of macros.”
“Turn to the last page,” Bruce said. They were all around him now. There were hands on his shoulders and someone was softly massaging his neck. He breathed in their scent.
He turned to the last page and stared.
It had been laminated.
“Doctor Banner has enchanted it with an impervious element,” Thor said.
“You won't be able to write on it, Tony,” Bruce explained. “Or more specifically, everything you write on it will be erased.”
Tony closed his eyes. “I don't think it's that easy.”
“No,” Natasha said, “there's nothing easy about it.”
“But we'll be here,” added Bruce.
Tony slowly opened his eyes. He brushed his fingers through the pages of the journal, looked at the worn leather for a long time, breathed in the smell of ink and regrets...
… and closed it, with a soft exhale.