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Cold Turkey

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When Pepper woke up, Tony wasn't there.

She sighed. This was New York, this was new life, this was where things were supposed to be different. Instead it was past two, and Tony wasn't there.

She stepped into her slippers and took the elevator to the workshop, wondering what she'd find, wondering if she'd like what she saw. "Ms. Potts," Jarvis announced crisply, when she arrived.

"Hey," Tony called from far across the shop, waving a hand. "You should be in bed."

She walked across the shop quickly, skirting equipment as she went, Dummy chirping at her as she passed. "You should be in bed."

"You're way more concerned about it than I am," he said.

She stopped in front of him, frowning at what she saw. He was naked from the waist up, sitting and resting his forearm on his thigh. There was a first aid kit on a cart next to him, and he had a scalpel in his hand.

"Tony, what the hell are you doing?" she demanded.

He didn't answer at first. Instead, she watched as he made a careful incision on his arm, picking up a pair of tweezers and pulling a tiny black disk out of the slit. He held it up, looking at it in the light. "These are the microrepeaters that let me communicate with the suit." He shook his head. "Something is wrong, something about Extremis is making the implants migrate towards the surface."

"I thought you had this figured out," she said, alarmed.

"You won't turn into a bomb, babe," he told her, dropping the transceiver into the pan on the cart with a little plink. "I don't have a big hole in my chest. That was the best I could do on short notice."

"Does it hurt?" she asked, looking at his arm curiously.

"It doesn't hurt, it just-" He grimaced, making another incision. "Y'know. Hurts." He popped out the next disk, dropping it into the pan. He put down the tweezers, swiping at his arm with antiseptic before the slits flared, knitting shut one by one.

"Did you really need to do this at two in the morning?" she asked.

"I have to change the protocol," he said. "Future implants-"

"Tony," she said, frowning unhappily. "No more implants. No more protocols. Clean slate, remember?"

He rubbed his forehead, shutting his eyes tight. "Pepper, this is who I-" He took a breath. "This is who I was for five years. The suit is what changed my entire life. Kept me off the streets. Pulled me out of a tailspin."

"Almost killed you," she said, crossing her arms.

"Saved me a couple hundred times before that," he said. "You have to give me some time."

She studied him for a long moment; he looked away from her, fiddling with something on the cart, ignoring her eyes.

"How many is that?" she asked, nodding at the pan when he turned back to her.

"That's twelve," he said.

"How many are there?" she asked.

"Oh," he said, "about fifty." He picked up the scalpel again, looking down at his arm and making another tiny cut. "And my body is rejecting them, one by one by one."

She kissed him on the top of the head. "Don't stay up too late, okay?" she said. "You need your sleep."

"Love you," he told her.

"Love you, too," she told him, and she went back to their bed to sleep.

And when Pepper woke up, Tony was there.