Your life passing before your eyes -- that's such a cliche, isn't it? And that's not what happens as Pepper falls, not exactly, but it still seems that time slows to a crawl, giving her an infinity to feel ... everything.
Anger at Tony, because he said he'd catch her and she trusted him and he didn't -- but, quicksilver-fast, the rage gives over to forgiveness, because he is only human and humans slip, humans fail, humans fall.
She doesn't want to die.
She's afraid it's going to hurt.
She wishes she'd called her mom this weekend. There was just so much going on -- she didn't even think of it, but she really should have called.
She wishes she had more time for -- everything.
The fire swallows her whole.
But pain -- she knows pain now. Killian taught her. And this is -- it's pain and not-pain, it's pain and it's also euphoria, it's pain and it's something that there are no words for. She is too big for her skin. She is her vessel and she is something larger than herself and she is, she is not, she is and is not and is and is not and --
-- and she is Pepper, stumbling out of the fire. She is bones knit together with iron threads of will. She can feel her skin sewing itself across muscles and veins, a maddening yet strangely satisfying itch, like the rawness beneath bandages. She watches her hands put themselves back together again.
Her blood and bones and body are strange and new, broken and reformed, rewritten by technology and will. She is Pepper and she is not Pepper, and she is afraid she will never be herself again.
But she can think and feel, and she can see and hear, and what is happening in front of her strips away her confusion and indecision like a bucket of cold water poured across her newly unbroken skin. All else is washed away in the heat of rage, because Tony is about to die.
Killian. You son of a bitch.
She reaches for the nearest weapon at hand, a steel beam. Its heat sears her palm and the flesh knits together just as quickly, her hands growing hotter than the metal in her grip. Two steps, three -- and she's running now, her nerves and muscles and bones responding faster and better than she could ever have dreamed possible. She's running like an Olympic sprinter. Like a superhero.
She swings the steel bar like a baseball bat and Killian is knocked twenty feet sideways. She only meant to knock him down but her arms respond with shocking speed and strength.
This is what wearing the armor must be like for Tony -- not the clumsy glimpse she got in the ruins of the Malibu house, but the real thing, a shell of strength and power responding like a living extension of her body.
Except ... it is her body.
She's never felt like this before. Powerful. Strong. This time, Tony is the one who needs saving, and she is the only one who can do it.
Killian's half-ruined face changes as he looks at her, as he recognizes her, and she can tell that he knows who she is: the woman he took for a tool, a pawn; the woman who was nothing to him but a conquest and, failing that, a hostage.
After a quick glance to make sure Tony is okay (well, okay for Tony) she only has eyes for Killian, because all of a sudden it's not even about Tony anymore (except on some level it will always be about Tony) -- it's about this bastard who shattered her life and her body and her lover and tried to destroy everything she's worked for, everything she loves. Now he sees what he's wrought and she catches a flicker of fear in his eyes. And God help her, it feels good.
Bring it, Killian.