Before he flies them down off the rooftop of an apartment building in Queens, Tony says, "Trust me. I can do this." And Pepper does. She trusts him to the point where she doesn't so much as bat an eye when he hires the new assistant.
Her name is Memphis, and she's twenty-three years old, a petite, sultry brunette with a tattoo of a swallow on her hipbone. But the details don't matter, not really. The point is, she's not Pepper.
It's not that he stops loving Pepper, or even that he stops being attracted to her. She is, without a doubt, the best thing that ever happened to him. It's just that she makes him work so damn hard sometimes. Not in bed—he's not averse to that, not at all—but in terms of keeping the relationship together. She holds him accountable for so much. What was okay when she was his PA doesn't fly now that she's his girlfriend. Tony doesn't do well with boundaries. He chafes.
Ironically, Pepper's the one who insisted that they go to this stupid benefit, for some cause he doesn't give a shit about. She even let him buy her a dress—she hates when he buys her clothes because she feels as though she's being shown off, which she is.
Then, at the eleventh hour, she came down with a head cold and left him holding the bag. He can't beg off because he's agreed to put in an appearance when his donation is announced.
So he's at the party, stag, for the first time in who knows how long, and he does what he usually does in these types of situations, or what he used to do, anyway. He gets a little bored, and then he gets a little drunk, and then he gets a little… amorous. He plans on going directly home and waking up Pepper, who would more than likely be receptive to his attentions now that she's had a few hours of sleep. He doesn't even mind if he catches her cold—he doesn't have to worry about that kind of thing anymore.
He goes looking for Memphis, to ask her what time he's supposed to make whatever asshole speech or giant-cheque-handling they've got him doing at this thing. He finds her outside, around the back. She's got a gin and tonic in one hand and a cigarette dangling from the other.
"Want one, boss?" she asks, with a conspiratorial grin.
Tony hasn't smoked in years—he barely paid lip service to it back when it was cool the first time. Now, though, he wants to. Mostly because he knows Pepper wouldn't like it. He wonders, idly, whether he's having a mid-life crisis. It would be a little premature, but after all, he is a prodigy.
He nods, and she slips a fresh cigarette between his lips. He puts his hand on hers to steady the lighter. The smoke crackles and flares as he takes it into his lungs. Memphis teaches him how to blow smoke rings, which is about the sexiest fucking thing he's ever seen—she clearly knows how to use her tongue.
They wind up necking like teenagers in the back of her car. It's sloppy, and unsatisfying at first—she's relatively inexperienced, and he's used to being with someone who already knows all his shortcuts. She also has an assortment of body piercings; his teeth keep clicking against metal in unexpected places.
He has to give her a bit of direction, but once he's fired up, it doesn't take him long to remember where everything goes; it is, as they say, just like riding a bicycle.
Afterwards, he feels slightly ridiculous. The worst part is, it's such a cliché. It's predictable—the one thing he's always sworn he would never be.
Pepper is sound asleep when he wanders in, reeking of cigarettes and sex. He showers and sends the evidence down the laundry chute before crawling into bed next to her.
She doesn't suspect a thing, and so he doesn't need to confess. But in the morning he tells her anyway. He may be an asshole, but at least he's an honest one.