They're not doing their actual jobs, which really is not any special occasion for them. They are working, though, because they are both workaholics and will work on something until detained from useful materials (and seeing as how Tony is apparently fucking McGyver, that's not likely to ever happen, ever). They are working on Bruce's birthday present from Tony, which Tony had incessantly complained about not being a surprise for a full day and a half before claiming snootily that he'd just have to get Bruce something else as well. Judging by the phone calls Bruce has absolutely not overheard, Tony was going to set up a few third-world hospitals with both their names on them.
Anyway, they are working on some pants for the Hulk. It is some super-spandex with astounding levels of technology woven in, which they are still kind of working on. Tony is calling it StarkNaked®, because he’s Tony and what else would he call it? He wants it multi-purpose too, with all the applications he can think of. He wants it bullet-proof for cops or for the military, waterproof for marine biologists or really rich scuba divers, heat repellant and flame resistant for firefighters, and of course really fucking stretchy.
So that's what they’re working on, which is not their job at all. It is this glorious partnership of workaholism and procrastination that has led to the most innovative scientific advances of all time, ask anyone. Well, any scientist.
Even though this ridiculous StarkNaked® stuff is for Bruce, he’s currently very, and perhaps irreparably, distracted from it. By his companion, in fact.
Tony reaches for something across the table, next to Bruce’s elbow, but then draws back abruptly and looks directly down into his lap. Bruce knows this isn’t because he suddenly realized he was going to invade Bruce’s personal space, as that has never once, for one single instance in the entire space-time continuum, ever occurred to Tony.
So when Tony says (in a much smaller voice than Tony usually uses, though that doesn’t really say too much about it), “Would you pass that over here?” Bruce passes it over, but he also narrows his eyes intensely and resolves to figure out what’s going on.
Minutes later, Tony shifts his position, tucking one foot up under the other leg and leaning one elbow on the table to lift the alloy he is determinedly trying to make more malleable into the light. All is well for a matter of seconds, before Tony’s eyes widen like he’s just remembered something very important and possibly a little bit explosive and his chin jerks down into his chest. One blink, and he calmly brings his focus back to his soon-to-be bendy metal.
Twice is a coincidence, Bruce tells himself. He is a scientist, and he will not jump to conclusions without first gathering the proper evidence. It’s certainly not too early to form a hypothesis, though, except that when he tries to think one up he draws a complete blank. Further observation of subject required.
Three times is a pattern, and with drawn eyebrows Bruce leans around the table to take his own look at Tony’s crotch, chewing slowly on a handful of lightly salted cashews. Tony is wearing what appear to be workshop jeans today, stains here and rips there, but nothing amiss that Bruce can see. After several confused blinks Bruce stands straight again, preoccupied expression firmly affixed.
Maybe, Bruce thinks, they are not workshop jeans at all, but new – that silly ruined kind that advertisers call “artful” – and they are too tight? No, that doesn’t make any sense. They are workshop jeans, old and excessively worn, and the fly is finicky. This theory, decides Bruce, will have to be considered sound enough for now.
Four times he tries to ignore. Five times makes him question his conclusion. Six times and he throws it away. Seven times and he’s a little worried about Tony’s psychological health. Eight has him asking about it.
“Tony,” he says. “What.” Tony looks up at him like a deer in the headlights, movements aborted halfway through execution, eyes wide and unblinking – that is until he checks himself over again.
“What?” he asks, eyes lifting to Bruce’s again. It’s the first time Bruce has ever seen Tony fail at acting nonchalant. He looks like he’s been caught with his hand in the cookie jar by an especially nasty babysitter.
“I don’t know,” Bruce replies. He gestures inarticulately at the apparently very interesting space between Tony’s legs – a space that seems to be so fascinating that even the man attached to it cannot resist its allure. “What?”
Tony laughs and it’s somewhat hysterical. Bruce is mildly alarmed. “Oh, that.” He waves a hand flippantly, crosses his legs then very quickly uncrosses them. “That’s just, you know. Something. That me and Pepper are trying out. Or whatever.” Bruce blinks.
“What,” he says again, because what.
“It’s not a big deal!” Tony snaps so suddenly that Bruce legitimately flinches back from him. “It’s just a toy like any other, okay. So what if it’s a chastity cage? So what, huh? It’s none of your business what Pepper and I get up to in the privacy of our own home. Or what she leaves locked in my pants when we’re done. And even if it was – which it’s not – it wouldn’t be a big deal then either, because it’s just not. A big deal, that is. Totally normal and definitely not anything to make fun of a guy for. Or anything.”
A very long and very awkward moment passes, with Bruce stuck in the cringed position of his earlier flinch, both of them staring at each other without repose. Then Bruce blinks and turns his head in an indeliberate dramatization of his taken-aback-ness.
“You–” A full sentence fails to formulate. “Chastity– What?” Immediately, Tony’s expression morphs from the unprecedented defensiveness to the much more familiar oh shit I’ve said to fucking much again face that he often adopts as soon as Pepper’s raised-eyebrow glare comes out to play. He slumps down in his chair and makes himself as small as he can, as if by erasing his mass from the earth he could erase the last few moments from history. His eyebrows draw together as if his face is physically in pain, he’s blushing, and – Bruce looses it. His breath leaves him all in a rush to carry out a whoop of uncontainable mirth and he has to double over because his diaphragm relaxes into his lungs with such enthusiasm. When he gets air back into his body, he bends backwards instead and cackles at the ceiling, arms looped around his belly. When he’s weak from oxygen deprivation, he grips the edge of the lab table and gasps little giggles at the floor.
“You’re wearing a chastity device,” he wheezes, tears in his eyes. “Tony Stark is wearing a chastity device.” When Bruce looks up with a grin stretching across his face such as he hasn’t felt in eleven years Tony is hunched miserably over legs drawn up defensively, arms between them, hands no doubt guarding the object in question.
Some might say Tony Stark wore vulnerability well, but Bruce personally doesn’t like the look on him much.
“Sorry,” he says awkwardly. “I didn’t mean that whole fit in a bad way or anything. I was just a little shocked, you know? Last thing I expected.” Tony nods at his knees. He slowly, slowly uncurls and reaches for a tool without looking, taps it nervously on his palm.
Bruce clears his throat, uncomfortable at his own insensitivity. Warily, he crosses the workspace and comes to a stop by Tony’s bench. He pushes into his friend’s shoulder with his elbow.
“Hey,” he murmurs. “Nudge over a bit.” Tony obligingly scoots, and Bruce takes a seat next to him. After a second deciding if Tony will recognize it as friendly teasing or not, Bruce adds, “Unless sideways movement pinches.”
Tony looks up with a glare. “You know what pinches?” he demands. Bruce raises an unimpressed eyebrow for an answer. “My fingers,” Tony says, “on your lovehandles if you mess with me.”
Bruce responds only with a genuine smile.
Not long after their little bro moment, Coulson comes in to check up on them (although not really, because if so they’d be in big trouble; as it is he just gives them a raised eyebrow at which they look properly abashed). Coulson wants to speak to Bruce alone. As he’s leading the guy out the door Tony hears him say, “Don’t look so worried, Banner. This is kind of a social call,” and is suddenly very nervous. Social call means gossip, in Tony’s experience, and he just provided Bruce with the juiciest little tidbit in all of New York.
Tony chews at his cuticles and stretches, stretches, stretches at their unfinished fabric – StarkNaked®, clever because it’s skin tight, maybe he’ll even make it nude colored, that would be great – and glances compulsively at the closed door where he can see Bruce and Coulson’s silhouettes until at long last Bruce reenters. Tony, like the coward he knows he is, doesn’t ask what they talked about.
Then there is a mission. It’s a pretty minor one. Thor’s off planet and still Tony and Bruce hang out by the SHEILD van on standby with their respective homing bracelets and stretchy pants (Tony decided to go with purple, because he’s a dick like that, and proud of it).
Even though they didn’t participate as anything more than excessively sarcastic and unhelpful cheerleaders, Tony and Bruce still have to go back to SHEILD headquarters and be debriefed with everyone else. Tony thinks this is silly and a waste of his very expensive time, but he did kind of beg for a position on this stupid superhero team so he’ll suck it up for now.
Tony walks in his usual self, and by now he doesn’t even notice the extra weight under his zipper. It’s like it was always there, and when the cage comes off at night he feels strangely light rather than uncomfortably heavy when it goes on in the morning like at first.
But then he sees Coulson, and he remembers that Coulson and Bruce “social call” which means gossip which means fuck probably everyone in this building knows and suddenly the metal wrapped around his cock and balls feels like a fucking ton of lead.
Tony will freely admit, inside his head and to himself, that he panics for about ten full seconds before finally coming to the conclusion that he should obviously treat this like all other things and pretend he doesn’t care, it doesn’t bother him, it’s not even a thing.
His breath is still kind of bated, or whatever, throughout the whole meeting. He’s wary and a little jumpy, and most likely spends way to much time trying to read between the lines of what everyone says. But no one laughs at him, or smirks at him, or even gives him a curious look – except for Steve, once, but Tony’s pretty sure that was because Tony was acting a little strange for a bit there.
Towards the end of the debrief, Tony gives Bruce a mildly confused look (maybe he means awed, but that’s something he won’t admit, inside his head or otherwise). They leave together, and Tony takes Bruce’s elbow and leads him off down the hall in the opposite direction that the rest of the team and their bosses take. Tony doesn’t let go when they reach privacy, mainly because he has no concept of physical boundaries and also because he kind of forgets they’re even touching. Bruce doesn’t mention it, just dips his head in like he can tell Tony might want to whisper or something.
“You didn’t tell?” Tony asks. Bruce’s face scrunches with his incomprehension.
“Tell?” he repeats. “Tell what?” He quickly starts to look suspicious, like Tony’s done something wrong that he witnessed and wrote off as unimportant, but Tony doesn’t notice that because he only has one possibility on his mind, currently.
“About the,” he nods downwards and a light dust of redness graces his cheeks. “You know.” It takes Bruce a minute to get it, but then his eyes brighten temporarily with sudden understanding and he exclaims, “Oh!”
“Oh, Tony,” Bruce says after that, and his eyes are much softer now and a little bit sad. “I could tell it bothered you when I laughed, you know. And anyway, I’m your friend; you can trust me not to go telling your business to all and sundry. Jeez.”
“Right,” says Tony. “Of course you wouldn't. I knew that.”
“Well, obviously,” Bruce agrees magnanimously. They exit the building with Tony’s hand still on Bruce’s arm, Bruce graciously allowing the contact without complaint. They talk shop as they head for the curb to call a taxi, and Tony asks with the invested interest of a creator how Bruce is liking his StarkNaked® pants.
Bruce jokes with a glint in his eye that they are very comfortable and that he’d never have known they were made with metal in them because they were so soft and light and comfortable and that he’d hate to wear something hard and cold and heavy around his most sensitive areas.
Tony glares and tells him, “I’ll show you what metal to the privates feels like, Banner,” and Bruce responds only with a genuine smile.