Jay looked up in consternation as Vera looked at her computer in despair.
"Vera?" he asked.
"They didn't work," she said, blinking in dismay.
"Which?" Grace asked, and Harold popped his head up from the dye vats.
"The Asgardian chainmail briefs," Vera said, her voice very small.
"A moment of silence for the most valiant Hulk pants we ever managed to make," Jay said solemnly, and everyone took a swig of their caffeination of choice.
"So now what?" Grace asked. "I thought the chainmail was our last option. Unless the Quartermaster came up with anything else...?"
Vera let out a long breath. "I think it's time... to call Her."
Grace paled, Jay gasped, and Harold dropped his glasses into the dye.
"Have I missed anything?" Vera asked. "Jay? Did I miss anything? Any style, any cut, any fabric, any specialty material?"
Jay considered very carefully while Grace double-checked their records for the history of the Hulk Pants. And both shook their heads solemnly.
"Ok," Vera said. "Let's make the call. Not it!"
"Not it!" Grace and Jay chorused together.
Harold, who'd just gotten his glasses out of the blue dye looked up at them and groaned.
Grace was only a tiny bit sympathetic as she put his phone into his blue-stained hand.
"I'm really sorry guys," Dr. Banner said, hanging his head and looking sheepish. "I tried to tell him to be more careful but... it's not really his style."
"Oh, don't be sorry," Harold said in a slightly strangled voice. He kept rubbing at his glasses with a blue-stained rag over and over again, nervousness in every line of him. Across the workshop, the other three members of F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S. also looked more than a bit shell-shocked. And it wasn't because of him. Dr. Banner definitely knew when people were nervous about him.
“Steve read us all the riot act on you guys, and believe me, I know the Other Guy is really hard on clothes, so really, I am,” Dr. Banner said sincerely.
“But you mustn’t be, darling,” drawled a voice from behind him. And a pair of hands abruptly spanned his waist with a tape measure.
Harold watched Dr. Banner do a nearly Olympic-length long jump from a standstill to get away from the unexpected touch, and whirl to see who’d gotten so unexpectedly handsy.
A tiny woman with black hair, enormous glasses, and fashionably dressed enough to kill stood there with a confident smirk on her face and a tape measure in her hands.
“There has been a great injustice to the greatest body in all of universe, a challenge issued that I shall never back down from!” she declared, pointing a finger for emphasis.
Dr. Banner almost looked around for a moment to see if he could tell who she was talking about, before he realized she was pointing straight at him. The blush that spread across his cheeks left the woman grinning widely even as he stared at her with confusion.
“Edna Mode, my little problem. My students have striven valiantly,” she gestured dramatically at Jay, Grace, Vera, and Harold, “but we shall not be defeated. Tell me, what do you have against pants?”
“N-nothing,” he stammered, feeling like he should be trying to cover himself up, because Edna was looking at him like she was undressing him with her eyes. Except purely for aesthetic purposes. It was a very weird sensation. “I'd just like to not have to wake up naked. My... the Other Guy's parts don't need any more international exposure.”
Edna's eyes narrowed, and the four members of F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S. were making frantic gestures behind Edna at him, waving him to silence... or possibly indicating he needed to do the Chicken Dance. Maybe both.
“Exposure, yes, but only to what we shall make for you. That shall stay!” Edna thumped her fist down on a table in an excess of emotion that usually brought the Hulk to at least the beginning stages of waking up. Except it felt like the Hulk was taking one look at Edna and going, “Nope!”
“Strip! We must measure again, you and your other half, and find a compromise that he will not reject.”
Dr. Banner had been in a state of dishabille around so many people that this was hardly a novelty, but Edna's last words brought him up short, one foot still in his trousers. “Wait, that 'he will not reject?'”
Edna clapped her hands, and Grace, Vera, Jay, and Harold scrambled to bring up videos and reports of the Hulk Pants project. In seconds, the entire workshop was covered with the Other Guy in various stages of undress, along with patterns for a dozen different variations of Hulkware.
“Of course. The stresses you subject yourself to are tricky, but the Asgardian chainmail? The liquid pants? Those should not have failed. No, I can only surmise that he does not like them,” she said with authority. The members of F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S. suddenly looked enlightened and began making “Ah,” and “Oooh,” noises, scribbling notes and pictures down on their notepads and tablets. Dr. Banner blinked.
“Wait. Hang on. You're saying the reason the Other Guy has managed to destroy every pair of pants is because he doesn't like their style?” he asked incredulously.
“It's so obvious now!” Grace said, her stylus flying.
“I mean, the color clashes alone...” Jay said, breaking out colored pastels in a creative frenzy.
“And the cut? We were always going for function! We figured he was so tough...” Harold said.
“But everyone likes something special. We'll figure it out!” Vera said, with a broad grin.
Edna whipped out her measuring tape again and approached Bruce with a maniacal smile that reminded him of Tony during a semi-psychotic science bender. “Stand still, darling. We must measure you.”
“I’ve already been measured. A lot. In detail. And scanned. By everyone!” Bruce said, backing up little by little as Edna unerringly lassoed the tape measure around his waist, hips, buttocks, each thigh, and one or two other places that made him make a few undignified squeaking sounds.
“Yes, darling, but I must get a feel for you myself.”
Bruce swallowed hard as Grace, Jay, Vera, and Harold all gave him semi-sympathetic glances. Well, he couldn’t entirely blame them for taking a little pleasure in his discomfort; he’d wrecked their work repeatedly. And apparently with malice.
“Now, your other self. Quickly!” Edna said, clapping her hands briskly.
Bruce debated protesting and leaving versus going into battle naked.
With a growl, the Hulk emerged from Bruce’s blushing body, and stared down at Edna. She stared right back up at him with a grin on her face that might have been able to swallow certain puny gods whole. Hulk snorted and looked over at the four other people clutching various colorful pictures, nervously adjusting their glasses, hair, or jewelry.
“There you are, my dear! Now, let us get down to business, yes? What about these old designs does not work for you?”
Hulk snorted again, blowing Edna’s hair back, and the rest of F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S. held up their tablets and print-outs and notepads like they were shields. Or maybe offerings to appease certain angry gods.
“Make Hulk look bad!” he declared, flicking his fingers at the pictures of the long history of the Hulk Pants project. Edna glared at her students, and they made a few noises like distressed kittens before Hulk leaned closer to look at the newest sketches held in their trembling hands. “Better. Not best. Hulk wants to look best.”
Enda squinted at the bold patterning and cuts on display, normally a good fit with her usual clients. But this was far from usual. She pointed at the mock-up models of the Avengers’ costumes, and got another eloquent snort in return. She nodded sharply.
“Little darlings, I do think the Hulk wants something… subtle.”
Four pairs of eyes, one behind slightly blue-stained glasses, blinked in surprise.
“Hulk want to look good, not like spangles and shiny pants. Hulk not a clown.”
Vera sat straight up, her earrings quivering as she got an excited look on her face. “You’re so strong you don’t need a flashy costume at all!”
Hulk crosses his arms and nodded slowly, looking actually relieved that someone got it. Then he extended one meaty finger to emphasize a point. “But Hulk also want Hulk’s ass to look good. Banner never shows off. Boring.”
Jay looked so gleefully excited Grace slightly feared for his hair gel, and rapidly sketched out something with broad strokes, turned it to Edna, who reached over to correct a few things, brooded on it for a meaningful minute, then presented it to the Hulk with a flourish. Grace, Harold, and Vera looked over at it, making noises that sounded suspiciously like cooing.
Hulk took the drawing carefully, and snorted in agreement. “Use good colors. No bright, spangly colors!”
“You’ve got it, Mr. Hulk!” Harold said, dashing over to the dye vats as Edna called out, “Hyper-Mesh, with the breathable lining! Come, my children, we have magic to make!”
Bruce came back to himself, faced with a group of tired-but-triumphant-looking fashion designers all looking at him with unconcealed pride.
“A masterpiece,” Edna said with satisfaction, running her tape measure through her hands.
“Stayed all through all the tests, and I mean all of them,” Vera said, fanning herself with fabric swatches in what looked like a dozen varieties of plaid.
“Definitely subtle enough. The earth tones suit the Hulk right to the ground,” Harold said, shrugging out of a dye-spattered smock.
“I even got the GPS trackers in the waistband, so that’ll help a lot,” Grace said, nodding.
“And that cut! That’s just perfect, really,” Jay said, waving a pair of scissors before Grace shoved his arm down and exchanged the scissors for his cup of Starbucks.
“Um… I guess it worked out all right, then?” Bruce asked.
Jay giggled into his whipped cream, and Bruce got suspicious enough to actually look down. He blinked twice, but the garment girded about his loins did not change shape. It was very comfortable though, and in his mind, the Hulk was nearly purring.
“It’s a kilt,” Bruce said, his voice very shell-shocked.
“A F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S. kilt!” Vera said.
“Something that your other self approved of most heartily. A kilt for the gods!” Edna exclaimed. She waved and a video screen obediently lit up, giving Bruce a show of the Hulk doing… If there were such a thing as a catwalk for twelve-foot-tall rage monsters, that would have been it. And there was a huge grin on the Hulk’s face as he walked and smashed in a subtle green-and-brown tartan kilt, the smaller version of which was around Bruce’s waist.
“I am never going to hear the end of this. Never,” he said in a very tiny voice.
“I certainly hope not! Our good work must be appreciated! Now go, and show it off to the world!” Edna said, shooing him out the door with brisk efficiency. She waited until he was out of earshot, then turned back to her students, looking at them with pride before sweeping out the door with a flourish.
“He’s totally right,” Grace said into the ensuing silence. The others looked at her with “What?” expressions. “That completely makes his ass look good.”
The members of F.A.B.U.L.O.U.S. exchanged hi-fives all around for a perfect day’s work.