Steve Rogers all but stomped out of the lab, after giving Tony Stark a piece of his mind about taking their mission seriously, being part of the team, playing ball, blah blah blah, and Tony was free to smirk with impunity. He was alone, Bruce having departed after getting the specs he wanted from the device and patently ignoring Tony's verbal harassment.
He decided to give Bruce a bit of a head start, then headed out, down the stairwell.
Tony didn't know what genius had decided to house Bruce Banner aka The Incredible Hulk in the basement. He'd tried to point out that, if the lower levels of the building got demolished - naming no names - the rest of the building was more likely to come down. Better to store the probable cause of the destruction at the top, where he - it - could bust out without endangering the rest of the inhabitants.
But no. This wasn't Stark Tower, and he wasn't the boss. He'd said he didn't want to be part of the Boy Band, played hard to get, had been a bit smug when finally called in. He didn't want to be the boss. He kept telling himself that.
Better to be the boss, though, than to get bossed by Mr. Legend In His Own Time, he of the moral fiber and patriotic costume. Seriously, did Rogers really expect people to follow a guy whose last mission had taken place before they were born? Did Fury?
At last Tony reached the bowels of the stairwell (having successfully avoided anyone's notice) and shoved open the double doors. Immediately he noted the difference between the upper residential levels and the lair of the Hulk. It was plain and pleasant, no carpet or wallpaper. At first he thought it was too obvious, a ploy to keep Bruce on the emotional even keel.
Then a quiet voice from a side hallway said, "It's easier to repair."
A man in khakis and a plain polo shirt was leaning against a doorjamb as if expecting him.
"Welcome to the dungeon," Bruce said with a smile. "Come on in. If you dare."
"Kind of a reverse penthouse, isn't it," Tony observed, following the scientist into a spacious living area. This was more comfortably decorated and furnished, lots of overstuffed chairs and rugs, kitchen, home theater system, the works.
He wandered around the room, trying to see it in the context of the man, not the creature. The colors were actually fairly bright, but not aggressively so; the furniture mismatched but obviously well used. The place was as carelessly put together as a typical bachelor pad; it looked, oddly, more comfortable than either of Tony's master bedrooms.
(Except when Pepper was in his bed. Then it was comfort times infinity.)
He dropped into one of the chairs and said, "So what do think of our new overlord, I mean, Captain?"
Bruce snorted. "You really should be nicer to him," he told Tony, getting some kind of fruit shake concoction out of the fridge. "He's a bit fragile at the moment."
"Funny, he said the same thing about you," Tony retorted. "He doesn't act fragile."
"He's overcompensating," said Bruce. He sat down on a stool at the kitchen counter. "I think you should let up a bit."
Tony stared for a moment, then burst out laughing.
"What, you didn't like the line about the bongo music?"
Bruce was starting to laugh as well. "Don't do that. It's getting way too hard to keep a straight face."
"I have faith in you, Banner. We've got to see this thing through."
"You're not going to get him to lighten up this way. I told you that at the start."
"Maybe not. But you know, empathy is more your line than mine. I'm the court jester, and I swear, we're going to get the prince to laugh. Or at least smile."
"Or kick your ass, more likely," said Bruce, still grinning.
"Come on, just one more round. If I stop now he'll suspect something."
"And *still* kick your ass."
"I'll back it down bit by bit. You can say you're teaching me reiki or something."
At the thought of Tony as a reiki practitioner Bruce almost snorted his drink out his nose.
"That would give the whole show away," he said. "A straight face would be out of the question."
They sat smirking at each other for a minute. Then Bruce said, more soberly, "What are you really up to, Tony?"
"Who, me?" Tony shrugged. "Distraction, I guess."
"Since when do you need distraction?"
"I don't," said Tony. "I have plenty of ways to amuse myself. He doesn't have any. Fury says he's been brooding too long."
"So you're creating a diversion."
"Yep. Think about it. He's so annoyed with me most of the time that he doesn't have time to either brood on his past or worry about the future. Once this job is done, he and I will have a nice knock-down drag-out discussion and be bffs."
Bruce shook his head at Tony's approach to psychology.
"Just be sure to save the knock-down drag-out for after," he said. "And no lines about me teaching you reiki, or meditation, or TA, or..."
"I get the idea."