The fact was, at... At this point, he had no idea what he was.

Who. Who he was.

He couldn't even be a stranger in his own skin; no, that would be too easy, wouldn't it? He had to be an enemy. A demon hellbent on destroying its vessel, all fists and teeth and strength and rage. He was at war with himself, every day, every moment, a constant thrum of unimaginable, horrible power a constant buzz in his mind that, if he focused on, would spread through his limbs and warm him like a furnace being turned up too high, burning him from the inside out.

And Stark, Tony, the man had no idea what he was talking about. A horrible privilege.

He was death, death and destruction and the very worst kind of chaos. Never sleeping, never resting, always a hum that chanted the same words over and over again with his heartbeart. Smash smash smash.

It was... Well, refreshing, the way the man had approached him on the Helicarrier, swaggering up as he did everything else to grin and try to throw him off track.

Which, to be utterly honest, he sort of did.

He didn't get to be the person approached by others and befriended. He didn't get to be the kind of being who others saw a spark in, something worth noticing that told the right kind of people that he was something more, more than what others had made him out to be and what he, honestly, was. He didn't get that kind of story.

He was toxic. Poison in its truest form. What he touched, withered. More than that, it died, in the worst possible way.

It makes him want to laugh and scream and claw himself from his skin. Let it never be said that Bruce Banner did anything in halves.

So of course when Stark approached him he was thrown. Hesitated, waiting for that rug to be tugged out from under him as it, inevitably, always does. The hand that he clasps with his own is warm and firm and so very unafraid that he wants to hang on and hold that feeling to him and wrap himself around it, like it's something precious, something worth protecting.

He lets go instead.

Bruce knows that he's what mothers tell their children at night, whispering in low tones the story of his evil and his sins, using his existence to keep them well behaved and listening. He knows he is every villain in every fairytale, the monstrous ogre, the damned demon, the fuel of nightmares.

He knows that. That... That is his life..

He accepts it.

It's funny, the way he also accepts the invitation to Stark Tower. The way he sleeps in a bed and eats in a kitchen and actually does scientific work again, the numbers and equations like old friends that flow from his fingers like water. It's so easy to get lost in it, the normalcy, the life of it all, he nearly forgets that every breath he takes puts everything and everyone around him at risk.

Oh, Stark thinks he has it covered. It's absolutely startling how easy the man brushes off self preservation as if it were lint on his nine hundred dollar suits, disdainful of it even approaching his personal space.

Bruce is a monster.

Whether he is a man who becomes one or one who becomes a man, the fact remains that at the very center of his being, at his core, he is a nightmare that leaves terror and pain and death in its wake.

And sometimes... Sometimes he doesn't even think the giant, raging green beast that bursts from him when it all becomes too much and he is tipped over the edge is the one they should worry about.

Sometimes, when he's rested and well fed and feeling someone others might call contentment, there's a voice that whispers at the back of his mind, a voice that sounds suspiciously like his fathers and has nothing to do with the rage but speaks instead with quiet, calm awareness, You are going to kill him. Your very presence here puts him in danger, and you know it, don't you?

You know what kind of freak you are, what kind of monster. No one should worry about the beast.

It's you, so quiet, so intent Bruce, freak, fucking monster, that will be the one to spill his blood.