It was really only a matter of time. Bruce knew that. Nothing in his life ever really lasted. Not anything good anyways. His mother had been taken. The prestigious government contract ripped out from beneath him. His own body and autonomy snatched away and continually stolen by the Hulk.
Why would this have ever been any different? Because he'd finally let someone convince him that he actually had control again? Because the two of them honestly and genuinely believed it? Because they were heroes? Because the good guys were supposed to win in the end?
Maybe that was true, but heroes weren't supposed to end up with monsters like Bruce.
And deep down, Bruce always knew that was all he'd ever really be. He was the monster, the freak, the destructive force of nature.
He couldn't even entirely grasp just how it had happened. He'd remembered falling asleep in between Tony and Steve, one of those rare nights that they'd actually all went to sleep at the same time. When he woke, it was to the sound of fighting, shouting, glass hitting the wall. It was to the stench of liquor and sweat, smoke and fear. It was to heartbreak and the end of things.
All Bruce could think of were the nights he'd been torn from his bed as his mother tried desperately to hide him while his father broke bottles and picture frames from the wall.
The panic seized his chest before he could process that this wasn't that time, wasn't that place. He felt the acid burn pouring down his spinal column, the electricity jolting across his skin causing each and every muscle to contract again and again. Bruce pleaded, his voice straining and deepening, "Please, no, not now!"
But it was too late. Of course it was too late. It'd been too late from day one when Steve had leaned in to kiss Bruce after weeks of inadvertent flirting. It'd been too late from the moment they'd realized that Tony was trying to simultaneously get into both their beds without even realizing the pair of them had already been sleeping together for months. It'd been too late from the night the three of them sat down to discuss and negotiate and decide that they really wanted something more than just the casual thing they'd been doing. It'd been too late when they'd bought the bed they were now sharing and came out to the team and told Fury exactly where he could shove it when he had the gall to complain about their little triad.
Because Bruce could never be allowed to have these sort of things. Men like Steve Rogers, Captain America, the man who fought Hydra and Hitler and was the first hero to the rest of them and always doing the right thing and making them want to do the right thing, making them want to be better men. Men like Tony Stark, Iron Man, the man who built up Stark Industries and turned the company around after abandoning the blood money of military and weapons, who was a genius and so much kinder than anyone really knew and would give everything, had given everything to keep people from harm's way. Bruce didn't deserve to be close to men like them. He didn't deserve their respect and their admiration and god forbid, their love.
Bruce cried out as his bones broke and reformed and broke again. His muscles tore, knitting themselves back together, larger and more expansive. Everything went green as he struggled against the cold and wet and dark that swallowed him up whenever the Hulk took over. He fought so hard, so futilely to keep the monster at bay because even at their best, even Tony with the strongest of his suits and Steve with his serum-enhanced body and his indestructible vibranium shield, both ready and primed for battle, neither stood a chance against a scared and panicked Hulk.
There was nothing he could do though. It all went dark and quiet save for the muffled screams of the men he loved, the sickening crunch of splintered bones, the gut churning squelch of flesh and blood crushed into a pulp on the ground. Bruce knew he'd wake with tears stinging his eyes and blood painting his hands. There was nothing he could do to stop it, prevent it, fix it. It was all out of his hands now.
Bruce curled in on himself, resigned to his fate as the darkness swallowed him up.
When he woke, it was with a jolt. The room was dark still and the only sounds to break the creaky quiet of night aside dull thrum of electronics that pervasively seeped through the entire building were the soft snores of the two men to either side of Bruce.
While some superficial part of the doctor found such relief in the hushed breathing of the men he'd come to love, a deeper, more truthful part knew that the nightmare was more truth than paranoid fear. It was really only a matter of time before he was made to pay for his selfishness. Shame burned his skin and his chest tightened, but even as Bruce knew it would always come down to him losing everything again, he just couldn't let go a moment sooner than he possibly had to. He couldn't pry himself away from Steve and Tony even though he knew they'd eventually be ripped away from his grasp.
It was so incredibly reckless, so selfish and just another sign of how much a monster he really was, but Bruce needed them. He needed to hold on to the comfort of Tony and Steve wrapped around him for just that much longer. He needed to hide away in the labs with Tony, speaking that language that only a handful of genius scientists in the world could begin to understand. He needed to relish the quiet understanding of another man who felt like nothing more than a laboratory experiment. These heroes who'd made mistakes and lost friends and family and lovers. These men who saw the real him even when Bruce couldn't see that man himself.
So he curled up behind Tony, nuzzling into the back of the other genius's dark hair. He reached behind himself, urging Steve to spoon up behind him. He burrowed between the warmth of them both, letting himself forget as he drifted closer toward sleep, if only for a couple more hours because god only knew what the morning would bring. What aliens might be invading. What monsters might attack. What shadows from any of their pasts might return to haunt them.
One thing Bruce knew for certain though: he'd be one step closer to the end that was always waiting for the things he loved.