To be honest, I really don't know what this is or where it's going. Why anyone would need an alternative storyline for Bruce being roped into helping SHIELD in The Avengers is beyond me, but it's what my brain spit out, so I'm running with it. I'm not sure how much canon I'll mess with as the plot progresses (although I will try to stay as true to the original as I can.)
I do not own any aspect of The Avengers, or any of Marvel's other creations.
Bruce Banner hasn't seen the sun in two hundred and fifty-four days. He misses it. Misses the roasting heat of Brazilian summers, the slow burn of Calcutta's dry season. He misses June through August in Willowdale, doing research with the windows open so the lab still feels like summer, even when the sunlight can't quite stretch far enough to touch him. He's been breathing the same recycled air for two hundred and fifty-four days, and he has to prod his mind away from the speculation of what he wouldn't give for just an hour or two outside.
SHIELD's official term for it is "detainment." That's what they call locking him away in what is, essentially, a four hundred and fifty square foot apartment (give or take a bit; he's done the measuring and calculations a few times, but the walls always throw him off.) It is, if Bruce is honest with himself, one of the better places he's lived. The apartment was newly built when they moved him in, fitted with perks like a washer and dryer and dressed up in shades of muted blue, walls decorated with paintings and photos of nautical themes. It still makes Bruce smirk when he thinks about it in the right mood; one of the top secret agencies in the world hired an interior decorator just to make sure their newest houseguest stayed as calm as possible. He even has a fancy cable package and internet access, although that's monitored closely by SHIELD, and all communication options (email, blogs, anything with a comment button, even Facebook, he learned in a brief surrender to the dull ache of nostalgia) have been blocked.
They do try to keep him relatively happy. When he was first given the tour of the place, Bruce was told that he could make lists of anything he might need (food, clothes, things to pass the time) on the white board in the kitchen. SHIELD, with its cameras in every corner, its gauges that monitor everything from his pulse to his sleep cycle, has no problem translating the lists into bags of supplies left outside his apartment door. The door is his to control; he can lock it or unlock it (as if SHIELD could ever be stopped by the illusion of a locked door); leave it open and pretend that it looks out onto something other than a short hallway and a locked door that seems to be made of solid steel. The walls, too, under their paint and drywall, are lined with steel (he knows this because he's cut into them, just to see.) They're also thick; the walls between the rooms of his apartment are at least a foot and a half wide, probably filled with concrete and rebar under the steel, and he has no idea how many inches or feet separate the outer walls from whichever SHIELD facility has been unlucky enough to house him. He's sure they know it's not going to be enough to contain him in the wrong mood, but it will probably give them time to react.
Every once in a while his requests get a bit too extravagant and they don't deliver. The first time was a surprise; he had asked for powdered magnesium, because reverting to childhood chemistry experiments does pass the time, and it had been absent from the bags on his porch. He asked again twice more to make sure it wasn't an oversight. Now he asks for things just to see if SHIELD will refuse. He feels more in control when he's aware of where the boundaries are; he likes knowing exactly how much freedom he has to work with. He's also tried catching whoever does the drop offs, but they only ever come when he's asleep. Human interaction, apparently, is on the list of things he can't have.
It wasn't so bad at first. Serving out a life sentence in solitary is easier when your prison is sea-themed and comes outfitted with almost all the books and technology you could ask for. Some days it really doesn't feel that different from all his time in hiding, better in some ways. He just has to steer his mind away from ever wanting to leave.
The first month was a lot of pacing, refining his cooking abilities, and catching up on the books and movies he had missed during his time out of the country. He went vegan in the second month, just for something new to do. It fit in nicely with the yoga and meditation. By the third month he was sick of having to think about every meal and reverted back to vegetarianism. In the fourth month he rearranged the furniture for the hundredth time, covered the biggest wall in the living room with the most convoluted equations he could think of, and started sleeping in twenty minute increments six times a day, which he'd read would either make him crazy or make him feel like some kind of superhuman. Five months in and he had slipped back into his usual sleeping habits and was teaching himself Farsi and Hungarian in the fort he's made out of blankets and furniture in the living room. Month six he picked up Fight Club for the first time in four years and started having conversations with the protagonist, first in his head and then out loud. He'd set the table for two and check with the open air to his left before deciding which tv program to watch. They got into a fight about morality once, and Bruce went five and a half days in silence before breaking down and apologizing. In the seventh month Ender Wiggin and Winston Smith joined their conversations. They're still here with him in month eight, but even their support and insight can't stop the rooms from shrinking to the point where he can't take a deep breath.
He's four days into a vision quest when everything changes. It's not a true vision quest, he knows that. He just stopped eating, turned the thermostat up as high as it will go, and lay down on top of the ruins that were his fort before the space became too small to house his anxiety. He hasn't moved since, apart from taking a few sips of water from the Nalgene bottle resting its solid weight on his chest. The protagonist of Fight Club gave him the idea, Ender told him he could understand the need to break his routine, and now Winston sits by Bruce's head and lectures him on what a poor decision this is.
Bruce thinks the knock is a hallucination, except that Winston breaks off in the middle of his tirade to glance at the door. The fact that a figment of his imagination responds to a hallucination of his is not an argument for that hallucination being real, the soft, sane voice in the back of Bruce's mind assures him, just before a second set of raps beat against the door.
Bruce is lying on his back, hips and legs propped higher than his head and water bottle still cradled to his chest. He doesn't know what the correct response is to the sound of knocking on his prison door, and even if he did he's pretty sure there's no way he could execute it. Judging by how he's been feeling, Bruce thinks he probably sweated his muscles out through his pores two days ago, and his thoughts are too far removed from his body to transmit words down to his mouth. Instead, he shifts his gaze towards the door and waits.
A moment of silence gives way to the sound of a key turning in the lock, and then the door opens and a man in a suit enters the room. The man's gaze traces Bruce's form, from the mess of oily curls he hasn't bothered trimming since his incarceration, across five weeks worth of beard growth, down the faded Culver University tee and plaid pajama bottoms that have somehow grown too large for him in the past few months, to where his bare feet are twisted in one of the blankets that once roofed his fort. Bruce hasn't felt embarrassment in a long time, but the way the man looks at him makes him feel like a child caught doing something he shouldn't.
The man gives a slight, professional looking smile and opens the dossier that had been tucked under his left arm. "Hello Dr. Banner," he says in a voice pitched somewhere between gentle and commanding. "I'm Agent Phil Coulson. How are you doing?