“Here’s the plan of attack,” said Steve. “Thor, front and centre, let them focus on you. Tony, flank right, engage anyone who looks like they’re taking too much interest. Bruce and I will execute a pincer movement and retrieve the package.”
“Roger that,” said Bruce. Tony rolled his eyes.
“Really, Bruce? You’re enabling his soldier fantasies, you know that, right? Right now it’s under control, but before you know it he’s going to be waterboarding people and killing babies.”
Steve’s face got its Tony Stark is talking about the army look, but he was a professional (three years in the Reserves), so he just said, “Let’s focus on the mission at hand.”
“Fine,” said Tony, “but I refuse to synchronise watches.”
They surveyed the battleground as the package was delivered. “Thor, you’re up,” said Steve, and Thor nodded gravely.
“I will fulfil this task entrusted to me,” he said.
“Do, fair lad,” said Tony, “and may the gods sprinkle you with glory and glitter.”
“Silence, tiny man,” said Thor.
“I think you’ll find I’m average height, Big Foot,” said Tony, but Thor had departed on his mission, Steve and Bruce creeping in his wake, and Tony sneered at their retreating backs.
“This plan sucks,” he shouted after them, which turned out to be all too true when Clint Barton appeared next to the office water cooler, seemingly out of nowhere, and stole the box of doughnuts out from under their noses.
Clint’s doughnut theft was not merely a mean-spirited plot to deprive the busy workforce of much-needed sustenance. It was, in fact, all part of the carefully constructed seduction of Phil Coulson, office manager and stationery supervisor.
“Doughnut?” he offered, leaning artlessly against the door of Phil’s broom cupboard of an office. He had his shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbow (he had previously noted Phil’s eyes lingering on them) and his hair carefully coiffed, but the key element was the doughnuts. Clint had seen Phil very nearly come to blows with a couple of guys over the last packet of powdered sugar doughnuts at the convenience store down the road, and it had seemed like a good angle.
“Sure,” said Phil. “Thanks.” He was in his usual dark suit and tie, filling out a pile of forms on his desk.
Clint held out the box, and nodded towards the paperwork. “New stationery order?” he asked.
“Uh-huh,” said Phil. “Running low on stationery order forms. I’ve dealt with it.”
Clint nodded. Of course Phil had dealt with it. Phil dealt with everything.
”Did you want something else?” Phil asked, and Clint remembered he actually had a cover story this time.
“Fury wants the quarterly production reports by tomorrow morning,” he said.
Phil sighed. “I’ll talk to the analysts,” he said.
“Right,” said Clint. “Well. See you later.”
He walked away, checking his watch. One minute and forty seconds. He was right. The doughnuts increased his Phil-interaction time by fifty per cent. The doughnuts were the key.
“Every time,” moaned Steve. “Every time, we miss the doughnuts.” He’d been wedged in his cubicle for the last two hours, hunting and pecking industriously at his keyboard, but the loss of the doughnuts clearly still rankled.
“We need a better plan,” pointed out Tony, abandoning his VB code temporarily. “And by better plan, I mean any plan that hasn’t been conceived by you. I say we sic Bruce on them as a distraction.”
Steve was horrified. “Tony! Bruce has a condition.”
“No, that’s fine,” said Bruce. “As distractions go, it would be fairly effective.”
“See!” said Tony.
“And then maybe I can join a touring freak show when I am inevitably fired,” continued Bruce placidly.
“Alack, a most undesirable outcome,” said Thor.
“Just to take a break from my Bruce-themed plan,” said Tony, “do we have any kind of time frame on you getting that Hamlet gig, Thor? I won’t lie, I am as passionately devoted to ye blessed Bard as the next technological genius, but the odds of me punching you in the face are increasing steadily hour by hour.”
Thor had at least six inches on Tony and spent a lot of time at the gym, so he just grinned and tossed a lock of dark blonde hair out of his eyes and said, “It would please me to see you try, puny mortal.”
They were interrupted by the approach of Phil, who eyed them sternly. “Hearing a lot of talk, gentlemen; not seeing a lot of action.”
“Our noses are clamped to the grindstone of Avengers Inc,” said Tony.
Phil didn’t look particularly impressed by this. “Fury wants the quarterly production figures by the end of today,” he said.
“Not a problem,” said Steve.
“We live for quarterly production figures,” said Tony. “In fact, I think Steve here lives with quarterly production figures. I think they’re very happy…”
Phil had walked off.
“…together,” finished Tony, sadly. “Nobody appreciates my humour.”
“And nobody cares about your pain,” said Bruce. “I’ve got the warehouse data, if you want it, Thor.”
“I thank you,” said Thor.
Steve sighed. “This would be easier with doughnuts.”
Clint successfully carried out his doughnut plan for another two days. On the third day, Natasha from the security office appeared.
“I hear you’ve developed any unhealthy obsession with doughnuts,” she said
“I wouldn’t call it unhealthy,” Clint objected, but not too forcefully because it was Natasha and she could kill all of them.
“The rest of the office is calling it unhealthy,” replied Natasha. “Of course, they don’t know about your feeble crush on Phil.”
“I don’t have a crush on Phil,” said Clint.
“That is a lie,” said Natasha.
“He fills out stationery order forms with a fountain pen,” protested Clint. “How is anyone supposed to resist that?”
Natasha looked at him. “You are a strange, strange man.”
Clint shrugged. “I had a troubled youth,” he said.
“Stop stealing doughnuts,” said Natasha, and disappeared.
Clint had had a two-minute, twenty-four second conversation with Phil that morning. He had no intention of stopping the doughnut thefts.
“I think if we use this dataset for the Michigan factory in the first pivot table, we’ll see a more meaningful analysis,” Bruce said.
“Exactly!” agreed Tony. “We can concatenate these two fields, write a macro to run the distribution margins…”
“…and put validation criteria on columns E, F, and G to take out the anomalous data!” finished Bruce.
“We have the brilliant minds of our age,” said Tony. They high-fived. Steve and Thor stared at them.
“I like bar charts,” said Steve, taking a bite out of his apple.
“I favour the chart of pie,” said Thor.
“I don’t even know how you two have jobs,” said Tony. “By rights, both of you should be under a bridge somewhere trying to sell your bodies for a buck fifty apiece.”
“They’re here to feed your feelings of gross self-importance,” said Bruce.
“My feelings of self-importance are beautiful,” said Tony. “Also, did you see what I did there?”
“Yes,” said Thor. “It was a play on the word ‘gross.’ Your genius truly is unmatched.”
“And yet,” pointed out Steve, “it still hasn’t got us any closer to doughnuts.”
Thor and Steve high-fived.
“You guys are disappointingly lame,” said Tony.
“This dearth of doughnuts is starting to piss me off,” complained Darcy the R&D intern. “Is it true that Clint’s stockpiling them for Fury in case of the zombie apocalypse? Cuz, surely the experienced zombie survivalist goes for toilet paper and twinkies.”
“No,” said Natasha. “He’s trying to bribe Phil into loving him.”
Darcy nodded approvingly. “That is an excellent plan. Doughnuts would work on me.”
“Anything would work on you,” said Jane.
Darcy considered this. “That’s true,” she said. “I’m pretty easy.”
The data analysts filled a two-by-two square of cubicles in the middle of the Avengers Inc offices. Thor slinked into his space fifteen minutes late, blithely ignoring Phil Coulson’s long-distance unacceptable-lateness glare. “I bring news,” he announced.
“Come hither, messenger!” said Tony, leaning back in his chair.
“Nobody thinks you’re funny,” said Steve.
“Au contraire, Captain America,” replied Tony, “everyone knows I’m hilarious. I am the tiny spark of light that brings joy to hundreds of lives.”
“It is true,” agreed Thor, “you are tiny. But hush. I have much of import to share from my source in R&D.”
“Your source in R&D is your girlfriend,” pointed out Tony.
“Your interruptions begin to pall,” said Thor.
“Shut up, Tony,” said Steve.
“Make me,” said Tony.
“Your schoolyard sexual advances on each other begin to pall,” said Bruce. Steve and Tony looked at each other uneasily. Tony adjusted his prize Black Sabbath t-shirt.
Into the silence, Thor said, “I know why Clint’s stealing all the doughnuts.”
“Hey,” said Clint, “doughnut?” He’d chosen a blue shirt that morning, and rolled up the sleeves up to the elbow per the Seduce Phil Coulson protocol. The fabric was a lighter weave, which meant you could see Clint’s Legolas t-shirt through it, carefully chosen with an eye to yesterday’s conversation about Phil’s planned trip to Comic-Con.
“Thanks,” said Phil, helping himself from the box. “Did you let Fury have those contracts for signing?”
Clint handed over the contracts. “Done and done. Also, the quotes for the new shredder. Uh, so, I was wondering if you’d seen the new Batman yet?”
“Not yet,” said Phil. “Reviews sound good. It’s an interesting take on the character.”
“Harking back to some of the earlier story arcs,” said Clint. “Wanna maybe go see it? Together?”
Phil nodded thoughtfully. “Sure. That would be good. Did you see the new trailer?”
Clint leant against the doorframe, and chatted.
“This is ridiculous!” hissed Tony, as he crept along a row of cubicles behind Steve, Thor and Bruce. Steve held up his hand for them to stop.
“We’re maintaining radio silence,” he whispered back.
“I have no actual words for how pathetic you all are right now,” said Tony.
“We are in this together,” said Thor. “For he today who performs this deed with me will be my brother, be he ne’er so pathetic. Shakespeare in the Park’s casting Henry V at the moment,” he added. “I’d make a great Kenneth Branagh.”
“Radio. Silence.” Steve glared at them all, then did a commando roll between a gap in the cubicle walls.
“I think we might be taking this a little too seriously,” said Bruce.
“And analysts still at their desks shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks that fought with us on Get-Clint-And-Phil-Together day,” said Thor.
“There’s nothing cheap about my manhood,” said Tony, and did a commando roll of his own. “Ow, shit!”
“We few, we weird-ass few…” said Bruce. He sighed, and followed suit.
Get-Clint-And-Phil-Together day had been planned down to the last detail, involving half the IT department and the catering staff, but it hadn’t taken into account the possibility that, at nine o’clock in the morning, Phil Coulson would not be in his office.
“Phil’s not in his office,” said Steve, peering into the broom cupboard corners.
“Did we plan for this?” asked Thor.
No, it transpired, they hadn’t planned for that.
“Phil’s off today,” said Maria, stalking past.
“But we had a plan,” said Steve blankly.
“I broke my shoulder,” said Tony.
“Hey guys,” said Darcy the R&D intern. “Whatcha been doing? You look all…” she waved a descriptive hand, “mussed.”
“We have been thwarted by dark forces,” said Thor.
Darcy’s eyes widened. “Woah. OK. Hey, did you hear about Phil and Clint going to Comic-Con together? Isn’t that adorable? Which,” she went on, “is great, cuz it meant the R&D ladies got to snag the doughnuts. Sweet!” She put up victory arms, then left.
There was silence.
Steve breathed heavily.
Tony tried to rotate his shoulder.
Bruce said, “I think we may have overlooked the easier option of just buying our own doughnuts.”
They filed back to their cubicles.
Nobody did a commando roll.