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"Ohohohohoh! I know! Han Solo!"

"He's dead."

"Not in the original trilogy, doofus."

"I don't wanna do Star Wars."

"Oh my God."

Steve walked off the elevator to what sounded like an argument that had gone on a very long time already, given Daisy's exasperated drawl and the way Darcy was draped over the loveseat as if she'd lost the will to live. Bucky was lying on the couch with his head in Jemma's lap. She was scratching behind his ears, but his eyes were narrowed and his tail was randomly whacking against the couch arm, making dull little thuds like a sluggish pillow fight.

Steve stopped walking, wondering if it was too late to pretend he never received Darcy's text. That forlorn hope was unfortunately lost the next second, because of course everyone had heard the elevator and now they were all looking at him.

"I, uh, just want something from the kitchen," Steve said, gesturing vaguely in that direction. The desperation in his voice probably didn't sell it.

"Stevie!" Bucky surged upright and off the couch, vaulted the coffee table and threw himself into Steve's arms, making him stagger backwards with his weight. Bucky clung to Steve with all four limbs, purring like he hadn't seen him in months instead of less than two hours earlier. "Thank God you're here! Save me. Please. You gotta save me from these awful women and their stupid costume ideas."

"I texted him to save us from yours," Darcy sniffed. She used the back of the loveseat to drag herself up until she was scowling with her arms crossed. "You know what he wants to go as this year?"

"Himself, in his Avengers uniform. Just like last year," Steve sighed. "Get off me. You're heavy," he said to Bucky.

Bucky didn't get off of him, casually changing his grip every time Steve tried to pry his arms or legs away. "What's wrong with my Avengers uniform? It's cool. And easy."

"It's ridiculous," Jemma stated flatly. "It'd be like me wearing my work clothes and going as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent." She frowned, brushing vigorously at the tops of her thighs. "You're half human. How do you manage to shed so much?"

"We have literally been suggesting things for half an hour, and he's vetoed every one of them," Daisy said. She swept a lock of her black hair behind her ear, making her magic shimmer like static at her fingertips. Steve didn't know the full story there, just that she'd been born without magic, only to accidentally gain alien, elemental magic that let her mimic earthquakes with barely a thought.

"Ms. Potts' party is tonight, and he's gonna show up looking like a dweeb," Darcy said. "You totally will!" she added hotly at Bucky's rude noise. "A dweeb with cat ears."

"I'll look hot as fuck and you know it," Bucky shot back, still clinging to Steve. He looked at him imploringly, like a sad kitten. "Tell them I'll look hot as fuck, Steve, so they need to leave me alone."

Steve rolled his eyes, then gave up on trying to remove Bucky and just waddled with him over to the nearest chair and sat down. Bucky instantly disengaged his limbs and curled up on Steve's lap. Steve petted his back automatically, ignoring Bucky's little victory chirp. "You'd look hot in a wet burlap sack, Buck. But I agree with the gi—women. You should wear an actual costume."

"Darcy wanted me to dress up as some French cartoon cat-guy with a bell, Steve! A bell!" Bucky wailed pitifully. "And Daisy wanted me to dye my fur and go as the Pink Panther."

Steve laughed. "I would love to see that."

"See?" Daisy demanded, pointing at Steve. "He agrees with me! Your own boyfriend thinks it's awesome!"

"It's not awesome. It's stupid." Bucky headbutted Steve in the chest, which hurt. He purred loudly at Steve's glare.

"I still think he should be Luke Skywalker," Jemma said. "When he's in his human form he looks just like him."

Bucky scowled. "He's old."

"Not in the original trilogy!"

"What are you three going as?" Steve asked, entirely to get the topic away from Bucky.

"Hermione Granger," Jemma said immediately. "Fitz is going as Ron Weasley. He looks adorable." She grinned proudly.

Steve grinned back, because he understood that reference. "I'm sure you'll both look adorable."

"I'm a Zombie," Daisy said.

"Yeah, but what'll your costume—hey!" Bucky glowered at Steve, rubbing his side where Steve poked him.

"I'm going as Tony Stark," Darcy said. "I have a wig and fake goatee and everything. It'll be epic."

"I can't wait to see that," Steve said, petting Bucky innocently. "I was planning on going as Prince Charming."

"Ooh!" Darcy clapped her hands. "Movie or TV?"


"Lame." Bucky sprawled across Steve's lap, letting his arms and legs dangle over either side of the chair. "You should go as Aquaman. He's blond."

"Aquaman is actually lame," Daisy said. "Prince Charming is a great idea."

"I'm sure you'll look very handsome, Steve," Jemma said. She titled her head, considering Bucky. "Maybe he could be the dragon?"

"The dragon is in Sleeping Beauty, Bucky said with authority. "Prince Charming's in Cinderella. And I ain't going as her."

"You'd look so nice in blue, though," Daisy said.

"Doll, I look great in everything," Bucky retorted. "But I'm not dying my ears."

"Bucky, you are driving me crazy!" Darcy flopped over dramatically on the couch. "I already told you, you don't have to dye your fur! I can change your color! My magic totally does that! I change my hair color all the time! Seriously, one quick spell and you're done."

Bucky's sprang up to clutch Steve again, nothing playful in his grip. Bucky's ears went flat, his tail thrashing. "And I said no. Nobody does magic on me anymore. You got that, witch? You don't touch me!" Bucky's voice was deadly, but Steve could feel Bucky's fear in the way his finger claws partially extended, digging uncomfortably into Steve's skin.

"Whoa, hey. Hey, it's all right, Buck. No one's going to do anything you don't want, okay? You're safe. No one will do anything." He ran his palm up and down Bucky's back, feeling the rigid muscles beneath his tee-shirt. "This is all just for fun. We're just talking about costumes."

"More like fighting to the death," Bucky said. He didn't sound relaxed, but his claws slid back into his fingers and his breathing slowed down. "Sorry, Darce," he said, rough. He wiped his temples on the sleeves of his tee-shirt.

"Hey, no prob." She waved him off. "I forgot your tragic backstory. My bad."

Steve bristled at her making light of what Bucky went through, but Bucky just laughed and gave her a toothy grin. He tucked himself against Steve again. "So, that's settled. I'm going as an Avenger."

"You are most certainly not." Jemma pulled herself up to her complete if not all that imposing height on the couch. "We didn't spend the last half hour brainstorming costume ideas for you to just go back to your Avengers uniform! Besides," she added pleasantly above Bucky's emphatic groaning, "I have the perfect idea."

"Yeah?" Bucky asked tiredly, "what? Cinderella?"

"While you truly would look lovely in a blue dress, as it happens, no. That wasn't it." Jemma smiled warmly like she'd just cured a plague. "Puss in Boots."

"OhmyGod that's adorable!" Darcy burst out.

Daisy started laughing. "You have to do it! You have to! I can't wait to see you in the hat with the holes for your ears!"

Bucky scowled. "Maybe I should go as someone who hunts zombies."

"C'mon, Buck," Steve began, but Darcy interrupted him by yelling at the top of her lungs.


"Holy shit," Daisy said, blinking. "Darce's right. It is. It really, really is."

"Oh, yes!" Jemma enthused. "It'll be fantastic!"

Steve and Bucky looked at each other.

"What'd I say?" Bucky said.

The Enchanted Zombie War was long, and took its toll. The zombies, while extremely cool looking, were also really annoying and did really weird magic.

Puss in Boots and his loyal sidekick Prince Charming could both have been described as worse for wear after months of grueling combat. Both were leaner, harder, less merciful to the dead or living. Though they nonetheless continued to look hot as fuck in their battered, ripped and blood-spattered leather and velvet. Puss himself looked especially hot in his cavalier hat, still set at a jaunty angle on his head with the adorable ear-holes and cool red feather still proudly flying.

Honestly, they were the best looking guys in the kingdom, if Puss did say so himself.