Author Note: I'm not sure how to explain this fic/fiasco…so I'm not really going to try. The core of it all is simply this; what if Seto Kaiba and Anzu Mazaki were to become friends? What would such a choice lead to? "As Is" follows the everyday aftermath of our blue eyed couple's decision to be with each other, reluctant, romantic or otherwise. (Set at the end of the series because the Universe can only sustain so much weirdness at a time. Even when that Universe is YGO sponsored.)

So Be It

Seto Kaiba looked the devil in the eye and said, "This is a waste of time."

There was a sigh and the devil's blue eyes went empty. "Only because you're being such a stubborn grump about this." Anzu hung the red mask back on its peg, rolling her eyes at him. "Anybody else would unbent a little and admit the possibility of fun."

"Then go fetch one of them to dig through this bedlam with you." He nodded his head at the wall of rubber faces. "I'm a Duelist not a dress dummy."

"Yuugi is a Duelist. So is Jounouchi." Ignoring his snort of disregard, Anzu went on. "And they both all ready have their costumes picked out. Heck, everybody in school probably has their costume by now. Everyone, that is, except us." She put both fists on her hips, staring up at him with an expression of resolve. "The festival is tomorrow, Seto. What were you planning to do, cut eye holes in a bed sheet and come as the Ghost of Corporate Integrity?" Her accusation made she turned, distracted, fingering the multicolored beads of a headdress that looked as if it were meant for an Art Nouveau Nefertiti.

"I was thinking more along the lines of the Invisible Man," he murmured quietly. Apparently, not quiet enough because Anzu's attention slid off the beaded headdress and pierced him. Her eyes narrowed dangerously.

"Oh, no. No. Way. You are not bailing out on this. If you even consider entertaining the mere idea of skipping, I will refuse to acknowledge your existence until graduation. Got it?" Amazing that someone so petite could seem so damn feral. Especially when surrounded by feather boas, foam hats and a Wookie suit.

Mere months ago, Seto would have ignored both the threat and the girl, and simply walked out of the shop, back into sanity. Hell, three months ago he wouldn't be anywhere near this bizarre situation. But then things had been much less…complicated then.

Three months ago Seto Kaiba and Anzu Mazaki had not been friends.

Seto considered the girl in question, now pointedly ignoring him and sorting through a plastic cauldron full of gloves, and marveled at the power of everyday disguises. She looked so harmless, so easy to overlook. Who'd ever suspect that behind those china blue eyes and cheerleader pep was enough willpower to part the Atlantic? You'd never know what hit you. He certainly hadn't.

Seto sighed. "You do remember that sequins equal law suit, got it?"

The smile she tossed over her shoulder was brilliant. "How could I forget; the idea of a glittery Kaiba is enough to give anyone's mind a seizure." Putting hand to forehead, she half-swooned for emphasis. Twit.

"Thank you," Seto said with sincere sarcasm. Resigned, he looked around, giving genuine attention to the idea for the first time. Might as well salvage the situation as best as he could or this nightmare would end with him in a clown suit. With frills at the collar and a balloon animal stuffed down his throat. He'd learned early on to never underestimate Anzu's imagination; the cheerful attitude masked a surprisingly subtle and sadistic sense of humor. Still, if he rallied his wits it might be able to escape this place with the majority of his pride intact. Or at least, ribbon free.

"How about a vampire?" Fangs and cloak didn't sound too awful. Anzu frowned at him.

"Boring. There's going to be at least a dozen Draculas. And who knows how many Anne Rice goth-clones." That smile was back, warning him. "What we're looking for is something with-"

-a dimple, she was flashing a dimple. Dante had it right: Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate-

"-a sense of fun."


"Yep, fun." The shard of teasing in her expression made him think of sharks and lunatics. "You do remember fun, right?"

"When this is over I get the feeling I'll be spending a fortune in therapy trying to forget."

"As if you're not putting some lucky shrink's kid through college all ready." Parting shot launched, she disappeared behind a rack of velour capes. Seto would have snapped back something suitably scathing but Anzu's sharp bark of triumph interrupted.

"Hey, here's something. Check it out, come on!" He headed towards the voice, got momentarily confused amidst the walls of dresses and suits, and then Anzu's arm emerged, pulling him between a Grecian tunic and a polyester skeleton suit.

"Here. What do you think?" Quickly, she stepped to the side of him, pressing a bright length of something against his front. "Well?"

It took a moment for the red and blue to become comprehensible but when it did, Seto grimaced. "No. Plus I thought you were against clichés."

"Only the overly predictable ones." Anzu pulled away the Spiderman suit with theatrical regret. "Pity. I think you'd make a great web-slinger. Mokuba's still going as Batman, right?"

"Yes." If there was a glimmer of smugness in Anzu's eyes, he was going to continue ignoring it. Pulling his brother into this eccentricity had been a low and dirty trick. All the more because it was a bloody successful one. He'd accused Anzu of manipulation point blank and had not been surprised when she admitted guilt without hesitation. In fact, she had been downright self-righteous about it.

"Jounouchi is going as a pirate, eye patch and all." She flipped through the hanging outfits, pulled out and considered a vivid green sleeve. "In case you were wondering."

"I wasn't." Much to his relief Anzu let the sleeve fall back.

Blithely, she went on. "Honda's Robin Hood. Mai said she was coming as a nun but I think that was just to see the expression on Jou-kun's face; it was priceless. And Shizuka's a cat-girl- oh, dang it that reminds me." Anzu stuffed the cowboy suit she was examining back into the polyester herd, her focus changing targets. "I promised her I'd see if they had any cute collars or something." Fighting the crush of get-ups, she headed for what was, assumingly, the accessory section. Bemused and exasperated, Seto followed. They stopped in front of a fake Christmas tree, its plastic limbs festooned with necklaces of every flavor and function.

"Shizuka…the pup's sister, yes?"

"Jounouchi's sister, yes." Impatient, her fingers fought to untangle a Barbie-pink ribbon choker with a small silver bell. Her efforts were only snarling the ridiculous thing further.

"Hn. They don't look like siblings." Vaguely annoyed, she was all but mauling the branch, Seto reached over and flicked Anzu's hands aside. Briskly, he separated the ribbon from the faux pine, holding it out to her. Taking it, her expression was slightly sheepish.

"Neither do you and Mokuba at first glance." She rubbed one thumb over the bell, coaxing forth a soft chime. "You have to know what to look for."

Such as, he wanted to ask her but one particular choker, its leather band protruding spikes, diverted his thoughts.

"And what," he heard himself asking without really being aware of shaping the words, "is Yuugi's costume?"

"Houdini." She looked up, smiled, almost shy. "Harry Houdini."

Of course. Seto studied the sudden warmth in her eyes, the softening that Yuugi's name always seemed to conjure in Anzu, and wondered not for the first time if his rival was bothered by this. Him. Anzu. Whatever. One of the few consolations Seto had was that he was not the only one puzzled by the phenomenon of Anzu's immovable offer of friendship. Or perhaps it was better to say by the phenomenon of his eventual acceptance of the offer. Anzu had been anything but subtle in playing the buddy role though; Seto wasted the first few weeks waiting for her energy to abate, for her to be less obvious about it. Surely whatever mad charity drove her would reach its limit sooner or later.

No such luck. The girl was absolutely ruthless on the matter. She tracked him down during lunch, scolding his diet of coffee and nerves, and practically stuffing sandwiches and rice balls in his pockets. (Seto still wasn't sure as to exactly how she managed to sneak those cereal bars into his suitcase. He had a lock on it!) He had a habit of arriving early to class; she made it a point to arrive even earlier. Not every morning but often enough to make her intentions clear. In the library she was a silent but present companion. Indeed, Anzu seemed to have an astute sense of just how far she could push before his tolerance ran out. The problem was that the longer she pushed, the farther his leniency learned to expand. The process was all the more disturbing for its subtlety.

Finally he had simply given up trying to fight her, privately marveling at the amount of energy she was willing to invest. Privately, he couldn't help feeling that the whole damn thing was a goodwill crusade at best and a joke at worst. It was not until weeks later, at the tail end of a school afternoon, that he began to understand the simple truth of what she was giving him. The class had been sharing news of a cafeteria scandal involving some girl pouring soup over an upperclassman's head. The reason, he pieced together, was some stray comment that the girl had taken offense to. The soup alone would've been enough to give the school's rumor mill a stirring but then the girl had gone on to deliver a detailed, blistering report on the upperclassman's lack of hygiene habits, social standing, and tragic inability to tell his elbow from his ass. Seto was not all that astonished to learn that the girl involved was Anzu. He was, however, mildly surprised to find out that the comment had been about him. Not because such comments were rare, he had long ago learned to steel against the whispers at his back, but because he didn't see why it would merit such an outburst. When he asked what was said, Anzu had merely lifted her chin and replied, coolly, that it didn't matter what was said, what mattered was that it would not be said again,.

Her protectiveness was disconcerting in its unfamiliarity. Yet despite his years of stand-alone status, he could not, in all honestly, find himself able to reject it. The way Anzu was willing to wait, as if she had some inexplicable proof of his eventual acceptance, disarmed him. Seto had little experience on being the subject of such faith.

He wondered if she knew just how much she resembled Yuugi in that regard.

"And why, pray tell, doesn't the head festival officer have her costume yet?" Seto watched her scowl, amused. Given a little help Anzu's temper could be quite entertaining.

"Because she was too busy trying to make sure the festival would actually happen," Anzu said. "And happen well. I've been running on nothing but aggravation and adrenaline all week. I don't even know why we bother doing that lottery if every year everyone fights over the results."

Seto had heard the rumors. "What did you say to the basketball captain?"

Anzu's tone turned dangerously casual. "Only reminded him of the value of community harmony and spirit of cooperation."

"Before or after you threw the basketball at his head?"

"Foul. He ducked. Plus, that wasn't the worst of it; I nearly had to sell my soul to the drama club to borrow the props."

"But surely the world will be better place." He met her glare with a thin smile. "Now that we have a cardboard moon and enough cheap curtains to mummify Tokyo Tower."

She threw a rubber nose at him. "Ingrate."

He caught the missile one handed. "Hypocrite. I have a corporation to run. Shopping for pointy hats and," he discarded the nose, "an additional appendage is not at the top of my priority list." Usually.

The look she gave him was suddenly serious and disquieting, even a little sad. "More to life than stocks and patents, Seto. You baby-sit your business 24-7 but…is this really such a difficult thing for you? Taking a little time off to try being a teenager?"

Sometime during the verbal exchange her fingers had migrated to his arm, holding him just below the elbow. A light touch, loose, it would be the most miniscule of effort to dispel it and move away.

What do you want from me? Why do you follow me when you have others to walk beside, people who've earned your trust? What are you hoping to achieve with your smiles, your greetings and questions, your unasked for kindness and hasty honesty?

What do you think I have to give you?

Seto was used to being sought after: as a challenge, a commodity, a means to an end, an excuse or investment. Those were roles he recognized, masks he had mastered. He knew how to avoid some, how to endure through the others.

Anzu Mazaki, however, was something entirely out of the realm of his experience.

"Nothing with floppy shoes or ribbons," he said finally.

The smile she gave was radiant, pure. "I promise."

Upon first entering the shop, Seto's opening impression was of a cramped kaleidoscope with bad AC. The whole place would've been able to fit into his living room, with enough room left over for a hot dog stand. True, the Kaiba household had rooms that were, perhaps, a bit more spacious than most but still…it should've been beyond any stretch of rationale that he'd find reason to spend more than fifteen minutes in the store.

Logic, Seto realized, had no place within these walls. When the second hour rolled around he was beyond the reach of common sense. But it was hard to keep track of time when a maniac in a miniskirt kept shoving rubber masks over your head, and asking if he thought the goblin suit made her look "chunky".

Ye gods.

The shop had only one full length mirror, three coat racks away from the too small to be useful changing room, and Seto found himself being hauled to and fro, repeatedly meeting a reflection that was becoming steadily foreign. Each costume was examined, analyzed and ultimately rejected.

The army uniform was too common. ("You could help your fellow man?" "Shut. Up.")

The Tin Man suit was too ridiculous. ("But we could get some stuffed animals and feathers and those little fez hats and-" "Put down the monkey, Mazaki.")

The Death costume was tempting but purely for business reasons. ("I could wear this to the next PR meeting." "Put down the scythe, Seto.")

Anzu's many transformations were as equally random. A Harlequin suit of blue and green, a biker jacket laden down with about ten pounds of hardware, a witch's short dress of white. Somewhere among the masks and gags was a stereo system and he could see the music having its usual infectious effect on Anzu. Her steps turned lighter, subtly echoing the rhythms of the songs. He didn't recognize the current song but Anzu obviously did, he could hear her humming along. Inane and upbeat, it could've been any one of the bubblegum carols that governed the local pop stations.

you're giving me too many things / lately you're all I need


Seto was in the process of escaping a truly impressive, if uncomfortable, werewolf mask when he heard Anzu cheer. The next moment she was upon him, grinning with alarming zest and holding something behind her back. He set down the mask and looked at her with what was becoming a familiar apprehension.

"Ok, I got it. Definitely, definitely it." She was practically dancing. "Close your eyes."

"Not until I know what sort of travesty you're hiding behind your back."

"Come on, spoilsport. It's more fun if it's a surprise. Trust me."

Ignoring every shred of self-preservation instinct he possessed, Seto closed his eyes. He had, of course, gone insane. The thought did not quite placate the sudden nervousness.

"All right now could just give me your arms, raise 'em up a little bit, yeah, like that-" Fumbling and something smooth-cotton?-was pulled over his head with, what he imagined to be, a certain amount of difficulty. "Geez, just how tall are you?"

"Not my fault you hang out with midgets and Chihuahuas." The reply was slightly muffled by the cloth over his face. Not muffled enough. Anzu yanked down the costume, much harder than necessary, and then his face was free. More fumbling as she adjusted the cloth, tugging it over his arms, and then a cheerful, "done!"

Clown suit, here I come.

Seto opened his eyes.

For a moment his only thought was black. It was loose, long and, well, black. Then he noticed the embroidered badge on his breast.

"Gryffindor?" He turned an incredulous expression to Anzu, who was looking entirely too pleased with herself. "Surely you jest."

"Slytherin's sold out. Come on," she said. "It's not too glitzy, not a speck of glitter or sequins, and it's more comfortable than a mask."

"And I suppose it counts as fun?"

"It's Harry Potter." As if the words delivered the most obvious of facts. Anzu crossed her arms, stance firm. "And before you get all surly and cynical let me inform that I know for a fact that you've read the books."

"To Mokuba."

"Ri-ight." She rolled her eyes. "And Duel Monsters is just your hobby."

Seto ignored that too. Still, annoying thought it was to admit, the madwoman had a point. The costume was comfortable, black, and, all right, damn it, everyone had read the books; he was a victim of commercial peer pressure and strategic marketing.

Curse you, Rowling.

Anzu was inspecting him with methodical scrutiny. "Yeah. Let's see, we can probably find a pair of fake glasses and the wand's included, but I don't know…something's missing."

Without warning she reached up and carded her fingers through his bangs. Seto stiffened at the sudden contact but Anzu appeared to not notice. Or merely ignored it. Her fingers were cool, unreal.

i don't think life is quite that simple

"There." The word carried a wealth of satisfaction. "Much better. Don't you agree?"

"Since when do I get a choice in the matter?" He supposed there was a miniscule resemblance now.

If you squint.

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Anzu pick up whatever else she had been holding behind her back and begin to hang it away. Something about her expression teased his curiosity.

"What's that?"

"Huh? Oh. Nothing. Just, um, well, I was kind of looking-it's nothing." The upbeat expression was faintly tinged pink. She turned towards him, beaming a little too brightly, and definitely trying to stand in front of the rack. "So, you'll take the robe?

"Hn. Maybe. Are you going to try it on?" Was it is his imagination or did the pinkness deepen?

"Well, black isn't really my color. Plus, I've always thought myself to be a Ravenclaw type of girl." She took a step to the left, deliberately not looking at the rack behind her. Seto saw his chance.

"How about red?" Now!

"Wha-hey!" Desperate, Anzu tried to grab the costume back but Seto was faster, smoothly maneuvering out of her grasp. Safe out of immediate reach, he studied the dress, trying to make sense of what looked to be a tri-colored length of velvet. Markings of some kind embroidered but the fabric's folds obscured their lines. Overall it didn't look any more ridiculous than the rest of the costumes Anzu had tried on, so why did her complexion resemble that of a polished apple?

"What is this?" he asked, more curious about her reaction than the actual costume.

"Nothing. I just liked the color." She sounded defensive.

Curiouser and curiouser. "Well, then. Come on."

Anzu stared at him.

Giving a dramatic sign of patience, Seto walked over to her and tapped one shoulder. "Up."


"Arms. Up. And close your eyes." He added the last with a light touch of malice, petty but satisfying. After a moment Anzu did as bid, her movement practically shouting suspicion. It was a bit tricky getting the dress over her head and down, obviously it was a tighter fit than his robe, but after a brief patient struggle they managed. Luckily, Anzu's shorts and tank top presented little problem.

It was red. A rich, bold carmine, flush with texture. There was a certain Renaissance flavor to the design, an elegant simplicity to the lines and the way it had been sewn to give the impression of an overskirt. The white front of the bodice gleamed underneath the black and red lacings. More black at square collar and tight arm sheaths, under the crimson bell sleeves. The underskirt was a ribbed mix of black and white, an eye-catching domino. And stitched all along the shimmering fabric were…hearts? There was something peculiar about their silhouette, odd but familiar. In a sudden flash of insight, Seto realized they were the stylized shape of game cards.

Standing before him was the Queen of Hearts.

"So? How does it look?"

Seto studied the figure before him, strange but no longer a stranger, not anymore. Her hair had gotten disheveled during the dressing, bangs ruffled and mussed. It made him think of Mokuba's hair, though the length and color were entirely different, and he had the sudden, stupid urge to comb his fingers through it. Somehow he knew it'd be as soft, as fine, as his brother's. "Well?"

Well, he thought. Well.

"If you're laughing in your sleeve I'll eviscerate you," she said, eyes still closed. Nonetheless, there was a pale thread of nervousness behind the cheery threat. It was further proved by the uncharacteristic stillness of her body, in the sudden lack of musical vigor that so often underlined Anzu's gestures.

"I can't buy it anyway; the material is real velvet. Expensive." She said it easily, without emphasis but Seto noted the way her hands hanged, careful not to rest against the fabric and risk temptation. "I've got more important things to spend my money on."

The curt tone of his voice surprised him. "Don't be asinine; I'll take care of it."

"What?" Anzu's eyes shot open, blinked. "What are you talking about?"

"Consider it payment for the fashion consultation. Now we're even."

"That's absurd. You don't owe me anything." Her gaze was confused but determined. "Don't feel like you do. Don't, please." The last word was added softly.

"I know." Because, wonder of wonders, he was beginning to believe it. Somewhere in the course of the past hour, or week, or month, the faith that drove Anzu had succeeded in pushing him over. The role she was offering had settled over him at last. Fine then, he would play the part as best he could and see where things lead. Seto Kaiba was never one to shirk a challenge, even when it came in the form of a high schooler with lip-gloss.

The naked face can be a mask like any other. Or it can be more.

Seto shrugged, crossing his arms. "You want it or not, Anzu?"

I didn't ask for your trust. Maybe you know this, or at least think you known enough to try. Maybe you're a fool or maybe it's me. Three months ago I thought you hated me and it didn't matter. Then you showed me you didn't and it did. Three months from now, who knows? Maybe…

When it appeared, her smile was absolute, genuine and eloquent in its gratitude. The usual liveliness returned, lit up the character beneath her bones, and Anzu spun, making the slim skirt flare. She danced up to him, curtsied, and slipped her arm through his before turning them both towards the mirror in one smooth sweep.

"How about it?" She tilted her head a slim fraction, looking at him with an expression frank and unguarded. "Aren't we something?"

Staring at his reflection in the mirror, changed by more than costume, Seto felt future possibilities shift to make dance room.

We could be, he thought. We very well could.

nothing's like before

::and maybe some things are that simple::

Disclaimer: YuGiOh © Takahashi Kazuki. Lyrics © Utada Hikaru. Bonus points if you can guess the quotation. Written with many thanks and apologies to my hometown's reputation.