Author's Note: Any and all rumors of "As Is" having a coherent timeline are little more than myths and filthy, dirty, wicked lies. However, for the curious without shame, this 'fic can be said to take place post-"Girl/Friend" or at the very least within spitting distance of Seto's growing confusion.


Lay down your head, my love.
Human on my faithless arm.
–W. H. Auden

The music was what she recognized first, a mellow tempo reaching through warm layers of sleep, settling gently inside her.

Any minute now the alarm would screech, and she'd have to get up, get ready for school or work or whatever. Yuck. She so did not want to surface from this, the sweet wooly languor of sleep. Her skin felt comfy, muscles soft and loose, and she was beautifully warm. Admittedly there was something not quite perfect about the position she lay in, more cramped than usual, but even that wasn't much of a deterrent to her bliss; the new snugness was, actually, rather satisfying.

I could stay like this for-absolutely-ever, she thought, drowsy with contentment. She snuggled farther down, cursing the inevitable alarm, and nuzzled against her pillow. Something small and hard was pressing into her cheek, and she lazily reached up to push it away, fumbling. The darn button refused to budge and, fine, just ignore it and focus on the more important matter of-


-and then her fingers brushed cool metal and Anzu woke up fast.

What the-where am I?

She recognized the couch before anything else about the situation. Plump as a muffin, it was one of her favorite spots in the mansion (besides the studio). Mokuba often teased her about being part cat, the way she always curled up on it. Anzu knew this couch and she knew this room and she knew this song and she definitely knew this house. So the only question, really, was why she was sleeping on Kaiba's couch like a cat in the sun?

Then she remembered the metal under her hand, realizing it was, of all impossible, incredible, ordinary things, a belt buckle and thus attached to a belt. And the button under her cheek was attached to a shirt and the shirt was attached to…to…. oh dear.

Somewhere beyond the rising swell of panic was the dry observation that the difference between "lean" and "skinny" was a matter of padding.

Ok, forget the first question, here's a real Jeopardy billion brain buster; why was Seto Kaiba on the couch with her? Better yet, Anzu thought, as more and more synapses fired up, why was he under her? Or she on top of him, sort of, it was more of a half-thing, really, what with her legs stretched out along his, not quite intertwined, and her arm was trapped between his side and the couch back and-gah, whatever; Anzu's brain couldn't quite decide which bizarre part of this awakening to focus on first. Instead she thought about the furniture, particularly the couch, working up the mental courage to consider the rest of the scene.

It was a nice couch. The kind of nice that sang of pricey showrooms catering to immaculate design schemes but managed, despite the burden of cost and chic, to be utterly loveable. It was probably because there was so much of it to love; the thing was long enough to easily accommodate four people, or three people and one ridiculously large bowl of popcorn, along with enough decorative marshmallow cushions to stage a quick, but wicked, pillow fight. Anzu learned this particular bit of trivia last week when she's brought over a movie borrowed from Jounouchi (a clean movie because Mokuba's at an impressionable age and if you even think a cuss word, I will pull out your hair and make you eat it, Katsuya). Next, it had been nothing short of crucial to chase the CEO troll out of his office. Seto had not appreciated being herded out but Mokuba had used that look, the one that was like a warm coal to the heart and, well, that was that.

He hadn't been particularly fond of the "troll" comment either but not offended enough to defend himself. Just as well, really, because while Mokuba was bratty but irresistible, Anzu could be plain out shameless. Both swore to use their powers for good.

She couldn't remember now what the movie was, something loud but funny, blockbuster brain candy. But the elder Kaiba's expression, moments before she bludgeoned a pillow against his ear, that remained vivid in her mind. The memory, while important and silly for equally silly and important sentimental reasons, did nothing to explain her head on his chest. Her hand, she realized, was still resting docilely on his belt. Embarrassed, Anzu moved it to the side. Then she realized that one of Seto's hands, his right one some removed section of her brain noted while every other cell jitterbugged in panic, was a warm not-quite heavy weight on her back.

(Hello, Universe? Hi, what's up, how are the kids, and hey is heck frozen? No? Well, gee, then I'd like an explanation, please. Right now, thankyouverymuch.)

Ok, think, think, girl. This happened how, exactly? Mentally backpedaling, Anzu pieced together the now gone afternoon. She remembered saying bye to Mokuba as he left for, what was it, wilderness camp. She'd left work early to give him her goodbyes, along with a bag of fresh almond cookies (to bribe the bears and chaperones), and then…then what? Oh, that's right, then she bullied Seto into trying some cookies, all part of her plot to lure him away from a diet of caffeine and nerves.

Nonetheless, coffee had been offered. Anzu declined, being a stanch tea drinker, and refusing to join the cult of the Bean. (Once, just once, she'd warned about too much coffee stunting growth…yeah, that had been of her less brilliant comments. In some evil little corner of his mind Anzu suspected Seto was still laughing. It was annoying, really, whatever it was that made her say these things around him.) She remembered watching him concoct the brew, each movement without waste, and it made her think of rituals and choreography. When he took that first sip, eyes closed, she wondered how anyone could learn to like anything that bitter.

They had been talking about overtime, shared misery elevated by half-hearted griping. He had contract renegotiations, she had three double shifts, both had exams on Monday. Sitting on to the snazzy, cozy couch, Anzu raised her mug in toast to Fridays. It was a futile effort; Seto has responded with customary irony, saying the TGIF sentiment lost its charm when you had a dozen reports in your suitcase, all due before nine a.m. Sunday. Sympathetic, Anzu offered to dump tea over his head; surely a burn injury, or three, would be enough to justify some time off.

None of this explained her head on his chest.

Whatever. The issue at hand was escaping with the least possible amount of humiliation. Though it was interesting to wonder who'd be more embarrassed by the arrangement, Anzu or He of the Twenty Mile Wide Personal Space. Anzu propped herself on one elbow, a low rise since her other arm was neatly pinned between the couch and Seto's hip, not to mention his arm across her back, and studied her friend's supposedly sleeping face. It looked authentic but…

"Hey. Seto?" she asked. Then, louder. "Seto. Tall, rich, and grumpy, wake up."



For someone who was such a high-strung bundle of nerves during his waking hours, Seto did a shockingly valid impression of a narcoleptic. How dare he snooze the sleep of the just while she lay awake and embarrassed, one arm numb from lack of circulation? Anzu wished she had the leverage to push him off the couch.

Still, looking at him now, it was hard to summon proper indignation; he looked so very, very tired. Anzu frowned, feeling the now familiar frustration prickle her temper. Why did he force himself into such a wasted state? He had employees, presumably competent, who could've shouldered some of the higher company duties; why didn't he let them do so? The answer, of course was simple and obvious but no less irritating for that.

Because he was Seto Kaiba.

Because he was Seto Kaiba, The Boy Who Could And Would. Even if it, dueling or dealing or whatever etc, kept him in a continuous state of exhaustion. There had been a time when Anzu had believed the only thing behind that drive was merciless perfectionism and an ego the size of Asia. And then she realized it was much more complicated and sad.

One day you'll realize that not everyone in is aiming knives at your back, not everyone wants you gone. One day you'll look people in the eyes without searching for mistakes or guilt or accusation. One day you'll stop waiting for the sky to fall. One day you'll spit out the rest of your bitterness and laugh, just laugh. One day you'll stop suspecting everything you have is going to disappear. One day you'll believe it's going to be all right.

One day you'll trust...someone. Anyone. Me.

Her arm was getting seriously cramped; Anzu unbent it and, feeling reckless and sure, bent it across Seto's stomach, under her chin.

Really, all of this should have felt way weirder than it actually did.

Then again it's not like she hadn't slept next to a boy before. Ok, so camping out with the guys during Duelist Kingdom wasn't exactly the same sort of situation but it was something. Plus she had plenty of sleepovers with Yuugi, though, and that had to count. Then again, it was one thing to turn over and see your best friend's face peeking over the top of his sleeping bag and another thing entirely to feel your friend's body heat soaking into your cheek. A few inches up, Anzu observed, and she'd be able to press an ear over his heart, listening. What kind of beat would she hear?

There was no reason to be thinking of things like that, there really wasn't.
Anzu would never be so bold as to presume she had changed Seto Kaiba. Well, not to his face, anyway. But looking at that face, blank with sleep, it was hard not to feel a little glowworm of triumph. Because, and Seto could bawl and bitch about it all he wanted, he was different now. It wasn't her right to judge whether those changes were for better or worse, at least not out loud, but there they most definitely were.

Weren't they?

Sometimes it was hard to say if Anzu was witnessing real change in Seto or if she was just learning to translate his personality, understating what the smirks and sarcasm to be pieces of an elaborate armor. It was, cliché but true, a shell, but one shielding a surprisingly decent nature. Of course, the virtues of decency only went so far; Seto remained one of the most arrogant, infuriating, stubborn, and generally exasperating people Anzu had ever met. (And she'd worked in Costumer Service!) There were days when she very much felt like booting him out of a speeding train or ramming that ever present Titanic of a briefcase down his ever smug throat.

But she wasn't scared of him.

Kaiba used to intimidate the begeesus out of her, not deliberately but simply through the act of being Kaiba, imposing and aloof. From a distance, Anzu knew the artic qualities that daunted her once were still there, still made and marked him, but up close they faded into something much more human. She knew he was a billionaire CEO, a Duel Monsters World Champion (more or less), a certifiable genius, and all around seventeen year old phenomena, these were facts that draped like a coat, impossible to truly ignore. This was Kaiba, after all, a monument of achievements that she'd gotten used to passing by. She knew Kaiba.

But she also knew Seto. Seto, who was two months younger than her, a Scorpio. Seto, who was prodigious at chess and truly, amazingly horrible at Parcheesi. Seto, who picked fois gras over pizza but was helpless against ginger snaps.

Anzu liked Seto's determination, simultaneously hating Kaiba's titanium obstinacy. She admired Kaiba for his strength but Seto's smugness was maddening. Kaiba was dramatic, obsessive, brilliant, paranoid, and conceited. Seto was clever, sarcastic, pompous, fearless, and lonely. Anzu was used to dealing with the dilemma of encountering two personalities in one person, of puzzling out who was which and why. Her "Egypt Years" had taught her to remember traits, mannerisms and quirks, to understand them better than faces.

Duality was a familiar concept. However, there was a lot of distance between familiar and predictable. When she had offered friendship to the tall boy with the iron eyes, deciding to trust hopeful intuition, Anzu had been prepared to deal with a divided character. She had been ready to accept pieces, rather than be allowed the whole. Overall, a part of her had been braced for disappointment.

And then, so suddenly it felt accidental, Anzu saw she didn't have to. Yes, pieces were what he revealed but each piece, each little trait and minor fact, adhered to the other. What she knew about Kaiba combined with what she learned about Seto until one day Anzu realized she no longer saw the difference. Oh, she remained aware of it, sure, but on a purely academic level. Otherwise she was immune. The dichotomy she had so resolutely prepared for had evaporated, dissolved into something amazingly simple and plain; Seto Kaiba was Anzu's friend. The sheer simplicity of it was…mind warping. Hilarious. Freaky. True.

Asleep, he was almost sweet. Even, dare she think it, cute.

"But," Anzu said quietly, "you are going to so lose it when you wake up." It almost convinced her to stay where she was. But friends don't let friends have heart attacks, no matter how tempting the possibility of amusement. Praising herself for having sturdy morals, despite the combined corroding influences of Kaiba and Jounouchi, Anzu began to extract herself from the couch. Easier thought than done. She got as far as liberating her other arm and raising herself in a sort of half-push up, wondering if she could just roll off, when strong arms wrapped around her-


-and, boom/bang/bingo, she was back down in the same sprawl, cheek on chest, she'd woken in.

Except now there were two arms across her back.

Oh, super.

Incredulous, Anzu stared at her captor's face but the only change noted there was a small frown. Which smoothed and vanished, as his arms tightened and then relaxed.

A hold, not a hug, Anzu though, reminded of little kids and security blankets. It seemed a good time to reconsider her options. Which were, Anzu decided, few if she wanted to keep things civilized. Kneeing him, for example, was hardly the polite thing to do and besides she didn't have the right leverage for it, anyway. The arm hold was too firm to simply shrug off, while actively prying it off would involve way more squirming than she was comfortable with. Tickling was pointless; all the hotspots were out of her immediate reach, dang it. She could probably pinch him hard enough to inspire some shifting but most likely he'd just roll them both into an even stranger position.

Or she could remain, waiting.

Thoughtfully, Anzu closed her eyes, halfway suspicious of her sanity but not terribly worried. Of, course, he'd freak upon waking, embarrassed or outraged or maybe just stunned, and she'd have to do her best not to blush. Or laugh. But whatever Seto's reaction, no matter how indignant or scared, she knew that it would be just another thing to know about him. Slowly but surely, the pieces kept coming together and Anzu trusted the shape they were taking.

Because why shouldn't she? After all, faith had brought her this far. Faith, and with it friendship, were what helped her keep up with him, hopscotching over all the petty faults and tantrums. Anzu was learning to understand that all too often it wasn't a matter of "and/or", of who you were versus who you could be, wasn't about what you had to give or were willing to take. Nor was it as simple as taking a step in a new direction, because this wasn't the kind of thing you could learn to map. There were differences and there were similarities; life was not particularly obvious about explaining which was what.

Still, it was good to know what you wanted, to tell apart between a dream and a goal, to grant hope a purpose. If nothing else it gave you something to go on. Anzu knew destinations were important. The same, she believed, applied to journeys.

Because sometimes a step in the right direction meant staying exactly where you were.

Minutes later, when Anzu's breathing grew deep and even, the grip across her back loosened. One hand rose and fell, coming to rest, for moment, on her hair.

Eyes closed but awake, Seto Kaiba smiled.

For now, he was entirely satisfied with what he had.

::your move::

'cause I know there is strength
in the differences between us
and I know there is comfort
where we overlap.
–Ani DiFranco, "Overlap"