Clef was supposed to be looking for fabric to make himself a few new sets of robes - things to show off Mazda's local craftsmanship, Aveo had said. That was why he was in Teana's shop in the first place. The trouble was, he just didn't know what he wanted; all of the fabrics he'd been shown were lovely. Everything locally made was beautiful shades of indigos, purples, and pinks, and with the way Mazda's dyers and weavers seemed to have been going all out, he was spoiled for choice.
A light-pink bolt of soft suten caught his attention. It was a gorgeous example of the local craftsmanship; something made of individually dyed threads that when woven together created a shimmering pattern reminiscent of the trembling surface of a pebbled brook. When it caught the light, the pattern seemed to move like running water. While the colour would do him no favours, he found himself considering how well it would suit Umi's warmer skin tone.
The thought made him pause and blink at the cloth in startled confusion.
Dropping the edge of it, he moved on down the shelves and forced himself to pick a few things for himself before he paused again, this time for a bolt of gossamer arumi. Its pattern was the soft complement to that of the pink suten, and it would make the perfect overlay for a dress made from it.
He stared at it for a long moment before shaking the thought away. But it kept coming back. Once the lengths of fabric for his robes were cut, Clef sighed and went back to fetch the two fabrics he'd been eyeing. When he set them down on the counter, Teana raised an eyebrow at him.
"And how much of these are you wanting?" she asked, curiosity dripping from her voice.
Clef looked down at the fabric and considered it a moment. "Two arm lengths should be enough, I think."
She grinned at him. "Your arm lengths or standard arm lengths?"
"Standard." Clef rolled his eyes. "But make it three, just in case."
Teana shook her head and unrolled the first bolt to cut it. She stroked her hand across it to flatten the creases, her fingers lingering on the soft fabric longer than it had the others, hesitating with the scissors. "It's a lovely cloth. Not something I'd expect you to pick - dare I ask what your plan is?" She looked at him. "Because this really isn't your colour. If you're planning on wearing it, I don't think I should sell it to you - it would be bad advertising for our dyers."
He pulled a face. "Aveo keeps telling me I need to support the local shops. She didn't say I need to wear everything. You can do other things with fabric!"
"Just checking." Teana smiled and cut the cloth, and Clef sighed the receipt for her with the briefest glance at the figure. That should be enough to keep Aveo off his back.
Of course, if he was putting a dress together for Umi - he could give her a festival gift, right? It would just a be a dress - he would need the fastenings for it. Nothing too fancy… he would have to visit Holbio's metalwork stall for that. Next market day.
Yet somehow, when the next market came, he found himself leaving Holbio's stall with a piece which would match Umi's sword perfectly - it had a gloriously deep blue gem at the heart of it, and the spell work was really impressive too - only there was no way it would go with the cloth he'd already bought. But he'd seen a bolt of deep indigo shot with silver in the drapers it would look stunning against…
He managed to come away with the indigo he'd been looking at, but Teana had caught his attention when she saw him and pulled him over to the back of the store. "If you're really interested in advertising the local craftsmanship, I just got this in," she said. "First of the year's new designs."
She unrolled it, and lifted it so the pattern caught the light - it was hand-dyed into the thread before weaving, in the subtlest of varied shades.
He bought half the bolt.
Well, he reasoned with himself, he could always do with updating some of his Guru wardrobe as well. Unless he happened to find a better use for the rest of it…
Oh, if he was going to give Umi a dress, it really needed a pair of shoes, too. How else would she wear it? And maybe a bracelet or something. All in a good cause, of course.
A few months later, there was the most wonderful translucent cloth in Teana's window - iridescent and catching the light like the spray of a waterfall. He got a little… impulsive, that afternoon, trying to see if he could put together a whole outfit to do it justice, entertaining himself by imagining Umi exclaiming at the cloth. And what could be a better advert for Mazda than Umi wearing these things? She would look beautiful in them.
He wasn't in town the next couple of markets, and other business kept him out of Teana's store. Which he was glad about, because he didn't need to be wandering in this often. (Or turning up when Ignis was running the store instead of Teana, when he wanted to buy something without an argument that it wouldn't suit him.) But the week after that, he dropped in on his way back from dropping a package off at the townhouse which Aveo was sending her daughter. Teana had mentioned a new pattern was just about through the weavers, he would just check if anything was in yet.
He took one step through the door, and both Teana and Ignis looked up from the counter - and Teana held her hand out flat, stopping him where he was. "Nope. You can go spend time somewhere else today, Warden. We've got paying customers to see to."
Clef blinked. "I'm a paying customer!" he protested. "I don't even know how much I've spent in here lately."
"Not anymore," Teana told him, leaning against the counter. "You've been cut off. No more buying is authorised against your accounts."
"I- what? Since when!?"
"Aveo came by a week ago," Ignis said, quieter.
Teana nodded. "She was very clear about it. No more binge-buying cloth. Not that I know what you're doing with all of it… You'll find the whole town's had the same message."
Clef stared at her, then walked out without a word. In fact, he was virtually silent until he got home and rapped on the door to Aveo's study, pulling her away from the account books. "Aveo, why have you told no one to serve me?"
Looking unimpressed, Aveo raised an eyebrow at him. "You can still get food and something to drink. I told the eateries to keep letting you in."
"Do you know how much you've spent these last months?" she asked. "What are you even doing with all this cloth? I've seen the bills, we've not seen half of it on you. And all the jewellery! I'd suspect you of having a fancy lover somewhere, but as we both know, that would be illegal." She eyed him sharply, and he couldn't help it - he thought of the collection of dresses hidden away in his wing and went bright red.
"I-" he started, and couldn't continue.
Aveo sighed. "What trouble have you got yourself into now, uncle-mine?" she asked, gently, and Clef dropped down onto a spare chair and hid his face in his hands.
"I don't even know what I'm doing," he muttered, as the enormity of it hit him - there were a dozen dresses upstairs, with shoes, and accessories, and - he couldn't give Umi a dozen dresses!
Standing, Aveo patted him on the shoulder. "I'll make us some tea, and then you can tell me about it. If you want to. …But I'm not giving your credit back anytime soon. Did you realise you've spent two years of your salary in the past six weeks?"
"…I just - bought a few things I thought she'd like?" he said, voice not quite a whimper.
"Well, at these prices, I hope she did."
"I haven't given her any-" Clef started, and cut himself off, not quite daring to look at Aveo.
She sighed, again. "Right. Tea. Then we will talk."
Clef just hoped the tea was going to be strong enough to get him through this.