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a cunning plan

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Ascot had got used to borrowing books from Clef's personal library, over the years - he'd been doing it for a while without knowing back when Clef first started handing over books with a 'this might be interesting - take as long as you want to have a look, no one else needs it right now'. Several years on, he now knew that was because they came off the shelves in Clef's study and he could lend them however he wished, because he owned them.

It had taken a while to get comfortable with it, but clef had eventually insisted enough that Ascot now felt free to wandering into Clef's office to return his books, and find something new - often there was a pile of one or two on the ends of the shelves with a note for him (He could usually read the note too, unless Clef had been particularly sleep-deprived when he wrote it. Ascot's reading was much better than it had been, but Clef's handwriting was terrible.)

Today, he pushed the door open and froze two steps inside. Ferio, hands full of tea bags, stared back at him - Clef was nowhere to be seen.

"This isn't what it looks like," Ferio said - and then the door thumped shut behind Ascot.

"Uh," Ascot said, looking at the tea bags. "It's... not?"

Ferio blinked at him. "What does it look like?"

"Like you're stealing Clef's tea bags."

"...Okay, so it is what it looks like," Ferio said. "He isn't sleeping. Again. If I steal all his tea, at least it'll be harder to keep himself awake, he won't be able to just drug himself out of exhaustion."

Tilting his head, Ascot frowned at the jar of tea Ferio had opened. "But that won't work," he pointed out. "He'll just go to the kitchens for more."

Ferio's shoulders slumped as he deflated. "I know," he muttered, dropping into Clef's chair - it was the only one not covered in papers and books. "I just don't know what else to do."

"You should leave him the tea bags that aren't wakeful," Ascot continued, and Ferio's head came back up. "If he can't find any tea, he'll leave, but if he has one or two options - it's a long way to the kitchens if you don't have to go?"

"…Oh! You're right," Ferio said it as though Ascot had announced some divine revelation. "Quick- I don't drink much tea. I don't know what half of these are. Help me sort them?"

Dropping his small stack of books by the shelves, Ascot came over, and started picking through the jar with Ferio, showing him which of the teas would keep you awake and which were safe. They stood looking at the jar once it was redone - Ferio had shoved the others in a bag he'd hidden inside his tunic, just in case Clef walked in on them.

"Of course, he might have some on him…" Ascot said, thinking of the sheer number of storage gems on Clef's usual clothing - not to mention his staff.

Ferio bumped his shoulder to Ascot's. "Think positive! If he kept them all there, he wouldn't have a jar in here. Anyway, we've done something. Thanks for the help!" He wandered off and left Ascot to shelve his books and hunt out the next treatise on summoning Clef had mentioned.

He glanced at the jar again before he left, hesitating. And that night when he started to get tired, he excused himself and wandered along to Clef's study instead of to bed, knocking and waiting for an invitation before going in.

Clef was surrounded by paperwork, dark shadows under his eyes, and Ferio was right - he must have stopped sleeping enough again. But the tea by his elbow was a sweet, calming blend - one of the ones Ascot and Ferio had left.

Looking up, Clef raised an eyebrow, and pointed at the pot. "Should I ask if this was something to do with you, too?" he asked, wryly.

Ascot shrugged, and made his ways to the window seat at the side of the room, quietly moving a few things until there was space to sit. He did so, not daring to look at Clef, and got out the book he'd borrowed that afternoon to start reading.

After ten minutes of silence, Clef set down his pen with a sigh. "Not that I mind the company, but - why are you here?"

Taking a breath, Ascot did his level best to channel Ferio's confidence - or Caldina's. "You said I was welcome in here anytime it's not locked up for the night?"

"...Yes?" Clef said, slowly.

Ascot shrugged. "You haven't locked up yet," he said, and turned back to his book, trying to pretend he couldn't feel his ears burning.

He kept reading, though he was slowly getting tired enough the words made no sense - and he couldn't stop yawning. It was probably less than an hour until Clef's hand on his shoulder roused him from a light doze.

"You win," Clef said, sounding rueful. "Come on, I'll lock up, and you can get to bed."

"And you?" Ascot said around a yawn, unfolding his legs.

Clef gave him a hand to get up. "And I'll go to bed too," he promised, with a huff of laughter. "Between you and Ferio, I don't see I have much choice."

"Good," Ascot said, too tired to censor himself. "Sleep well."

"You too, Ascot."

He did.