It’s hard to put aside the habits of a lifetime.

I’ve made a good living for myself largely by taking advantage of the habits of others, but even my own habits make themselves felt. I try to guard against them, to avoid being outwitted in my own trade; sometimes, though, it seems safe enough to indulge.

Not personally, not this time. But there was a certain nostalgic thrill in sending a group of juniors to raid one particular warehouse, where certain goods from one specific formerly-wealthy home had wound up. The prize was certainly unusual for us, but it had sentimental value for me, and besides, sometimes it does the junior thieves good to shake up their expectations a little.

It was an easy job, but I wasn’t stingy. Even if there wasn’t a buyer but me, that was no reason to expect any Silken Glove to do charity work. It was money I could have used to buy that same prize, maybe twice over. But it was the principle of the thing.

Anyway, they’d got it back to our corner of the Warrens with surprisingly little fuss, considering it took all three of them just to carry that one package with anything resembling speed. Nobody in the Warrens tangles with the Silken Glove, not anymore. Not if they know what’s good for them, which is, generally, being on our good side.

The package was safely delivered to my den, waiting for me when I got back from a few negotiations with old “Honest” Fergus. I didn’t open it right away; I wanted to relish in that moment. I took a trip to the fountain, first, washing off. For this, I wanted to be… fresh.

Especially if what I thought might happen, did.

There I stood, next to the big burlap bundle, studying how it had been wrapped. I pushed it over so that one particular run of twine was on top, and ran my fingers along that cord. Yes. That would do it right.

Even fresh out of a bath, I had a knife at my thigh – the same knife I’d been given after my first job with the Silken Glove. It had been a constant companion over the years, and it was with me still as I sliced the twine. Cords and plain burlap fell away, and deep blue silk spilled out in an untidy, rumpled spread.

A bit ostentatious, one might think, to line the little hollow of stone that served as my bed. There was enough of it that three of me could have stretched out on it with room to spare and none of us feeling hard stone underneath it. Sure, it had a few tears here and there, but those tears were part of what gave it character.

I’d put in a good night already; I could afford to sprawl for a while. But I kept my knife in hand, tucked under the bolt of silk that served as my pillow.

The expected visitor showed up, but not unannounced as I’d been expecting; one of the juniors tapped on the door, eased it open slightly, then said, in that strained way they do when they’re trying not to see their boss good-as-naked, “Uh, Boss? Rathirr? There’s, um, someone here to see you. From…”

“From the Silent Step?” I concluded. “Did she volunteer what she needed?” The rule was that my people didn’t ask questions if our allies came on business, but if those allies offered some clues about what they wanted, it could make things a little easier. In this case, I doubted my visitor would have done it.

“How did – uh, no, Boss.”

“Let her right in,” I said, and sat up, slipping my knife back into its sheath and tapping my clawtips on the pommel stone.

Moments later, my guesses were confirmed.

She looked now much like she had then, the first time I’d encountered this array of blue silk – stacked a fair bit more neatly, that time. Head to toe in black, veiled in the usual manner of the Silent Step, with only a strip of her face showing, complete with brown eyes.

“You scheming little barn-cat,” she said without preamble.

“It’s a pleasure to see you too, Kyleena,” I greeted with a smile, and gestured to the spot beside me. “Come make yourself comfortable.”

“I’ll bet you’d like that,” the woman drawled, crossing her arms. “How did you know? I didn’t breathe a word to anyone before I picked two and  brought them across town!”

“It was my boys that found that manifest in the first place, remember? As soon as I saw that one house on the list, I knew you’d be after this – for the same reasons I was.” I grinned. “Though I can’t help but wonder what you’d have done, if I’d come to visit you afterwards, instead.”

“And what, aside from putting it to the same use we did then, did you have in mind?”

“Simple enough, Kyleena.” I lay back; partly to let her get a good look – yeah, I’m a bit vain, but with fur like mine, well-suited to my line of work, I think I can afford to be – and partly just to relax. “We’ve been working well together for a few years now. What would you say to a closer alliance, hmm? Merge our resources officially, with less of this running back and forth. You and me,” I coaxed. “Making all our plans right here – or in grander quarters, if you think it’s time we moved up again.”

She laughed, pushing back her hood and tugging away her veil in one motion, giving her golden hair a shake to let its braid settle neatly between her shoulders. “When,” she asked, settling in beside me, “have I ever minded this place, Rathirr?” One gloved finger slid over my loincloth, following the line of my manhood. “Mm. An interesting proposal. Why don’t you convince me?”

With two sets of deft hands in play, it didn’t take long to get her raiment out of the way. And then I did my best to be as convincing as I possibly could.