As thieves, members of the Troupe often steal outside of heists. They don't require the prerequisite of it being for the boss to motivate them at all; it's only odd for them to steal if it's not for themselves.
That's why Shalnark has been confused about Feitan's behavior recently. Most Spiders aren't exactly nice, but Feitan is definitely one of the cruelest. There's a downright unsettling dissonance, seeing him come home with a cute little figurine for Shalnark and just wordlessly place it on the dresser next to the others. He never even warns Shalnark that he's coming to visit, just shows up sometimes to give him a figure he "happened to find". Shalnark believed him the first few times, but he has to be actively seeking them out by this point.
The fact that Feitan has now been working harder on Shalnark's collection than Shalnark himself also sparks his competitive streak. It's then that he realizes what Feitan's goal is, and figuring it out lifts a weight off his shoulders. So he's not acting weird, just using roundabout methods to get what he wants as per usual. Phinks must be too busy to humor him with contests.
It isn't long before Shalnark's assumption is proven right. He wasn't even thinking about Feitan when he found another piece for his collection, but just when he was seeing off a newly controlled toy to cover for him, he turned back around to find Feitan with the figure in his hand and a taunting look in his eyes. He doesn't say a word, just slips out the way he came, which Shalnark admittedly marvels at because he has no idea how to get inside or out through whatever hole in the ceiling he just left through. Is that a flaw in the building plan or did he make the entrance himself?
Either way, the doll he currently has a needle stuck in now serves no purpose, so he has it escort him back to the front door before yanking it out and pocketing it before anyone can see. Now with its faculties returned, the would-be doll runs after Shalnark, looking all around for him, but he's already gone. He lost this one, so he's not in any mood to stick around longer than he has to.
He expects to just see the figure on his dresser when he gets home, but Feitan is there waiting for him. He doesn't place it until Shalnark is watching, and then he immediately makes to leave.
"For your sake, I won't count anything before this," he stops to say. "So the score is 1-0."
There are only six pieces left, which would make a tie impossible now. Shalnark smiles.
"I guess I'll have to step up my game, huh?"
It isn't like Feitan to go easy in anything he does, but Shalnark feels like his first two points are too easy. He doesn't even see Feitan at either location. Every time he wakes up or goes home, he expects to see him standing in front of that dresser with another figure in hand, but Shalnark doesn't see or hear from Feitan for a month. It actually makes him start to worry.
Under the pretense of taunting Feitan, he texts him the current score as far as he's aware: 1-2. Any response would make him feel better. His anxiety grows when he doesn't get one.
Uvogin and Machi in particular are always getting on Shalnark's case about how he worries too much, but Chrollo has always seemed to appreciate it. He likes seeing his Spiders caring for one another. So, as much as Shalnark doesn't want to bother him over something that probably isn't a big deal, he texts Chrollo asking if he happened to see Feitan recently. He only has to wait a few minutes for the response, but it makes his heart sink.
"You haven't heard from him either?"
At this point, Shalnark is too worried to wait on texts, so he calls Chrollo instead. He learns that Feitan hasn't been keeping contact with anyone for the past three weeks or so, and that nobody seems to know what he's up to. Shalnark tries to run through the possibilities in his head, but he can't think clearly-- not even with the boss reassuring him that Feitan wouldn't just disappear, that he'll turn up eventually.
He puts on his friendliest voice and thanks Chrollo for cheering him up, but he drops the fake smile the second the call ends. For days, he loses sleep over this. He calls Feitan once a day, regretting that none of the Troupe have recorded messages for voicemail because at least then he'd be able to hear Feitan's voice.
Then, Shalnark wakes up on an innocuous Saturday to see Feitan standing at that fucking dresser, totally unharmed and holding another figurine. Shalnark leaps out of bed and swings at him, which Feitan easily dodges.
"What's your problem?" he asks, calm for someone who almost got slugged. "Upset that you're losing?"
A million comebacks run through Shalnark's head, but he short circuits and falls to his knees. He's angry that he was worried over nothing, but he's so incredibly relieved that Feitan is fine. His anger halts when he thinks with a start that he might be dreaming.
"Hit me," he mumbles, voice inhibited slightly by sleep. Feitan doesn't respond, but he tilts his head.
"I tried to punch you, so hit me."
"You missed. Get stronger, then I'll hit you."
Well, that definitely sounds like the real Feitan. Shalnark stands up.
"I was worried about you," he admits. He's still somber until he glances at Feitan's expression. "Hey! What's so funny?!"
"Shalnark is a softie," he teases, way too amused. "Did you cry over me? I bet you cried."
"Shut up, I didn't cry!"
"You cried when I got hit four years ago."
"That was-- okay, first of all, you didn't just "get hit"! You almost died! Besides, I was way younger back then!"
As much as it pisses him off, even hearing Feitan laughing at him is music to Shalnark's ears right now. Feitan quits snickering at him when Shalnark pulls him into a hug.
"Besides, the score is 2-2, asshole," Shalnark informs him. "Where's your phone?"
"Got destroyed. I'll get a new one."
That explains that, then. That possibility did cross Shalnark's mind, but he thought there was no way Feitan wouldn't check in in person over such a long period of time.
"You're gonna tell me what you were up to this whole time," Shalnark demands, since it's obvious. He definitely deserves an explanation for his troubles.
"Why should I listen to you? Bossy."
Christ, now he's going to be stubborn for no reason. Shalnark quickly searches Feitan's pockets and pulls out a spider coin, calling tails as he flips it. It lands on heads. Feitan actually doubles over as he guffaws.
"God damnit, will you just tell me?!"
"I can't! You lost the coin toss!"
"Yes you can! That's not how it works!"
"Nothing can be done!"
Shalnark continues arguing over Feitan's laughter and can't believe himself for wanting to laugh right along with him. In the end, he does love this idiot. It's only when Shalnark sighs and gives up, returning to bed and telling Feitan he can just do whatever he wants, that Feitan relents.
"Not leaving, my legs are killing me," he says as he climbs in next to Shalnark, kicking his boots off as a mere afterthought.
He then starts recounting what happened: that he'd taken an interest in some artifact that turned out to be a myth and ended up butting heads with a woman who was also after it. She was a Transmuter with some water based ability, which was what wrecked Feitan's phone. They both ceased fire when they found out the relic was a sham, and Feitan learned the woman was actually a fence and got her contact info. That was when he noticed his phone was broken, and she quickly snuck away to avoid having to pay for it. Feitan seems somewhat fond of her despite that, and the Troupe could always use more resources.
The rest of the month he was missing for was mainly just him getting distracted often, including by one of Shalnark's figures. He really did just happen upon it this time, and Shalnark finds himself feeling relieved that he wasn't the reason Feitan was missing after all. He's also warmed by the fact that the first thing Feitan did upon his return was come visit Shalnark.
"I'm going back to sleep, but as soon as I get up, you're coming with me to get a new phone. The boss was trying to get ahold of you too-- hey!"
Feitan snatched Shalnark's phone the second he heard Chrollo was asking for him, which Shalnark probably should have seen coming. He turns over in bed in a huff, because he knows Feitan is going to procrastinate replacing his phone in favor of just using Shalnark's. He'll have to go get one for him himself tomorrow. For now, he just listens to Feitan talk to Chrollo, who apparently only wanted to reach him to recommend a book to him. All in all, everything turned out exceedingly mundane.
Just when Shalnark is on the verge of falling asleep, he's pulled back to consciousness by the feeling of Feitan snaking his arms around him. It's been a while since they've shared a bed. Shalnark relaxes, starting to doze off again.
"Softie," he hears murmured into his ear.
He's not living this one down anytime soon, is he?