The gloves are one long piece that loops up and over the shoulder and down again to their traitor hands to blunt their claws. They’re tied on with a complicated knot that hangs low between the shoulder blades. It had been a lock, at first, but that made things worse, rather than better; they picked at the gloves until the tips wore away. As it was, the patters couldn’t reach the knots on their own, but they didn’t need authority to peel off the gloves, only affection and trust, and none of them had that.

None of them except two.

They meet at night. There’s no hierarchy in the cloister, no guards to hiss them back to safer rest, but even so they want privacy. One old, one young, like all patters they do not make eye contact, do not look at each other. They sit on the rim of the dry fountain, all nerves, and take turns loosening the knot, tugging the thick leather off their arms. Their arms are wrinkled and odorous and untouched by the sun.

Their hands twist and rise toward their faces, towards the ravaged skin of their cheeks, the ragged scars of their ears, the straggling clumps of their hair. The young one catches the old one’s hands; the old one catches the young one’s hands. They sit, quivering, tense, fingers curved as tight as talons, in the moonlight, on the fountain’s edge, among the weeds, thus, for hours, until the sun begins to rise.

They retie the knots and depart, without faces, without names, bonded together in blood deeper than bone.