The protector did not have a name.
They had been given many names, usually whatever had taken their charge’s fancy at the time. Sir Bearington, The Majestic Teddy, Mr Snuggles, My Bear… the list went on.
He did not mind, for names had little bearing on who he was, at the core of his being: a protector of the ‘We Protect Kids From Monsters Association’.
There was one duty; to protect the children they watched over from the monsters in cupboards and under beds, coming to life at night when the monsters came out to hunt. Humans saw his loose stuffing and fading fur as signs of age, but the protector wore his battle scars proudly.
There was one unbreakable rule; that adults must never see them carry out their duty, and could never know the truth.
From the moment an exhausted new mother had placed him in the arms of the tiny infant who had become his charge, he had protected her, and she had repaid that protection with an outpouring of love and an odd kind of loyalty, such as a human could give.
Unlike most, the protector’s charge had not given him away or passed him onto another child when she grew older. The protector had stayed with his charge through the years, drenched with her tears when she was bullied and he was the only one she never feared judgement from, clung to for comfort when shifting hormones or surfing the crimson tide became too much, and tucked against her side as a grounding force as she struggled with assignments.
His charge had not needed protecting from monsters when she grew up, monsters losing interest once children passed a certain age. Still, he had stayed, unwilling to abandon his beloved charge while she still needed him.
He had endured being stuffed in a carry-on when she travelled, unwilling to leave him behind and acted as security when she was scared and in an unfamiliar place. He had watched over her when she fell in love, confidant to her hopes and fears, comforted her when she nursed a broken heart. She had not married, preferring a de facto partnership that lasted for decades, and they had decided against children, but the protector stayed with her throughout all of it.
Even now, with his charge withering in age, he stayed. She was sick more often, now, and needed him to comfort her, especially when she had to go to the sterile white place, filled with harsh smells and never truly quiet enough for the solitude and silence his charge needed to refresh her energy.
One fool had told her that her emotional need to be alone was all in her head. The protector had bent the rules, placing himself, un-noticed, in exactly the right spot to make the fool trip and spill his coffee on the night round, without enough time to make another cup. No-one threatened to call his charge mentally incompetent simply because she loved him.
The protector knew that he would have a new charge, soon. Perhaps his charge’s partner, clinging to a reminder of her until they saw each other again, or perhaps the great-niece who was expecting a child of their own soon. But until that day came, he stayed, faithful and watchful.
One night, the protector came to life.
Not the watchful awareness that he had maintained for so many years, but springing to life, ready for battle. Something was coming, something he had never faced before, something dangerous and malicious and deadly.
The protector armed himself, not with material objects, but with things so much stronger and more powerful. Years of unconditional love formed his shield, duty and devotion in equal measure were forged into a weapon more potent than any blade. He took up his post, ready to defend his charge from anything that came for her.
He knew the risks. His charge slept lightly these days, constant aches and pains keeping her from the peaceful rest she had once enjoyed. While she was still his ‘kid’, she was also an adult, and could never know the truth of the WPKFMA.
He did not care. She was his kid, and he would protect her.
The battle was long and fierce, the monster an unknown that sought the souls of the elderly before death came to claim them. It was loud, loud enough that the protector feared his charge would wake, and draining; the shield of love and blade of devotion beginning to falter by the time the protector stood victorious over his foe.
He turned, ready to slip back under her arm, and froze.
His charges eyes were open, and a figure shrouded in black stood beside her. Her smile was weak, her arms trembling as she reached out to him for what the protecter knew would be the last time. “It’s all right, my brave warrior. You have not failed.”
She had known, the protector realised. She had always known, never truly relinquishing the belief that children clung to, the knowledge that the being they clutched in sleep would protect them. Now she was thanking him in the only way she could, sacrificing herself so that he could continue to do for others what he had once done for her.
He let her draw him into her arms, cradled like the child she never bore, his soft head tucked under her chin, safe in her own protective embrace.
Her hold grew limp, a sleep from which she would never wake, eternally secure from monsters that would never bother her again, and she slipped away, into a forever-dream where the protector could never follow.
In the darkness, triumphant in what would be his most important victory, an old Teddy Bear wept.