The sky was growing darker, the chill of the air adding to the cold that seeped into them from the snowdrift they had been "misplaced" upon.
The warmth of a child's tight arms still lingered in their fur, melting the snow slightly. Ugh, the damp would take days to get rid of, at this rate! They wanted nothing more than to stand up and start tracking their child, but there were still too many witnesses about. Those who had left childhood, and childhood beliefs, behind them could never know the truth.
Some knew, or at least suspected, of course.
All children knew that their stuffed animals were there to protect them. From monsters under the bed. From nightmares. From fears and lonliness.
From other monsters, human ones, who looked at children and saw a defenceless victim. The Protectors of Childhood thwarted them, as much as they were able.
Items knocked over, alerting the other residents of the house to a disturbance. An obstacle to trip over, giving the child time to wake and evade. Accusing eyes, gleaming in the night, not letting them shy away from the evil they planned to do.
That was why the bear was so frequently "misplaced".
Mr Snuggles, as they had been titled in their latest iteration, had done a very good job of thwarting those who would harm their child, sweet little Jessica. Her heartbroken wails as her parents bore her away, promising to come back and look later, amid false reassurances that she was getting too old for stuffed toys anyway, had been dreadful to hear.
The chilling smirk of the one who had blocked Jessica's view of her Protector, who followed her parents once their child was too far away to see them, had been dreadful in an entirely different fashion.
There was power in Belief. Magic in the unconditional love of a child. Much as a loyal pet would go to any lengths to return home, so there was nothing that could truly keep away a Protector.
Finally, all eyes were turned away from Mr Snuggles, and they let their child's Despair summon them across time and space, to appear on Jessica's bed moments before she opened the door and moped into her bedroom. The Predator followed, offering to let Jessica cuddle them to fall asleep instead.
Mr Snuggles reached out with his power to nudge the door, making it swing hard enough for the handle to impact the Predator's hip painfully. The use of their power made Mr Snuggles more noticable, but that couldn't be helped, and wasn't entirely a bad thing.
The Predator stopped short with a baffled exclamation, while Jessica rushed forward with a glad cry, snatching Mr Snuggles up and hugging them tightly.
The Predator backed off, thwarted again for now, but Mr Snuggles remained vigilant. They would try again; Predators always did. They called themselves incapable of stopping, unable to resist, but their actions were deliberate. They would not stop, until they were forced to.
For as long as Jessica believed she needed him to be safe, Mr Snuggles would be there.
Jessica settled into her bed, pulling up the blankets and closing her eyes, Mr Snuggles held loosely in the crook of one arm. Each child was unique, special, treasured... yet their duty toward them was always the same.
The names of those they had watched over stretched back in his memory. Jessica, Morgan, David, Esther, Frank, Astrid, Maya, Chelsea, Benjamin, Will, Maud, Neville... hundreds of children, over dozens of different forms.
Those children had loved them, and they had repaid that love with protection and safety, for as long as they were kept.
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