Throughout his life, Arthur has had one constant, a companion who had seen every smile and every tear – and later, every rage against the hand he’d been dealt. The first picture of them together was when Arthur was barely an hour old, lying in his mother’s arms with Bear resting against the tiny bundle of newborn baby boy.
It had been Bear who’d kept him warm whilst his mother died mere hours later. It had been Bear who’d given him comfort whilst his father cried over Igraine’s body. Bear became the centre of Arthur’s world for those first few years.
Uther Pendragon had done his best to hold his son and revel in him, but he was the spitting image of his mother and after barely a handful of weeks, Uther couldn’t cope with the constant reminder of his wife’s death. He loved his son, but the pain was just too raw. Instead, he threw himself into work, a live-in nanny caring for Arthur, Uther’s old friend Gaius taking much of the burden too.
And, of course, throughout it all, Bear was never very far from Arthur.
The first year had started out being relatively easy for Uther to come and go, occasionally holding his son in tense and awkward arms, but as time passed and Arthur grew, Uther found himself pulled, once more, in too many directions. His grief was still raw, but as Arthur developed, he could no longer pretend he was just some new possession. The baby laughed and smiled, he cried and screamed, and from a distance, Uther loved his son more than his own life – but only ever from a distance.
Arthur’s first word had been ‘Bear’. It had happened on one of the rare occasions that Uther was around and the surprise had broken through the cold wall he kept between them. To an onlooker, their relationship was strange. They were father and son, no doubt about that, but Arthur treated him like a strange visitor when he came home – for he knew no different. As for Uther, it was tentative, like speaking to the child of a friend.
It became clear, however, that a drastic change was needed in their dynamic when Arthur began to learn more and more words.
His first had not been a surprise to anyone, but not many knew that his second had been ‘Gice’ – as he frantically struggled to reach his father’s friend one day. Fewer still knew that he didn’t learn ‘Daddy’ – or any variation upon the word – until after he knew the names of all the objects in the front room.
That fact was not the sole reason Uther changed his attitude. It had been with a great deal of shame and regret he felt when he discovered that whenever Arthur was hurt or scared or upset, his son screamed for Bear. Other children at his nursery called for their mothers or fathers, but the Pendragon boy screamed for his teddy. Uther was only glad that he was rarely the one to face the reproachful looks of the women working there.
He did, however, manage to force himself change nearly everything about his routine. He started by cutting back his hours – which were extremely excessive – and taking days off. At first, that spare time was spent with Gaius in the background, connecting with his son. It had taken several heartbreaking and tiring weeks before Arthur began treating Uther as a father, turning to him for food or sweets instead of Gaius.
The real turning point had been one Saturday, when Gaius was visiting friends for the weekend, and Uther had to look after the two year old Arthur alone. The toddler had been suspicious at first, but Uther had soon learned that when Arthur got quiet, he was plotting something. As it was, that day his son was planning to put all his play dough into Uther’s shoes and see what happened. Uther had cried out in surprise and leapt away from the offending footwear, only to hear peals of delighted giggling from behind the sofa he was sitting on.
In a fit of exuberance, he’d pounced on Arthur and dug him out, holding him tightly under one arm and carrying him through to the kitchen. Bear swung from Arthur’s hand as he flailed and giggled happily. Uther sat him heavily on a kitchen counter and found himself completely at a loss as to what to do. The moment was saved, however, as Arthur shoved his teddy straight into Uther’s face.
“Bear.” He said by way of introduction. Uther raised an eyebrow before going along with it and shaking one of Bear’s paws.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Bear.” He’d said with a smile that reached far further into him than any had for a long time. Arthur had simply beamed at him.
The rest of the day had been spent watching cartoons and helping Arthur colour. Before Uther realised it, Arthur was nodding asleep, sprawled against him on the sofa. He’d weighed the merits of waking Arthur to bathe him against just letting him sleep and decided, almost immediately, that missing a bath wouldn’t hurt. They would tackle that obstacle the next evening.
Instead, he’d shifted the slipping boy into his arms – Bear, as ever, still firmly grasped in his little hand – and taken him up to his room where he’d carefully manoeuvred Arthur into his pyjamas and tucked him in bed. Uther himself went to bed several hours and a glass of wine later and woke the next morning with his face pressed against unruly blond hair and something soft and fluffy tucked under his chin.
When Arthur was eight, Morgana Le Fay passed into Uther’s care after her parents, some of Uther’s closest friends, died in a car crash. She was a year older than him and seemed extremely distant. Arthur had decided, almost straight away, that she shouldn’t find out about Bear. She was quiet and unresponsive and spent a lot of time in her room reading or drawing. Over the first few months, Arthur would peer round her door and ogle at her – “but she’s a girl!” – but she eventually caught on and pinged rubber bands at him with a scowl. He’d duck away and the whole interaction would pass without a single word.
Arthur succeeded in keeping Bear hidden for about five months. It wasn’t until one day in the summer holidays when Morgana had been out in the garden climbing the trees and Arthur had jumped out at her with a yell. She’d fallen off the branch she was sitting on with a shriek and hadn’t been able to stop herself from bursting into tears, clutching at a couple of deep scrapes down her arm. She’d pushed the suddenly guilt-ridden Arthur away at first but finally let him help her to her feet and back into the house.
Gaius had looked up from where he was reading the newspaper with stern look at Arthur, who dipped his head and rushed off upstairs. He grabbed Bear from his hiding place beneath a pile of cushions on his bed and clutched him tightly as he ventured back downstairs. He edged into the front room, where Gaius was washing and dressing Morgana’s scratches and grazes, and shuffled over to Morgana who only looked at him reproachfully.
“This is Bear.” He said, shoving Bear at Morgana, who just looked at him like he was mad. “Bear’s good with hurt people.”
Arthur tried to shrug off Morgana’s lack of response and just placed him down on the sofa next to her, running off before she could say something sharp or mean about the fact that he was eight and still had a teddy. Back in the front room, she’d just looked at Gaius. The man had chuckled and wiped out the last of the dirt from her grazes. “Bear’s a very important part of this family and Arthur’s very protective of him.”
“Oh, right.” Morgana said finally, not really thinking of anything else to say. Instead, she picked up Bear and studied him.
He was a bit taller than two of Gaius’ hands and made from soft golden fur, with a pale blue nose and a matching ribbon around his neck. The fur was mostly matted down through age and use and his ears were slightly more threadbare. He was squashy and stuffed, with a little bit of weight in his bum and each of his paws. Just from looking at it, Morgana could tell that the teddy was very important. She brought him up to her face and sniffed at the top of his head. Bear smelled just like favourite toys did, just like her rabbit upstairs and tucked in her bed.
When Gaius had finished, she thanked him and hoped up, easing herself upstairs and walking straight into Arthur’s room. He was sitting sullenly on the floor, half-heartedly scribbling at a colouring book. When he looked up, Morgana saw how worried he was. Carefully, she crossed the room and settled Bear down next to his crayons and smiled shyly at him – perhaps for the first time.
“Thank you.” She said gently, lingering for a moment before hurrying back out of the room. Arthur looked at Bear and smiled, pulling the teddy to him and settling him in his lap. It had been another successful mission from the daring duo of Arthur and Bear.
When Arthur was eleven and just about to go to secondary school, he and Bear came to an agreement. Arthur would never get rid of Bear and Bear would still go on all his holidays and would still be his number one, but in turn, Bear had to sometimes stay with Morgana. It wasn’t anything personal, but Arthur didn’t want to be labelled as a wimp at his new school. Bear could stay with him all the time, unless someone came over – then it was off to Morgana’s room.
This arrangement worked well all through secondary school and the only nights Arthur ever spent away from Bear were sleepovers and the school trips he went on. He refused to risk Bear’s safety and Bear always understood and was always waiting for him to come home.
Arthur’s room evolved as he grew up, going from trains and dinosaurs, to sci-fi shows and aliens, to rock bands and films. The one constant throughout it all was Bear, though there had been a stage where Morgana had been determined to rename him, but somehow, he always ended up as ‘Bear’ again and Arthur’s world felt put to rights.
With the music and the films came girls and even the one guy. As when Morgana had first arrived, Arthur instinctively knew that none of them would ever be allowed to see Bear, he was too important for that. When he left home for university, it was a no brainer to take Bear with him, but he was kept in a drawer of Arthur’s bedside cabinet that could be locked. Bear stayed there for almost all of the term time, occasionally being brought out for company or to remember.
Where Bear had started out as a comforter to the baby who had nothing else, he became the best friend and confident to a little boy. They fought imaginary battles and, in Arthur’s mind, he needed nothing more. Hours upon hours were spent making up stories, or drawing out adventures until Arthur realised that he didn’t have the time anymore. As his interests changed, so did the role Bear played. By the time Arthur was at University, he’d become the sturdy, physical reminder of his mother’s love for him. He may never have known her, but to Arthur, Bear represented everything.
He could sit for hours, thumbs rubbing over Bear’s stomach as he held him in his lap and just looked at him. He didn’t do that so often at university; he didn’t trust people not to just barge into his room. He supposed it was stupid to think of a stuffed toy as such a precious thing, but it was one of the few things that he knew for certain his mother had given to him. There were other things that his father had said would be his in time, but none of them had as much love as Bear did. Gaius had once told him the story of Igraine picking it out. Bear had sat in the empty nursery for weeks and Igraine would go in and sit on the rocking chair, cradling her unborn baby and the gift she would give him when he arrived.
Arthur could almost picture the scene, similar to a photograph of his mother, hugely pregnant, sitting at the bay window in the nursery and staring out into a golden sun. It was a memory he wished he’d had first hand, but the photograph was better than nothing. He wished he’d known the woman who had enraptured the harsh and often cold-fronted man his father had always been. She must have been incredible – his father had even taken photos. Photos! Uther Pendragon had been hopelessly and utterly devoted to a woman and such a feat made Arthur marvel – especially as he was more than a little convinced that his father’s heart remained closed to all others, including himself. He had Arthur and Morgana, Gaius and his work and he’d never expressed the remotest of interests in another woman.
These were all things Arthur thought of as he looked at Bear and rubbed at his fur.
By the time he’d taken a job at his father’s firm and worked his way up to a respectable position, Bear was looking a little sorry for himself. One of his ears was hanging half off after Arthur had worried at it enough to loosen the thread and, in his infinite stupidity, pulled at the stray end. His nose and the ribbon round his neck were closer to grey now than blue and there was a split seam somewhere along his leg. Arthur had attempted to sew him up as best as he could and proceeded to be very careful with him now.
He’d once forgotten about his old habits and left Bear nestled under his covers and, after a night out, the girl he was with had found him and started cooing over him, saying how sweet it was that Arthur still had a teddy and how cute he was. Arthur had forced himself not to snatch Bear away and politely told the girl to go, that he had an early meeting and needed sleep. It had taken Arthur a while to stop thinking of Bear as tainted.
From then on, if he was going out of an evening, he would tuck Bear into his chest of drawers, nestled safely amongst his hoodies and jumpers. It seemed that people just loved to get the wrong impression of him. Arthur was not, by any means, a sentimental guy and nor was he a wimp. He wasn’t a thug but he didn’t let people walk all over him. He played football and he drank far too much Guinness of a night out and an important and significant item to him just so happened to be a teddy.
In the four years since he’d moved to his flat after university, Arthur had dated three people. There had been Sofia at first, who’d lasted several months. He’d thought he was in love with her until it became very clear that she only saw him as a trophy. After her, there was Leon. They’d been more ‘friends with benefits’ and it had been good for a while, but he’d moved to France for a year and neither had cried over the lack of physical contact and they’d returned to being good friends when Leon returned home. The latest of his relationships had been with Gwen and had lasted nearly two years. Gwen had been perfect for him in so many ways, but there had always been some sort of divide between them. She hadn’t gone to an especially great university and her degree hadn’t been anything to yell about. Whilst she was immensely intelligent, there always seemed to be a feeling in Arthur that she was just submitting to him.
At one point though, Arthur had gone to Uther to discuss his mother’s engagement and wedding rings - he’d been told many years ago that he could have them for the woman he wanted to marry – but when he came away unsure, he knew that he wouldn’t be spending his life with Gwen, no matter how much he loved her.
As with Leon, they’d parted ways but they stayed in touch, mostly thanks to Morgana, who’d introduced them in the first place. Arthur saw Gwen and his would-be sister – for over the years, they’d become as close as any biological siblings – on a regular basis, and he was always surprised by how little it hurt to see Gwen happy with another man. Lancelot occasionally met with them too but was always worried about getting in the way, considering the history between Gwen and Arthur. It had taken a firm conversation with the man to make him realise that he wasn’t unwanted – rather the opposite in fact. Arthur had never wanted anything other than Gwen’s happiness and Lancelot was clearly giving it to her.
Of all the people who were in or had passed through his life, only a handful knew the origins of Bear. Naturally, his father and Gaius knew and it was Gaius who’d told Arthur himself the tale. Arthur suspected Morgana knew, though not because of him and he frequently cursed her smooth tongue and beseeching eyes that worked on Gaius every time.
Sophia hadn’t even known of Bear’s existence and neither had Leon. Gwen did, but only by accident. She’d been looking for a jumper as the heating had broken and had found Bear nestled in his drawer. She’d confessed to Arthur, who’d just smiled slightly and, when she asked him why Bear was special later that evening as they lay curled up on the sofa, he’d just shrugged and said Bear had been his first toy. She’d not pushed the matter, but he could tell she knew there was more to the story. Arthur was not the sentimental type, after all.
When considering the terrifying protective streak Arthur had when it came to Bear, it came as a surprise to him when he met Merlin. They’d been at the same pub and were both mildly drunk. They’d been kissing like teenagers for what felt like hours and it had been a pretty obvious thing for Arthur to pull Merlin back to his flat. Bear was safely hidden and the sex Arthur had that night had been pretty amazing. Merlin had woken up with his hair in all directions and both of them had been quite content for the breakfast process to go slowly.
When Merlin had finally needed to leave, they’d exchanged numbers and a long good-bye kiss and Arthur was certain he would be seeing Merlin again. What he hadn’t expected, however, was for their next meeting to be only a few days later, as Arthur walked home from dinner at a posh restaurant with his father and Morgana. Merlin had been leaving his office building and had quite literally stumbled upon him.
Arthur had caught him by the back of his jumper just as he went flying, steadying him with a grin. The smile on Merlin’s face as he looked up had been stunning. Pleasantries had been exchanged and, having felt that reluctance to leave the conversation, Arthur invited him back to his flat again – having completely forgotten the Bear was nestled between the two sets of pillows on his large bed.
He didn’t remember Bear until the mischievous glint in Merlin’s eye as he came back from the bathroom. He would’ve passed Arthur’s bedroom on the way and Bear would have been obvious against the dark blue bed clothes. Arthur had jumped up and put Bear in his draw before returning to the sofa to find Merlin engrossed in the film on the TV. Nothing was said about Bear and Arthur found himself strangely upset about Merlin’s lack of interest.