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you'll meet me halfway

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“Your footwork is all wrong,” Arthur says, “have you been listening to anything I've been saying?”

Morgana glares at him. “Maybe if you weren't such a bad teacher-”

“I'm a great teacher, you're just a bad student!”

Morgana swings her sword, clumsy, but it catches Arthur off-guard, hits him on the shoulder and knocks him back. If it weren't made merely out of wood, it would have done some serious damage.

Ow,” Arthur says, because he isn't too proud to pretend it doesn't hurt, yet. “See if I try and help you ever again.”

“I didn't ask you to help me,” Morgana snaps back, and it's true, she didn't. She just sulked for a full week after Uther told her that just because Arthur had started sword training didn't mean that she would, too, even if she was a year older – and a year is a lifetime when you're a child. (To be fair, Arthur probably would've sulked too, but he wouldn't have snapped at Morgana when asked what was wrong, wouldn't have been angry with her if it wasn't even her fault.) “You don't know what you're doing, either.”

“I know your footwork's wrong,” Arthur says, and Morgana lunges at him again. Arthur's prepared for it this time, so he parries easily. “Better, but it could still be more graceful.”

“I'll show you graceful,” Morgana snarls, and Arthur grins.

*

“Okay,” Arthur says, knocked to the ground, blunt end of Morgana's sword at his throat, “you're getting better, you're getting better, could you get that thing away from me? I am trying to breathe, here.”

*

In hindsight, it's a terrible plan. It's not much of a plan, is the problem; neither of them got beyond figuring out an admittedly foolproof way to sneak out of the castle, unseen, and into the smithy.

“Great,” Morgana says, flipping down the hood of her cloak, “now what?”

Arthur's only been here once, with Uther, and it was purely for ceremonial purposes; he has absolutely no idea where they keep the swords.

“They're over there,” he says, gesturing vaguely at the corner.

Morgana gives him a dubious look, but pads in the direction he indicated without comment. It's too dark to really see, anyway; she won't be able to tell he's bluffing.

The two of them are feeling around, trying to find something that feels vaguely sword-like, when something crashes to the ground. Arthur winces. Before he can hiss at Morgana, because obviously this is all her fault, the smithy's lit up by the light of a candle, and Arthur whirls around.

“What are you doing in- oh.” The girl stops abruptly and dips her body in an approximation of a curtsey. It'd probably be less clumsy, Arthur grants, if she weren't holding a candle in one hand and a sword in the other. “My lady, my lord.”

It's the blacksmith's daughter. Arthur doesn't remember the blacksmith's name, but he remembers Gwen, helping her father at the forge, shyly introducing herself when Uther's gaze had lighted on her. He clears his throat.

“We're here on, uh, official business,” he says, and Morgana snorts. “You explain, then, I'm awful at lying.”

“I need a sword,” Morgana says, matter-of-fact. “Uther isn't to know about it.”

Gwen looks between them. Arthur can't quite make out the expression on her face just from the candlelight, but he's pretty sure it's more than a little amused.

“I'll make you a sword,” she says, after a moment, “if you'll let me train with you.”

Arthur glances at Morgana, sceptical. Morgana shrugs. “Just because your father's a blacksmith,” he says, very reasonably, he thinks, “doesn't mean you'll be any good at it.”

“Just because your father's a king doesn't mean you'll be any good at it,” Gwen counters, and Arthur flushes hot and red.

“She makes an excellent point,” Morgana says, and when Arthur whips his head around to glare at her, she's smirking. “Gwen, is it? You have yourself a deal.”

*

There will be tales written about Arthur, that he is sure of. He's going to be a great king, the best ever, and stories of his adventures and achievements will go down in history. He's keeping track of the kinds of things he wants written down, and he would like it on record that Morgana is the worst sister in the world, never mind that she's not his actual sister.

“You're telegraphing your movements too much,” Gwen is saying, to Arthur, like she has any right, like she has any authority over him.

“She's right,” Morgana says, all fake concern, like she isn't thoroughly enjoying this. “Though it doesn't help that you always move the same way.”

Arthur inhales, trying not to lose his temper. That would only worsen the indignity of this. “We're training,” he says, through his teeth. “I'm teaching you.”

“And you're an excellent teacher, sire,” Gwen says, but it doesn't sound like it should, like it would coming from anyone else of her station. Arthur scowls.

“Again,” he says to Morgana. “Without the showing off, this time.”

“I am not showing off,” Morgana says. She's totally showing off, flourishing Gwen's newly-made sword in her hands. It's sickening, honestly. Arthur is sickened.

Again,” he repeats, and they start over.

*

It was inevitable, really, that one or both of them would get injured, especially once they moved to proper swords. Arthur is still unprepared for the way his chest crumples when he catches Morgana's arm, tears open the sleeve of her dress. Morgana doesn't scream, doesn't drop her sword, just clutches at her arm and lets out a long, low hiss.

Arthur's own sword drops to the ground. There's blood on the end of it. Morgana's blood is on his sword.

“Morgana,” he says, and doesn't recognise his own voice.

“I'm fine,” she says. “Keep going.”

Morgana,” he repeats.

Morgana doesn't say anything, but Arthur sees the fight go out of her. He takes the unspoken permission to go over to her, holding her arm as gently as he can in order to examine the damage. The cut doesn’t run that deep, but there's still blood everywhere. Morgana's dress is probably ruined. Arthur tears a strip off his shirt, ruining it, too; they'll think of something to tell Uther after he's fixed this.

“You don't need to do this,” Morgana says as Arthur winds the fabric around her arm, clumsy and unpractised. Arthur scowls at her, but says nothing. “Honestly, you're making such a fuss over nothing.”

Arthur isn't like Uther. He knows Morgana isn't a doll, made out of fine china, always a hair away from shattering. Of course she's strong. Of course she can handle what amounts to a graze from the lessons she wanted in the first place.

But he hurt her. He has to be responsible for that.

“Nothing like the fuss that'll be made when you're seen in this state,” he points out.

Morgana heaves a very put-upon sigh, but also sits very still while he secures her makeshift bandage, makes sure it's tight enough to slow the bleeding. He doesn't apologise, and she doesn't thank him, but they don't need to say it out loud. It hangs in the air between them, starker than the sharp red still trickling down Morgana's arm.

*

“What on earth,” Uther says, his eyes saucers as he takes in the stained scrap of Arthur's shirt around Morgana's tattered sleeve, Arthur and Morgana's matching states of disarray. “Somebody explain what happened here, immediately.”

They turn their heads to look at each other, simultaneous.

“Horse-riding,” Arthur says.

“I fell,” Morgana adds cheerfully. “Cut my arm open on a rock, it was a terrible business. Thankfully Arthur was there to make it even worse.”

“I helped,” Arthur says, doesn't even have to fake the indignation.

“I see,” Uther says, like he very much does not see, but he lets them go without any more questioning and only a little more fussing.

“Tomorrow?” Morgana says, once they're safely out of Uther's earshot, and Arthur grins, says, “Tomorrow.”