Just Like the Word 'Escape'

Summary: "Merlin, come out of that dungeon right now, or so help me I will place you under arrest!"

By Kitty O

A/N: Humor. Enjoy it, please. And yes, the title is reference to Finding Nemo. Couldn't help myself. As always, no slash! Later: Reread this. The typos! Oh, the typos! Hopefully it's fixed now.

Arthur spent the day in an odd state of being in which he was simultaneously horrified, terrified, exasperated, and even (to his shock and dismay) a tiny, tiny bit amused.

Because really, only Merlin.

It all started when Arthur woke up in the morning to find that he was missing Merlin. Not that he was longing for the servant's company, of course not, but that he was literally missing him, the same way he might mislay his helmet. Only losing Merlin felt more like losing an arm—he was slightly more attached to it than his helmet. But not attached in an affectionate way. Attached as in help-I'm-connected-to-an-idiot-and-the-worst-part-is-I'm-kinda-getting-used-to-it. Naturally.

And so, grumbling all the while, he got out of bed shirtless and stormed downstairs to find his lazy servant and drag him from his bed and back up to Arthur's room, insisting that he come in and wake the king like he was supposed to. But, most maturely, he did not slam any doors, because honestly, he was the king.

Merlin was not in his bed. He was not on his way to Arthur's chambers. He wasn't under Arthur's bed (not that he was there usually, but this was Merlin and one never knew). He wasn't in the kitchens. The only things in there were agape maids. (At which point Arthur decided wisely to go put on a shirt before further searching for any useless servants.)

The note arrived at approximately mid-morning. It had been given to a peasant walking into Camelot, who had passed it to a guard, who had passed it to a knight, who had given it to the head of household, who decided to give it to Arthur without reading it or explaining the whole lengthy story, because it was addressed to Arthur anyway. What did the rest matter?

Arthur noted the scribbled "Arthur Pendragon" on the front, sat down at the council table by himself, and read it.

"Gwaine!" he called at once, and the nearest knight, fluffy hair and all, came forward and took the offered scrap of paper. He read it and grew pale.

"Ransom note," Arthur said, pursing his lips. The note had outlined a few simple things. Merlin had been out alone last night and jumped and captured, and was now being held against his will unless the following (a heart-stopping amount) was paid, and if the king failed to comply with above command… The rest had just been drivel; threats and detailed plans for a certain brunet, but Arthur hadn't read it. Because it was just crass, and it made his stomach feel strangely.

Gwaine looked up, crumpling the note. "I can't believe this," he said.

"I know," Arthur replied. "What kind of idiot ransoms a servant, anyway?"

Gwaine's eyebrows rose. "You aren't going to pay?"

"Certainly not. I am going to rescue him. You are going to remain behind unless I do not return by twenty-four hours after I left, in which case you will follow after me. And leave someone sensible in charge if it comes to that."

"Rescue him?" Gwaine repeated, since he apparently hadn't heard anything after that. "But you don't even know where he is!"

"On the contrary," said Arthur. "There's only one rogue bandit who would try to play himself off as a king and has an old castle to try to do it with. That must be where Merlin is."

"What man is this?"

There was a pause. Arthur shrugged. "Gaius will know."

And so it was that he spent the next hours preparing to ride out after a useless servant that he really didn't like so much anyhow (really), possibly to get himself killed saving him as if Merlin was some sort of blasted damsel in distress who couldn't care for himself… herself. Arthur thundered out of Camelot, his horse's hoof beats loud against the stone, feeling naked in just his chainmail and no cape. He thought to himself, Merlin, if I die, you're never living this down!

Not that he would live it down anyway.

Arthur found the place easily, as Gaius had promised he would. The castle was crumbling, but still standing tall, ivy growing like sticky children's fingers over the walls. People were milling about; peasants who had decided to start living here with numbers, bandits who worked for that kidnapping bandit-king, and other such riffraff. Arthur ignored them in favor of finding the dungeons discretely.

That shouldn't be too hard, he figured. Discretely was his middle name. Why, no one was more subtle or perceptive than Arthur of Camelot.

Arthur jerked back a little as he slammed into a roughly-garbed woman, who squawked and fell down. He was, after all, in chainmail.

"I'm sorry," he said at once, feeling caddish, helping her to her feet. "I didn't see you."

"My fault," she said, brushing herself off. She was a busty girl, with a brown braid and gray eyes, holding a basket in her hand. Then she looked up at Arthur and blinked. "Oh!" she said. "You're…!"

Arthur slammed his hand over her mouth. Today was not a great day for chivalry, but Arthur couldn't worry about two girls at once. "Shh!" he said. "You can't alert anyone!"

She jerked her head away from his palm, but he didn't let go, so instead she licked him.

He let go, making a disgusted noise of protest.

She didn't seem to care. "Yes," she said, "because the bright silver chainmail is very inconspicuous."

Arthur didn't know the meaning of the word inconspicuous, so he let it go. "I'm looking for the entrance to the dungeons," he said.

She pointed behind herself, wiping her mouth as she did so. "I just came from there," she said. "I assume you're here to rescue your friend?"

"Yes," he found himself saying. "Will that be a problem?"

"No," she replied. "You can go ahead. I see you don't have the ransom, but it's fine—Father's likely forgotten that he stole the man in the first place. If you hadn't come, he'd just sit down there for a while."

"Father?" Arthur repeated, fingering his sword as he started for the entrance to the cave in the side of the castle which seemed to lead to the dungeons. "The bandit is your father?"

"Hm," she agreed, following behind Arthur as he went, happily chatting as Arthur bent his back and prowled inside. "But he's doubtless forgotten. There's a good many of us, you know… Actually, sometimes people who aren't related can get away with things by calling him Father."

Arthur nodded, not paying attention, as he started to the left, still skulking.

"Merlin's that way," she said suddenly.

He began skulking to the right.

Merlin wasn't too hard to find, and the girl followed him the entire way, picking up a torch when they needed it. She seemed happy to let Arthur steal Merlin back, which he was pleased but a little surprised at. Her name, she told him at one point, was Elaine, but she told him that really, she answered to anything, because her Father (during the rare times he recognized that she looked just like him) insisted on calling her Marie. He called most females he was related to Marie.

Arthur thought he sounded fairly loopy.

Merlin sat in a cell of in the corner, leaning back against a wall with his eyes closed and his neckerchief missing. He was probably sleeping, Arthur figured, because Merlin never made anything easy.

"Elaine," he asked, "is there a key to this cell?"

"Certainly," she replied, and went to get him the very thing. "You know," she said, "I wish all people were as prompt about fetching their friends as you are! Sometimes they just get left here, and my sisters and I really can't afford to keep them all. We just let them go after a few years unless Father remembers them or someone comes, but that's fairly embarrassing to the family. It's better if they're rescued." She gave him the key.

At some point in the last few minutes, Merlin had either woken up or simply decided he was tired of resting his eyes, because they opened and the blue spheres in his too-skinny face stared at Arthur and Elaine as they unlocked his cell and opened the door to freedom.

"Merlin!" Arthur cried, happy that he was awake. "Come on, I'm here to rescue you."

"How kind," Merlin replied. "But no, I don't think so."

This was very confusing to the king, because generally when he rescued people, they were simply thrilled about the whole episode. They threw themselves into his arms and everything. Well, generally that was the females, though there had been that one man… The point was that the word "no" did not cross their lips.

"I beg your pardon?" Arthur asked.

Merlin blinked up at him. "I said, I don't think so. With all due respect, I'm rather tired. I think I'll stay here a few more days." He smiled impishly, shifting against the wall. "Can you rescue me in a week?"

"No, I cannot rescue you in a week!" Arthur snapped, losing his temper. "Of all the ungrateful...! You've been good and properly saved up to this point, you idiot, so come out of this cell and we will go home!"

Merlin remained unconvinced by Arthur's kingly voice. "Sorry," he said. "I don't mean to be ungrateful, but I rather like it in here, and besides, do you know how long it's been since I've had a vacation?"

"This is not a vacation," Arthur explained as though to someone very slow. "This is imprisonment. Which people generally try to escape from."

"Which I don't understand," Merlin said agreeably. "I mean, this room is pretty comfortable. And the company's good too." He nodded at Elaine, causing her to blush and grin.

"What if the bandit leader decides to make good on his threats?" Arthur asked.

"I could take him," Merlin replied unconcernedly.

Arthur was fairly certain, at this point, that Merlin was simply trying to get a rise out of him and really hadn't the faintest intention of staying locked up. He would die without his weekly trip to the tavern anyway, Arthur firmly believed. But if Arthur was right, Merlin had accomplished his goal.

"Merlin," he yelled, "Come out here! You are messing up my rescue!"

"You're messing up my imprisonment."

"Look," Arthur cajoled, rubbing his hand through his now-mussed hair, closing his eyes with resignation. "You must be hungry. You can eat at home."

"Actually, no," Merlin said. "You must know Gaius can whip up a brilliant potion, but the man cannot cook to save his life. And Cook never lets me snitch from the kitchens." He pouted a little, to make the point.

Arthur glared. "You can take some from my plate at home."

"It's not allowed."

"As if that stopped you before!"

"And I nearly got beaten to a pulp by Halig! Besides," he added before Arthur could issue an inevitable rejoinder, "the food here is better. Elaine is a marvelous cook."

"Well, then," Arthur replied, knowing he sounded crazy but beyond caring, leaning on the open door to the cell, "We can take her with us, back to Camelot, and she'll cook there." Suddenly remembering she was within earshot, he turned and added, "If that's okay with you, I mean."

She nodded eagerly enough. "I'll go, and I love to cook," Elaine gurgled.

Arthur turned to Merlin, triumphant.

Merlin surveyed him through lowered lashes. "Better here," he quipped. "Camelot has chores."

Arthur grew red. "Merlin, come out of that dungeon right now, or so help me I will place you under arrest!"

Merlin leaned back and grinned roguishly at his king. "Make me."

Arthur glowered. "I'll leave you behind."

Merlin raised an unimpressed eyebrow.

"Fine," Arthur growled, marched into the cell, and reached out to sling Merlin over his shoulder.

Merlin immediately scrambled to his feet, falling back. "I'm going!" he cried. "I'm going! I don't want to go over that armor! I was only kidding, besides," he said with a sniff.

"Sure you were," Arthur said, some of the worry in his gut relieved, and left the cell, Merlin following dutifully afterward. The king headed back up the dungeon hallway, Merlin and then Elaine lagging behind, him bouncily and her dreamily.

"Arthur?" Merlin said from behind him.

Arthur grunted as he went back up towards the edge of the cave so they could go back home to Camelot… With one addition, which Arthur might have a hard time explaining, especially to Cook.

"That was kind of fun, wasn't it?" Merlin said, and the smile could be heard in his voice.

Well, of course it hadn't. That was ridiculous. Ludicrous. Arthur hadn't enjoyed himself at all, not one tiny bit—of course not. "Merlin," he said, "when we get back, you're cleaning the stables."

"I could just go back to the cell again…" Merlin threatened.



"Shut up."

"Yes, Sire."


"I do not wish to escape. I like it in here. I love it in here."

Adam Cartwright, Bonanza, "A Knight to Remember"