Sir Percival prodded his sushi listlessly with a chopstick.
"What? Getting possessive about the patient, Percival? His wife has the right to throw us out and keep the Fisher King to herself a little."
"It's not that," said Percival. "Did you see the man by the front door?"
"The security guard? A lot of good he'd be able to do if this hospital were overrun by giants."
"Not him. The one in the hospital gown. On an IV. Carrying the IV drip thing with him. And smoking. Barefoot and smoking on York Avenue in December, with nothing to warm him but a hospital gown. That one. I haven't been able to fix the Fisher King we're working on now, and he at least quit after the surgery. How am I going to fare when the guy who's on his second surgery still won't quit? What will I do when he's the Fisher King?"
Lancelot narrowed his eyes. "You're trying to make this a cautionary tale, aren't you?"
"I'm just trying to do the right thing."
"Balderdash. I've spent the past thousand years trapped in a cautionary tale. I know the moral of the story when I see it. Don't screw the boss's wife, boys! Look how it only led to trouble for Lancelot! And you know what? Everybody makes me out to be some kind of romanticized role model anyway. Don't bother, Percival. Nobody cares."
"But if the Fisher King had only been able to quit three weeks earlier, this would have been so much..."
"You tiresome prig, what could you possibly know about desire?"
"I'm not talking about Guinevere. I'm talking about cigarettes."
"Desire is desire."
"You've seen what this illness is doing to the people who love the Fisher King. If you go talking like that in the ICU, in the waiting room, around any of the Fishers, I may have to challenge you to single combat."
Lancelot smiled and shook his head. "In that willow withe armor?"
"God knows that I am in the right."
"You never change," said Lancelot.
All the white-coated oncology fellows at the next table turned to stare.
"Old friend," Percival said, his voice tight and low, "it would be best if you went back to Benwick. It would be best if you went back now." His hand went to the pommel of his sword, and he found that the author had given him back his good steel. "Right now."
And just like that, Lancelot vanished.
Percival popped one last bit of eel roll into his mouth. It didn't taste like anything in particular. The pink ginger stuff was sharp, but that wasn't what he wanted, either. Though he'd been warned about the funny green paste, he swallowed the whole daub of it for penance. Surely he had something to repent.