John sat in the dull gray boarding area of Narita International Airport, listening as a gentle, female voice spoke in Japanese for a while before switching to English. "Ladies and gentlemen," the polite voice said. "Boarding for flight 93 from Tokyo to Los Angeles will begin in approximately 10 minutes. We will begin with first class passengers and those who require extra time in boarding …"

John looked at Cameron. Reaching out tentatively, he stroked her arm, smiling on his lips. Cameron turned to look at him, a gentle expression on her face. After a while, she smiled back, peacefully, as if she had come to a new understanding.

John began to speak, only to stop as he looked at Cameron. Instead, he leaned over and kissed her gently on the cheek, earning himself a shy, but genuine smile to grace her beautiful face. She leaned into his shoulder and wrapped her arms around him.

Six weeks earlier

"Mom, I gotta go," John said as Sarah hugged him fiercely. "Come on, Duncan's waiting outside."

Reluctantly, Sarah relaxed her arms and stepped back. John looked at her, then at Derek standing slightly behind her. "Don't worry," his uncle said. "I'll look after her." Sarah narrowed her eyes as she looked first at her son, who nodded slightly at his uncle, and then at Derek, who bore her glare with the air of someone who had done so before.

As John opened the front door, a stiff breeze made his unbuttoned, ubiquitous black leather trench coat billow out behind him, obscuring the light momentarily as he scanned his surroundings out of habit. He descended the steps lightly, holding his hand out slightly without looking. Wordlessly, Cameron turned from her position right outside the front door and positioned herself next to him. She, too, looked ahead as she took his hand, and they headed to a waiting limo. They opened the door and stepped inside.

"Sorry to keep you waiting," John said as he settled himself and buckled his seatbelt.

"It's all right," Duncan replied seriously. "Mothers worry when their sons go on journeys. It's a nice kind of hassle to have." He looked out the window, seemingly lost in thought for a moment as the car made its way into traffic. Then his gaze refocused and he turned to Cameron. "Everything's arranged," he said as he handed her a sheaf of official-looking papers. "Those should get you through airport security without any problems."

"How'd you get these?" John asked curiously as he reviewed the documents.

"A while back, I did a favor for a young Ensign fresh out of Annapolis—the kind of favor that isn't really anything to somebody who's been around the block a few times, but means the world to a kid just starting out in life. Now he's an Admiral," Duncan replied, shrugging. "No big deal."

Later that evening, as first class cabin lights dimmed and the passengers around them either dozed off or turned their attention to the in-flight entertainment, Duncan turned to John. "I know three weeks seems like a long time, but I've taken the liberty of arranging a loose itinerary that lets you make the most of this trip.

Lowering his voice to match Duncan's, John asked, "What do you mean? I thought the swordmaking process will take the entire time?"

"It will," Duncan replied. "But you'll only need to be present for the first day, and then at the very end for the final polishing. In between, there's a lot you can do. I've arranged to have you train at the dojo a friend of mine. He's not one of us, but he's fine example of what you can achieve with just one lifetime.

"Great. More training." John grimaced.

Duncan laughed quietly. "Don't worry, you'll have some time to yourselves too. I'll be leaving you and Cameron to explore the country on your own. It'll do you good to learn more about the Japanese—if you're going to lead all of mankind, you'll need to become more multicultural. Plus, you and Cameron can explore the Akihabara district—see if you can pick up anything useful about the way the Japanese approach high tech development."

"On our own? What will you be doing?" Cameron asked.

"Eating," Duncan said, grinning and rubbing his hands together. "Tokyo is one of the finest eating destinations in the world, and I'm going to take advantage. You guys will be joining me for some dinners, and I'll be doing some training with you, so it's not like you won't see me at all."

"But I don't speak—or read—Japanese!" John protested.

"I do," Cameron said. "You'll just have to stick with me," she added smugly. John narrowed his eyes at her, aiming a mock glare before quickly pulling her in for a quick peck on the cheek and grinning.

"There you go," Duncan said. "It's all set." He flagged down a flight attendant. "Jack Daniels, on the rocks, please," he told her as she bowed once and walked away. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to have a quiet drink and get some sleep. You might want to consider doing the same thing."

John tried to not to fidget as the grizzled old man stared at him impassively. Though the swordmaker's face was deep red and heavily lined with wrinkles, the corded muscles in his exposed forearms and the rolling, smooth gait he demonstrated as he walked around John were evidence that this was a man of enormous power and will. Finally, the man stood in front of John and bowed. Remembering Duncan's instructions, John returned the bow, making sure to go lower than the old man had.

Turning to Macleod, he said slowly, "You have brought me a strong warrior, Duncan." His voice rasped harshly, but the tone was kind, and the accent an odd mix of Japanese and Scottish.

Duncan also bowed deeply. "Thank you, Okamura sensei."

"He is your student?" he asked.

"Yes. She is also," Duncan said, motioning to Cameron, who stood in between John and the door, alternately scanning the outside while paying attention to John.

"Oh? I thought you were only asking me to make one sword. Does she require one as well?" Okamura asked, peering at Cameron more closely. Cameron endured his gaze passively, returning the stare with the calm that comes from knowing that she will never lose a staring contest.

Cameron cocked her head even as Duncan's brow wrinkled in surprise. But it was John who replied. "Yes," he said, firmly but politely. "If you please, Cameron will also need her own blade."

"I see," Okamura said, as he scrutinized her. He walked around, looking at her for many long minutes as they waited. Finally, he spoke. "I like her," he began, looking at Duncan and John. A frown appeared. "But I cannot make a sword for her. She is not ready."

"But Okamura sensei," John responded immediately, only to clamp his mouth shut at a glance from Duncan.

Duncan walked forward. "Please excuse my student, Okamura san. My student can be rash sometimes, especially when it comes to someone he cares about. Might I ask you to explain what you mean? I assure you that Cameron's skill with a blade is exceptional."

Okamura looked at him gravely, and at Cameron. He addressed her. "I have no doubt about your skill with a blade. And I sense nobility in your character, so please understand that I mean no offense.

"Every sword I make is crafted to meld with the character of the person who will wield it. The blade's properties must complement the fighter's personality. John," he said as he motioned slightly toward the person in question, "is a warrior who does not enjoy fighting, but is coming to accept that this will be his fate. This surely shows in the way he fights, and I will create his blade to adapt to his style. Just as John feels the pressure of true responsibility, so will his katana be able to stand up to intense pressure and help him face insurmountable odds.

Duncan, John and Cameron accepted his gaze as he turned to each of them. "You do not understand what I am talking about," Okamura said resignedly. "But let me assure you that in Cameron's case, it is not a question of whether or not she is worthy. She is. But I cannot craft a blade for her personality, because she has not fully defined one for herself. Once she accepts who she is, she will be ready, but until then, I cannot help her. I am sorry," he added.

"Please excuse me for a moment, there is something I must attend to." And with that, Okamura nodded at each of them and headed toward his offices, shutting the door behind him.

"Not ready, my ass," muttered John. "Who does he think he is? He can't be the only swordmaker in Japan. Maybe he's the one who's not good enough to make a sword for Cameron." He paced around the workshop, anger evident in his darting, stomping steps.

"Okamura might not be the only swordmaker in Japan, but of the few who still make swords in the traditional manner, he is the best. He is the only swordmaker I know who is also an expert fencer," Duncan said. "He knows how to make a sword that will be actually used, and he knows what he's doing, trust me."

"Is it money? Maybe we could offer him more money," John asked.

Duncan grinned. "I doubt it. Okamura already charges $50,000 for each sword, and he generally has a waiting list of five years for those he deems worthy."

"What??!!! $50,000? For a sharp piece of steel?" John sputtered. "I don't have access to that kind of cash!"

"Relax," Duncan said. "I have this covered. And Cameron's too, if Okamura ever changes his mind."

"Duncan, no, we couldn't ask you for …"

"Hey. I can afford it, don't worry about it," Duncan said nonchalantly. "It's something I want to do. And Okamura's the best. He makes true fighting steels, not museum pieces. Collectors are always trying to get their hands on his swords, but it's hard. He judges potential buyers, and if he doesn't think you deserve it, he won't make you a sword, no matter how much you offer. And to keep the rejects from buying his work second hand, he forces everybody he accepts to sign an agreement that gives him first repurchase rights if you ever decide to sell your blade. And the two times I know of where that option came up, he wrote them a check on the spot."

"But this is outrageous! He has no reason to refuse Cameron!" John turned away angry, leaving Cameron to walk up to him.

"It's all right, John," she said soothingly, murmuring quietly into his ear. "It's sweet of you to defend me, but I don't really need a sword anyway, and you do. You should have the best blade possible. Don't let your feelings me get in the way of that."

John clenched his jaw.

"Please, John?"

"Fine," he ground out. "But I want to make it clear that I think this sucks."

"Believe me, I think we're all clear on that," Duncan remarked dryly.

Okamura chose that moment to return, entering the room briskly. "I apologize for that. Are we ready to proceed?" he asked.

"Yes," John replied stiffly. "I would be honored if you would craft a blade for me, sensei, and I agree to your terms and your opinion."

Okamura returned John's gaze evenly. "It is not a matter of terms or of my opinion, John. It is simply the way things are and the way things must be."

John felt awkward. He was wearing a thin, white cotton jacket and pants, with a belt tied around the middle. It appeared to be a standard karate uniform, and under different circumstances, he supposed he would have felt quite comfortable, despite the unfamiliar clothing.

Instead, he felt awkward and cold, as he made his way toward the base of a waterfall. Okamura, Duncan and Cameron waited at a nearby bridge, watching as he approached the cascade of decidedly freezing water. Okamura had only instructed him in the basics of the purification ritual, insisting that he would know what to do once he began.

"Your heart and your soul must be cleansed of all distractions and unimportant concerns," Okamura had insisted. "Only then can part of your soul go into your sword, and only then can your blade reflect your character."

Cameron had cocked her head confusedly, but said nothing. Duncan, on the other hand, simply nodded when John looked at him questioningly. Apparently, the older Immortal was in full agreement with Okamura's instructions.

Now, John steeled himself as he readied himself to step directly under the waterfall. He was already shivering and damp, but the shock of the cold as he immersed himself stole the breath from his lungs. Immediately, his thoughts went from, "I feel like an idiot doing this" to "COLD COLD COLD HOLY SHIT IT'S COLD GODDAMNIT COLD COLD."

Shaking uncontrollably, he stood as straight as he could even as frigid watered hammered down onto the top of his skull. He brought his hands together in front of his chest, and he closed his eyes. Okamura had told him that he would know when it was time to step back out, but he had a feeling that, as much as he'd like to dash out and find a nice warm fireplace, this wasn't the time.

He saw nothingness. He tried to breathe deeply, much as Duncan had taught him during meditation exercises. All was black, and his entire awareness focused on the cold pounding on top of his skull. But as time passed, he unknowingly began to stop shivering, and his focus began to move downwards, from his head to his neck, his chest, solar plexus. Finally, he found himself centered, concentration centered around his hara, his dantien—a spot several inches below his navel.

And in his mind's eye, he saw a rose colored light, hazy but beautiful. Warmth began to spread impossibly through his limbs. He saw machines, Terminators gathered to attack, yet he felt calm and strong. He saw his mother, his father, Derek flanking him, faces bared back in the snarl of battle, and he reached to quiet and reassure them. And then the visions faded.

And he saw Cameron. Cameron practicing her ballet, extending her body in impossibly beautiful lines, practically floating as she moved. As she twirled gracefully around, she slowed as she saw him, and she stopped. Her gentle smile filled his vision, and her eyes sparkled with curiosity—and love. He didn't want to stop gazing at her, but after a while, a sense of wellbeing filled him.

It was time to return. Back to the world, where—yes, he had responsibilities. He had duties to fulfill to his family and the world, and he had a terrible war yet to fight. But he also had Cameron waiting for him. He opened his eyes, the world seeming a little brighter, a little clearer. He let his hands drop to his side. And he stepped out from underneath the waterfall, walking calmly and surely back along the path he had taken, back toward Okamura and Duncan and Cam.

It seemed wrong to speak, and none of the three engaged him in conversation. Okamura nodded and gestured for John to walk first, toward the forge.

Inside, they allowed him to enter first. A towel and dry work clothes were waiting, and once he had changed, he opened the door and Okamura entered alone.

Outside, Cameron's eyes scanned her surroundings, darting nervously inside every once in a while. Duncan noticed and patted her shoulders as if to reassure her, though of what, he couldn't say. Still, she seemed to calm a little.

Inside, Okamura led John to a bench where several bars of distinct looking metal had been left. "This will be your soul," he said. "These metals all have differing properties. This is hard, to hold the sharpest of edges. This," he said, pointing at a different piece, "Will give your blade suppleness." As he continued, he pointed at differing pieces. "This will bind your blade to you, and this will enable it to endure the fires of countless battles. Pick them up."

John carried the pieces to the forge, where Okamura had him place them side by side in an elongated crucible, which was then placed directly into a roaring fire. His body, having acclimated itself to the cold of the waterfall, immediately began to sweat as they watched the metals turn red, the orange, then bright yellow-white. Okamura reached in with heavy tongs and removed the crucible, then quickly placed the first bar on an anvil. With his right hand, he grabbed a nearby hammer.

Though the taps appeared to be gentle, a ringing sound filled the room, and the heated metal soon flattened out. Not pausing, he took a second piece and placed it on top of the first and continued hammering. Before long, all five pieces had been hammered on top of each other, and he deftly used a different set of tongs to fold the flattened pile in half. Then it went back into the crucible and the fire.

John was startled when Okamura extended the handle of the hammer to him. "Now you," the old man said. He turned to take the reheated metal out of the fire. "Hammer. Think of nothing as you hammer. Think of the universe," he said, unhelpfully.

John began tapping the metal, trying to imitate the rhythm and technique Okamura had used. "Less thinking," Okamura said. John focused on his breathing as he continued to tap, and after a while, Okamura grunted. "Good. Now wait."

Back the metal went into the fire, and four more times, it came out and John went to work. Finally, Okamura took the metal and plunged it into a vat of lukewarm water, a cloud of steam hissing as the metal cooled. "Come," he said, taking off his protective apron. John did the same, then followed him to the door.

Outside, John was startled to see how high the sun had risen. At least a couple of hours had passed, and Duncan stood from his seated position on a nearby bench. Cameron merely turned. "Is it finished?"

"John's part in this is," Okamura replied. "The sword will know him now, and I will take things the rest of the way. You did well today," he told John.

John bowed in reply.

"Come back in three weeks," Okamura added, and John, Duncan and Cameron all bowed. As he turned, he said, "And Duncan? I know it has been a while since you had decent takoyaki and soba and the rest of it, but try not to overindulge." He grinned as he went back into the forge.

"You want to have ramen?" John asked dubiously as Duncan led the way to a street full of food stalls. The delicious scent of grilled meats, fried fritters, and other portable delicacies filled his nostrils, and he didn't see why Duncan seemed to think ramen would be better than these things.

"Trust me, John, you haven't had ramen. Real ramen's not that instant brick of noodles that you drop into boiling water, it's high art, and once you've tried it, you'll understand. When we get there, let me order for all of us. Cameron, I think you'll enjoy this," Duncan told her, his eyes bright with excitement.

He led them into a small, cramped eatery, barely the size of John's bedroom at home. A small wooden bar with stools in front of it beckoned, and inside, an incongruously chic-looking young woman with stylish hair bustled around as an older grandmotherly type looked on.

The grandmother turned and her eyes widened in surprise. John didn't understand the stream of rapid-fire Japanese that spilled forth from her lips, but there was no mistaking the bright smile of delight in her eyes when she recognized Duncan. She reached across the counter and grabbed Duncan's neck, pulling him into a tight hug, causing John and the woman's granddaughter to stare in surprise. Duncan blushed as the older woman pinched his cheek, eyes slightly downcast. The sparkling eyes turned toward John and Cameron, and Duncan made introductions, first in Japanese, then in English.

"John, Cameron, this is Naga-sama. Mrs. Naga is Sensei Okamura's mother," Duncan said. In a lower voice, he added, "They both know about Immortals, but if I'm not mistaken, Michiko over there does not," he said. "Mrs. Naga will show you what real ramen is all about," he said. John and Cameron nodded politely as Duncan turned to the older woman. She asked a quick question, which Duncan answered with a simple "Hai." Yes.

"She seems to like you," John teased.

"Yes," coughed Duncan. "Well, aside from knowing me as one of her son's friends, she also has been feeding me for a long time."

"Why does she call you 'Piggy'?" Cameron asked innocently, and Duncan blushed even more. Michiko turned, her eyebrows raised in amusement.

Duncan coughed. "I, erm, might occasionally overorder when I come here. Hey, I don't get to eat here all that often," he said defensively.

John laughed, as did Michiko, and with that, the spell that had fallen over John since the waterfall ritual lifted and the rest of lunch turned to lighter topics. Nine bowls of ramen later (Duncan had ordered thirds, John had tacitly admitted to the glories of ramen after his second bowl, and a crowd had actually gathered around to gaze at the crazy American girl slurping down her fourth bowl), and the trio were ready to leave. Naga came out from behind the counter to hug Duncan fiercely again—not that great of an idea given how much Duncan had just eaten, then grabbed John and Cameron in affectionate hugs as well. She said something to the younger couple, to which Cameron, smiling hesitantly, replied in Japanese. John didn't understand a word, but the grandmother made a reply that made Duncan's jaw drop, then she elbowed John with a lascivious wink before patting Cameron on the shoulder and heading back behind the counter.

As they walked away, John asked, "What was that all about?"

Cameron looked at him, smiling. "Naga-sama told us we should come back often because her food makes young people strong. I told her that I hoped so, and that it was very important to me that you be strong. Then she said she was confident that you would be strong enough for me tonight and that afterwards, she wouldn't mind testing your strength as well."

John's eyes bugged out, and his sudden shout of laughter caused the people around them to look up, startled. He ignored them, shaking his head ruefully and wrapping his arm around Cam as they continued to walk. "That's just wrong on multiple levels," he said, chuckling softly.

As the days passed, John and Cameron crisscrossed Japan, sometimes with Duncan, sometimes without. John had trained at several small dojos, pleased that in most cases, he matched up well against the schools' senior students. The one exception was at a judo school that specialized in neiwaza—groundfighting. It was a range Duncan had never trained with him, explaining "Groundfighting isn't really a practical option for the real world, especially for you. It's stupid to try to grapple with someone who probably has a couple blades on him, and no amount of leverage or technique is going to enable you to armbar a Terminator. Still, it's good for toughening your body, and it'll teach you a new way of thinking of combat."

John had walked away with a healthier respect for all grapplers, though he definitely saw Duncan's point. What good is a choke hold on a Terminator who doesn't need to breathe anyway?

Though tentative at first, John and Cam plunged enthusiastically into exploring Japan. They watched Noh plays and owarai, puzzled at the strange youths in Harajuku, played pachinko and DDR, even took classes in ikebana and chanoyu. Cameron won praise from instructors in the latter two traditional arts, as the senseis were often astounded at her quiet, focused concentration.

As they continued their stay in Tokyo, John and Cameron decided to explore Akihabara. Though the tiny electronics stores could offer nothing comparable to the level of sophisticated technology the two of them had seen, John still went dashing from one cramped stall to another. In one, he found a processor that was supposed to still be in development, while in another, he found a tiny pinhole camera with resolution significantly beyond what was supposed to be possible. As he gleefully looked at all the toys, he let himself be a normal teenager and conjured up James Bond-ian fantasies involving clever gadgets and fast cars. Lost in his thoughts, he failed to notice Cameron becoming gradually more agitated.

Walking down the street, he stopped to look at a monitor in the display window of a mammoth-sized Sofmap store. On screen, Honda's latest generation ASIMO machine was walking up and down stairs, shaking the presenter's hand, playing "Twinkle, Twinkle" on the violin. "Hey Cam," he said, pointing at the screen. "Check it out, it's, like, one of your ancestors!"

Getting no reply, he looked at her. "Cam?"

"Is that what you think of me?" she whispered, tears in her eyes.

"Huh? What?"

"After all this, am I just a fancy machine to you?"

"Of course not, Cam! You know better than that."

"Do I? What am I, John? I'm not a machine," she said angrily, not noticing the tears welling in her eyes. "I'm not a Terminator—I don't kill people anymore."

"I know!" protested John.

"But I'm not human either!" she said desperately. "Okamura refused to make a sword for me because he could sense it, somehow. I'm not human, I'm not machine, what am I? Tell me what I am?"

John looked at her helplessly. "Does it matter? Does it matter that we have a label for 'what' you are? You're … you're just 'Cameron'! Maybe you're one of a kind, but so what? Is that so bad?"

"I just want to know where I belong," Cam said helplessly.

"You belong wherever you want to belong," he replied, looking into her eyes intently. "You make your own choice, your own destiny, just like anyone else in this world. I'd like to think that you choose to be next to me, with me, but in the end, the choice is yours.

"So only you can answer your own question, Cam. Tell me. What are you? Where would you like to belong?"

She looked at him helplessly.

"You know what? It doesn't really matter, in the end. It isn't what you are that matters, it's what you choose to do. We're not defined by our own labels, that's for the convenience of other people. We are our own choices. Only you can decide where you belong, but I can tell you that you're here, right now, because of choices you made. I didn't order you to come with me to Japan, to stay by my side, and I hope you always knew you had the choice to leave.

"You want me to leave you?" Cameron asked, voice blank, but a hurt look in her eyes.

"No! I want you with me, always—and … and in all ways," John said. "But I want that only if that's what you decide to do, of your own free will."

"I'm not sure I understand," Cameron said. After a pause, she added, "I'm sorry."

His gaze softened as he took cupped her face tenderly. "You don't need to apologize, Cam. But you should take some time and think about what you want, what makes you happy, OK? That's what I want for you.

"OK, well come on, we have some eating to do," John said, pressing a kiss into her cheek and her eyelids. "I'm hungry."

The next day, John and Cam hopped onto a train and headed back to Okamura's workshop. Okamura was waiting, and Duncan was next to him. "This is an important occasion," Duncan said, smiling. "I think you're going to remember this day, John."

Okamura stepped forward, his grip strong and gentle. "Come," he said, leading John into a modern-looking building several hundred yards away from the forge where the swordmaking process had begun.

Inside, the rooms were a masterful blend of old and new. Bright, soft lighting gave the interior rooms a warm glow. The halls were lined with plush carpets, but the rooms were laid out with finely woven tatami mats. Modern, black-and-white art photos were framed on the walls outside, while inside the room Okamura entered, calligraphy scrolls hung from walls. Somewhere, John heard the electronic trill of an office phone.

And on a clean, but unvarnished table made of black wood sat a sword and a flat, shallow dish filled with a thin, gray liquid. As John gazed upon the newly made sword, he was startled to realize that he felt like he knew it. "May I?" he asked, reaching his hand toward the straight, elegant handle but looking at the older man.

Okamura shook his head. "Not yet. It is not done. There is one last thing," he said. "This is polishing compound," he told John, motioning toward the dish. "It is left to you to complete the polishing. Take your finger and dip it in the dish. Then, gently wipe it down the edge of the blade."

As John did so, the blade felt warm under his fingertip. He looked over and took the clean white rag that Okamura offered. Gently, he wiped off the remnants of the fine grit and water left on the sword with it. "Is that it?" he asked.

Okamura nodded, pointing out the nearby sheath. "Pick it up. See how it feels," he said.

As John picked up his new sword, he was struck by the sense of rightness. Though it was lighter than the heavier broadsword he had destroyed in Chicago, it also felt more substantial. As he moved, it felt … easy, responsive. Unconsciously, he smiled, and Okamura beamed. "That's the expression I wanted to see. It means we were successful in creating a sword for you."

Heart filled with emotion, John looked at the old man. There were no words. Instead, he bowed deeply. "Thank you," he said simply.

"Come," Okamura said. "Let's show Duncan. And Cameron."

Duncan and Cameron were waiting in an adjoining room—also lined with tatami mats, it was larger, and the walls were covered in floor-to-ceiling mirrors. It was a training studio. "How does it feel?" Duncan asked knowingly.

"It feels … right," John said, pulling the sword out. Cameron came to take a closer look.

"May I hold it?" she asked, and without hesitation, John handed it to her and stepped back, even as Okamura and Duncan stepped forward, hands outstretched. The two older men looked at each other, then Duncan shrugged and let his hand drop. Okamura followed Duncan's lead and stepped back. They turned to look.

Cameron brought the body of the sword close to her eyes, gazing into its polished surface, a look of fascination appearing unbidden on her face. Then taking the sword in a firmer grip, she stepped to the side to give herself some space and glided into a ready stance. Slowly, experimentally, she began to execute a kata, the form beginning with basic attacks and parries. As she glided across the mats, she smiled—a wide, glowing smile full of wonder. Partway through, she stopped, looking at John, who nodded.

"I know, right?" John said, grinning.

Okamura approached Cameron. "Could you … could you do the entire kata for me?" he asked.

Cameron nodded. Again, she repeated the form, starting with basic attacks and defenses, then moving into a flowing, fluid progression of advances, lunges, evasions, twirling the sword in an intricate pattern that crescendoed into a climactic moves, then ended suddenly into stillness.

John looked at Duncan and Okamura uncertainly, troubled by the looks on their faces. Cameron looked only at John, a smile on her face. Then it stilled, and she walked toward him. In a subdued voice, she said, "It is a … beautiful … sword, John." She extended the sword back to him, hilt first.

John reached for the handle, only to be stopped by Okamura's extended hand. He looked at Cameron. "I made this sword for John," he told her.

"I know," she responded.

"It was made to be his partner," he elaborated. "Not just an object, but a part of him. Strength, comfort, and peace."

She cocked her head.

"But it matches you as well as I have ever seen a sword match its owner," he said. "I saw John wield it just minutes ago, but it looks as right in your hands as it did in his."

He turned to John. "Ordinarily, it would be incredibly rude of me to ask you to tell me this, but this is a highly unusual situation," he said. "In the waterfall, before you came out. What did you see? What did you feel?"

Blushing, John replied. "I saw Cameron. And I felt at peace. Strong, calm, ready."

Duncan looked at John, surprised. "When Okamura-san made me a sword," he offered, "I saw the Highlands."

"And before I made my blade, I saw the peach orchards where I used to play," Okamura said. He turned to John. "You were supposed to see the place where things all began for you. The place where you return when you need to rest and restore yourself. Not a person."

John shrugged. "I'm sorry, Mr. Okamura. I saw Cameron, and I felt at peace. I don't know what else to tell you."

"That's who I am," Cameron said, wonder across her face, as she looked up, shifting her gaze from Okamura to Duncan and resting on John. "I'm Cameron. I'm your partner. I'm the one you should be turning to for peace. That's why the sword felt right in my hands. It's just like me."

Okamura looked at her for a while. "Come," he said. "Come into my office."

"Why?" Duncan asked.

"Because I need a drink, and I have an excellent 30-year-old Balvenie in there," he replied.

As they walked into the office, he went to a simple, carved table. On it sat a silver tray with several glasses and several bottles. Okamura arranged four glasses and poured a large measure of reddish, amber liquid in each. "Please," he said, gesturing to them and then to the glasses. He took one himself.

He raised his glass. "To Cameron. And her new blade," he said. "I think we all agree that it would be wrong for any of us--including John--to ask Cameron to give up a blade that is so obviously a perfect match for her." He looked at Cameron, pleased. "It appears I was able to make you a sword after all." And he took a healthy slug of scotch, and the three followed suit.

"And now, to John," Okamura said. "Who tomorrow, will again undergo the purification ritual so I can make him yet another sword." And again they drank.

Later, as they sat on the couch and chairs in his office, Okamura looked at John. "You know," he slurred, slightly inebriated as he swirled his fifth glass. "It's just as well that you get another turn at the forge. You're not bad at this. And if you ever find yourself looking for something to do in life, you might consider coming back and learning more about swords. It seems you have a gift with metals.

Present day

"Did you enjoy your visit?" John asked.

"Yes," Cameron nodded, confidently. "I'm glad I chose to come with you. I'm glad I chose to stay with you. But I would like to go home now."

"Well, all right then," he said. "Duncan!" he called. "Come on, we're about to board." And the three gathered their belongings and headed back to the gate.

Author's Notes:

The Japanese swordmaking process described here is a bit exaggerated for dramatic license (obviously)

I have never been to Japan, so my descriptions of the country are probably inaccurate; I hope my imagination wasn't too far off. Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arranging. Chanoyu is the Japanese tea ceremony experience. Both are considered highly refined traditional arts. I have seen them done, but wouldn't presume to begin to do them justice in a descriptive sense

Next time: They're back in the U.S., and Amanda pops up. So do a few other Immortals, and one of them wants John's head. Time to test out that new sword ...