Sara laid her head against the frozen window pane of the railway car and coughed miserably. Avonlea was rolling closer with every click and turn of the wheels, but she felt increasingly nervous and nauseated, not less. The land was just at the onset of winter in these parts, though, and that was good; the perfect time to go home. Aunt Hetty had written her just last week with uncharacteristic warmth and subtly worded excitement. Aunt Olivia and Uncle Jasper would be there, too, visiting, their last one before Christmas, coincidentally. Of course Hetty would have everyone stay nowhere but Rose Cottage, and Sara had smiled, imagining her Aunt Janet's relief that only the cooking and not the continual hosting of so many people would be foisted off on her. Hetty, of course, would make sure that they all ate at King Farm every night.

Sara was glad, though. Felicity and Gus were not far away, and she would see them whenever she wanted. Felix was home at the farm for the time being, working at the White Sands again after he'd been released from his army obligations, courtesy of his irreparably weakened arm. He was doing much better, Hetty had said. Hale and cheerful at work and at mealtimes, although doing considerably more justice to the latter, just like the old chubby Felix again... most of the time. Aunt Janet's postscript to Hetty's letter had hinted at dark moods and occasional, inexplicable volatility, which Clive Pettibone had tried to explain were normal after such an extremely traumatic wartime experience. It was clear, though, that Janet was constantly wondering how long it would last. Felix showed no indications of desiring to become a farmer or to resume what could once almost have been called his courtship of Izzy. He showed no interest in anything but busy days and his family around him to fill in the quiet moments.

Cecily... Away at school until Christmastime. Sara had blown out a relieved breath when she'd read that. Good. Plenty of time. Uncle Alec and Aunt Janet had been so proud of their little girl for being accepted to Redmond, although they had both said yes with reservations. Cecily had not shown a single symptom since she'd returned from the sanitarium, but Sara knew the terror and agony her aunt and uncle had endured over the course of Cecily's illness would never fully evaporate, even if Cecily went forty years without a relapse. Sara closed her eyes and tried to ignore the guilt churning in her stomach.

Home. It was a pleasant prospect, in spite of the... complications. Damocles' sword would fall, yes, but once they'd mopped up the aftermath, it would be alright. Everything was going to be fine, she kept telling herself. As long as she was in Avonlea, surrounded by so many people who loved her and whom she adored more than life, there was no need to be afraid.

Sara laughed out loud, startling several nearby passengers. It had just occurred to her that she would have had more peace and quiet and time to write at King Farm than she would at Rose Cottage on a daily basis. The thought was absurd, but it was true. Daniel was the only child left at King Farm, and he was not really very small anymore, whereas Rose Cottage currently housed Davey and Dora and had recently also added Montgomery and the new baby to its ranks, if only temporarily. Poor Aunt Hetty. For a woman who in spite of her truly loving heart was not really designed for motherhood, she was certainly taking on a lot of the associated responsibilities. She'd had some practice, though, with Sara herself.

The conductor's gruff shout snapped Sara out of her thoughts, and she jumped a bit in her seat. Five minutes. In five minutes she'd be home. There was hardly a thought of Paris left in her head.

- ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ -

Sara leaped out onto the platform, completely missing the disgruntled looks of assorted fellow passengers, porters and waiting bystanders whom she'd flown past like a tornado and nearly uprooted. She made a beeline for the little group who stood near the central car with necks craning in all directions, although she felt a slight shock of disappointment and concern when there was no sign of Aunt Hetty. Sara knew only the Devil himself would have prevented her. There were only two things in her life that Hetty King would label with that unhesitating description: her tormented back... and Davey Keith.

But there were four very familiar faces waiting. Sara launched herself at the closest one, nearly bursting into tears at the old, familiar feeling of Aunt Olivia's arms around her and the soft, brown curls brushing her cheek. Sara pulled back to get a better look and was amazed and relieved at how little the sweet, sympathetic face had changed. One or two wrinkles and a few gray hairs were all the damage Aunt Olivia had to show for becoming a mother twice over.

Although Sara had managed to restrain her tears, Olivia hadn't, and in the midst of them and many more kisses Sara turned away to look straight into Felix' frank, affectionate face. His embrace was softer than it used to be, but still a little shy and boyish, and his "welcome home, Sara" was all the speech he looked inclined to give.

Felicity stood next to him, and Sara gasped in happy surprise as she took in her cousin's rounded figure and rosy cheeks. "Felicity!" she exclaimed, wrapping her slender arms as best she could around the slight bulk of her cousin's middle. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Felicity blushed. "It isn't the sort of thing you discuss over the telephone. And a letter would have gotten there after you'd left; at least, it would have after waiting for the confirmation from the doctor."

Sara smiled. Felicity always needed to be so sure of things.

"Don't suppose you've got a hug for the old man?" came the fourth voice over Felix' shoulder.

Sara laughed a little guiltily, and this time when she threw herself into familiar, comforting arms, she couldn't prevent the tears from spilling over. "Uncle Alec," she gasped. "Uncle Alec." It had always lain mostly unspoken between them, but Sara felt the thrust of it now like a dagger to her heart: he'd always been the only man she'd ever loved nearly as much as she'd loved her father, and that kind of protection from the world was just what she wanted right now more than anything.

Uncle Alec's arms tightened around her. "Sara...?" He sounded worried, and Sara gulped, sniffed and leaned back a little, reaching for the handkerchief she instinctively knew would be waiting.

"Sorry," she murmured, giggling a little awkwardly. "Just been kind of homesick, I suppose." She didn't have to force a smile to her face as she gazed around at each of them in turn. "You can't know how much I've missed being here with all of you." Wishing to needle a response out of the (to her) unusually laconic Felix, she added: "Even you, Felix."

His old, characteristic grin flashed back at her for one brief moment, and the slight gloom on her soul lifted. Seeing that Uncle Alec had already taken up her bag in one hand and Felicity's elbow with the other, Sara looped one arm through Felix' and the other through Aunt Olivia's. "Let's go home."

-To be continued...