Henry Gowen sat on the stagecoach depot bench a few days later, a small suitcase at his side. He should have done this long ago, he thought, not knowing why he hadn't. God only knows why he'd stuck around for six years after the mine disaster, after his failures had caused that horrible mine disaster. But it was only that Hope Valley had some kind of pull on him. He didn't know why or fully understand it. Maybe it was just that Hope Valley had that kind of pull on everyone, and Henry Gowen was not immune.

But that was then, this was now. And it just seemed the kindest thing he could do now was to leave. To give Hope Valley back to the good people who deserved to live there, without him. Because what had happened ten days ago was unforgivable. That ventilation shaft. It was careless and incompetent that it had not been properly sealed after the mine closed and when all was said and done, it was ultimately his responsibility. And the fresh guilt was almost too much to bear.

So Henry Gowen sat at the stage depot. He'd leave it all behind, his business, his automobile, his home, everything. He could find someone to manage the business, and he would oversee it from afar, keeping everything going so that the payments to the widows would continue, but there was no need for him to remain here. Really, it was best for everyone this way, he thought.

As Elizabeth Thornton crossed the street, her little son Jack in her arms, she spotted Henry Gowen sitting at the stage depot. For some unknown reason, she felt compelled to go to him. As she approached him, she noted the suitcase at his side. He must be taking a trip, she thought, wondering why he didn't take his automobile. Where was he going that he couldn't drive there?

"Hello Henry," she said as she drew near. "Are you going somewhere?" she asked.

Henry looked up briefly at Elizabeth and Little Jack, then averted his eyes from her. "I'm leaving," he replied noncommittally.

"Oh, where are you going?" Elizabeth asked, wondering where his trip was to, when he would be back.

Henry shrugged. "Not sure yet," he replied truthfully. "Just leaving."

"Henry?" Elizabeth was beginning to understand this was not a trip, that Henry was leaving, for good? she wondered. "What do you mean just leaving?" she prodded.

Henry Gowen sighed. That he should have to explain it to her, of all people. "I'm leaving, Elizabeth. I'm leaving Hope Valley. For good," he said succinctly.

"Henry!" Elizabeth exclaimed at the news. She moved forward and sat on the bench beside him, setting her son in the space between them. Henry Gowen looked down at the boy now pressed close against him, then turned his head away, swallowing hard.

"Henry, why are you leaving?" Elizabeth asked, concern in her voice.

"I think that should be fairly obvious," Henry said. "After what I did...or failed to do. What almost happened," Henry said.

Suddenly understanding he was talking about the mine shaft, Elizabeth said, "Henry, you didn't intend for that to happen. No one is blaming you," she told him.

"You can say that? You of all people?" Henry asked incredulously, turning to look at her. "After what almost happened to your little boy?" he said, looking down at the child, who just at that moment looked up at Henry with the innocent wide eyes of a child. Henry swallowed again, shaking his head, then stared away.

Elizabeth stared a Henry a moment, not knowing what to say. There was no animosity in her heart towards Henry but how could she let him know that? Convince him of that?

Meanwhile, inside the businesses along Hope Valley's main street, people suddenly looked out windows, noticing the scene at the depot and whispered murmurs began about the possibility that Henry Gowen was leaving. Curious townspeople began to pour out into the street, appearing to idly mill around as they watched the scene across the way.

"Henry, I want you to stay," Elizabeth was saying. "Hope Valley won't be the same without you," she said.

"No, it'll be better," Henry said sarcastically.

"Henry!" Elizabeth's tone had turned pleading. This wasn't right, that he should go, that he felt he had to.

As Bill Avery left his office, drawn partly by the accumulating crowd and also partly by the errand he'd set out on, he too noticed Henry Gowen at the depot. He had been heading towards Henry's office, but he diverted to the depot instead.

As he came upon the trio on the bench, he stood just below the platform, first looking to Elizabeth who shot him a pleading look and then to Henry. "Going somewhere, Henry?"

"Going where I should have gone a long time ago, Bill. Away," Henry replied morosely, leaning forward, his arms on his knees and looking off to the side.

Bill looked to Elizabeth's face for an explanation, her eyes were still begging him, for what he wondered?

"Bill, Henry's leaving. He's leaving because of what happened at the mine, with Little Jack," she informed him. He understood the pleading look now, she was asking for help. And by some providential luck of the draw, Bill knew he had it.

"If you're leaving because of what happened at the mine shaft, Henry, you'd better find another reason," he told him.

Startled, Henry looked over and up from his position. "What do you mean, Bill?" he asked.

"I mean this," Bill said, reaching inside his jacket to pull out a folded sheet of paper. "I was on my way to your office to bring you this," he told Henry, raising a foot to the platform above and leaning forward to hand Henry the page.

Henry took the paper and unfolded it, his eyes scanning it uncomprehendingly. "What is this?" he asked.

"It's a map of all the ventilation shafts for the Pacific Northwest mine, Henry," Bill informed him. "I found it when I was investigating...investigating what happened to Little Jack," Bill said.

"So?" said Henry, still not understanding, looking from Bill to the page in his hand.

"So...I had some men ride out and check each of them, Henry, and they're all sealed. All sealed and secured," he repeated for emphasis.

Henry's brow wrinkled in puzzlement. "I don't understand," he said.

"The ventilation shaft Little Jack fell into...it wasn't the Pacific Northwest mine, Henry," Bill said with emphasis. Then just to be absolutely clear he added, "It wasn't your mine." It was true, there had been other mines before Pacific, smaller, less important ones that had started up and closed even before Pacific began operations in Hope Valley.

"It...it wasn't Pacific?" Henry repeated, blinking at the news, something hopeful flickering in his eyes.

"It wasn't Pacific, Henry," Bill reassured him. "You had nothing to do with what happened to Little Jack," Bill spelled it out for him.

Henry Gowen drew a long steadying breath with something more than relief, straightening from his hunched position. It was a small mercy, a small mercy in the sea of his failures. "Thank you, Bill," he said. "Thank you for bringing this to me," he said, sincere appreciation in his voice. "Can I...can I keep this?" he asked, holding up the paper in his hand. At Bill's nod, Henry carefully, reverently, folded the paper and slipped it into his pocket, the now-treasured piece of paper proving he wasn't a complete failure after all.

"Now you don't have to go, Henry!" it was Elizabeth at his side, making the hopeful statement.

"I think it's best if I do, Elizabeth," he said, shaking his head. "No one wants me here," he said. The slip of paper absolved some of his guilt, but it would still be better if he left.

"I do. I want you here," Elizabeth said, refuting his claim.

"So do I, Henry," Bill added his voice to Elizabeth's.

It was then that a peculiar thing happened. The people milling about in the street, watching the scene unfold, suddenly clustered to form a crowd close to the depot bench. First one voice was raised, then another and another, all repeating similar words.

"Me too."

"So would I."

"I'd like you to stay, too"

Over and over the words or their variation ruffled through the crowd, each eye on Henry Gowen as he looked up at the sea of people and the sound of voices. Slowly, Henry rose to his feet, unbelieving at the scene before him. The town, his town, assembled before him, inviting him to stay. Wanting him to.

At his side, Elizabeth's eyes shone brightly as she reached for Little Jack and rose to her feet alongside Henry. As they all looked out over the crowd, Elizabeth remarked, "See Henry, you don't have to go now. Everyone wants you to stay," she said. "In fact, I think this might be the shortest trip ever taken," she joked. "You didn't even get off the platform," she teased. She looked over at Henry and suddenly grew serious, reaching out a hand to place on his arm. "Welcome home, Henry," she said gently, the words rife with double meaning, the welcoming of a weary traveller back home but something else too. The metaphorical welcome of a lost soul returning to his people.

Henry looked over at Elizabeth and blinked, unshed tears behind his eyes, Elizabeth nodded with reassuring encouragement before Henry turned, looking out over the crowd. He took a step to the edge of the platform, then turned his body sideways to step down with one foot, almost as if testing the sturdiness of the ground beneath him, as if making sure it was all real. As if to give encouragement, Bill Avery reached a hand to Henry's shoulder, giving it a squeeze. Henry looked up at the gesture and soon his other foot joined the first, as Henry moved towards the crowd of people, drawn to them and their voices.

As Henry slowly, hesitantly, ventured into the crowd he was met with smiles and touches to his arm, a backslap or two but always the words, The same words, over and over. "Welcome home, Henry. Welcome home."

At the scene of the crowd, Nathan Grant and his niece Allie approached Elizabeth on the depot platform, wondering at the assembled people and what was happening, how it seemed to be something to do with Henry Gowen.

"Elizabeth?" he asked as he drew alongside her, a question in his eyes.

"It's alright," she said, assuring him it was a friendly crowd, not anything he needed to worry about. "It's alright...it's just..." she trailed off, her eyes intently ahead, watching as Henry Gowen moved further and further into the crowd, embraced by the people of Hope Valley.

"It's just what?" Nathan prodded.

"It's just I love this town with every breath in my body," Elizabeth said forcefully. Nathan didn't question her words, just stood at her side as she watched over the crowd, Little Jack riding on one hip. Nathan raised an arm to hook around her shoulder to draw her and Little Jack a little nearer to him and placed a hand on Allie's shoulder as she stood in front of them. And then the four of them, Elizabeth, Nathan, Allie and Little Jack remained on the platform, silently watching the scene below.

Elizabeth didn't know if she'd find the words to describe the events of the day when it came time to write in her journal that night. She didn't know if the words would come that could do it justice, but if they did just maybe it would go like this:

Today was a revelation in the power each of us holds to heal a hurting heart. Because today I saw a townsful of people pour their love and kindness over a man long broken by his own failings. I saw the streets awash in colours of forgiveness and redemption and I saw what was once broken made whole again. And I saw it all happen in the one place more dear to me than any other in this world.

Hope Valley.

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A lone figure dressed all in black stepped off the Hope Valley stagecoach the next day and looked around her. Everything looked the same, yet different too. She hadn't told anyone she was coming, not wanting any fanfare or show of excitement. That was the last thing she wanted after the last hellish ten months she'd been through. But her mother was gone now, that painful chapter was over, and she was free to return home. Only she wasn't the same person who'd left all those months ago. Things were different now and she was different, maybe forever, she thought on a long deep sigh. So there was no point in notifying anyone of her arrival. They would know soon enough, all of them would, all of Hope Valley would know.

Abigail Stanton had returned.

Fade out, Season 7

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Author's Postscript:

Well, that's the end of my imaginary Season 7...cliffhanger and all! Sorry, I didn't know if I should warn you in advance the season was ending or not, as you can see I just sprung it on you! But this is where I imagined it ending. I feel I've gotten the characters and story where I aimed to go...Elizabeth and Nathan are starting a slow courtship, there's something brewing between Lucas and Fiona, Rosemary and Lee are expecting a baby, Henry has made restitution and been forgiven by the townsfolk, Nathan and Lucas are becoming friends, Allie is the true hero in all this and Abigail has returned following her mother's death. I also think/hope I conveyed the themes of revisiting a mine disaster from season 1 and also Elizabeth coming to terms with Jack's death. I think I'll continue writing (after a break, been writing pretty intensively the last month) as I know there's more to write with the E/N story, but if I do, any further stories are later, imaginary season 8 I guess. With Season 7 the whole story came to me complete after watching Season 6 so it was really just a matter of transcribing it. I don't have a whole Season 8 in my head, , just snippets of scenes so it'd be more like little vignettes and not a fully formed season. Just want to giving a forewarning about that, as I'm not sure what future chapters will be like. Anyway, thank you to everyone who has been following along and especially for the positive and encouraging comments, I have really enjoyed imagining season 7 and writing it all out!