He comes back in spring, three years down the road, with hardly any money to send a telegram about his return, rather, that he is still alive.
It is Dog Monday who welcomes him back, a tired old Dog Monday who never looked better as it ran to him as he got off the train, with Jem following worriedly.
"Why'd we come here, boy?" says his brother, worn from the war, some silver strands in his red hair glinting as he picked the dog up. Like he is, he thinks. Then Jem looks up, and he sees who Dog Monday has come for.
"Walter," said his brother, and in another moment he is hugged so tightly that he cannot breathe, and it takes him but a moment to hug his brother back, to say his name like he never thought he'd be able to say again.
There were no dry eyes that night at Ingleside.
The next day comes, with Walter waking long before everyone else. He won't be able to sleep now, so he finds some paper, an old notebook and a fountain pen.
He had not been able to write since that moment at the front, which had almost fatally wounded him and landed him in England, too, where he had been treated for so long, too long, that sometimes when he looked up at the dirty white ceilings of the hospital room he thought he was in Heaven. He wouldn't have been able to write anything anyway, he thinks, even if he had supplies, even if he wasn't so ill, for all the pretty or brave words in his head had given way to images, images of those men he had fought with, all of whom had died while he had lived. It had been sheer luck that had saved him, a chance finding by some villagers, who had helped him find assistance else he would have surely died, and perhaps losing the skill to write another word was nothing compared to just living another day in this imperfect world.
But now, maybe he could find it again.
It is still dark when he goes to Rainbow Valley, his eyes used to bloodshed awakened by how Rainbow Valley is still beautiful, even after the war.
Beautiful in a different way, but then it is no longer his, it is no longer theirs. It will be Jem and Faith's children, maybe Nan and Jerry's also, and Rilla-my-Rilla and Ken's children to own, to make magic in and love fully, those who have not and hopefully will never be touched by this war so many, and he himself had given so much of himself to fight.
It was here he first heard the Piper, he remembered, a distant echo then, but even then he had felt the call. Would he had gone if he had known what would happen, that Jem would go missing (thankfully he didn't know that until his return), Carl had lost an eye, that he would himself survive, even though he had been prepared to die?
What would he do now, now that he had stumbled into a new world, one that seemed like a stranger?
-You can't go back, just forward.-
A rustle of leaves stops his train of thought, and Walter turns to see who has intruded on his thoughts.
She is hesitant, even when he beckons for her to sit next to him, but he could see how happy she was to see him. "Rilla, she told me. She could hardly speak, but she was so happy, I could feel it through the phone line." It may have been the most he's heard from Una at one time, aside from her letters.
Una blushed after speaking. She remembered that moment, that beautiful moment when she was about to go to bed, when the phone had rung with Rilla, Rilla overcome with joy as she had told her quiet friend the news.
"I'm glad she's all right," he said. "She had been so worried about taking care of Jim, but he turned out all right, and she's grown so much."
"Everyone's proud of Rilla and all that she did in the war," said Una with a soft smile, "though she did surprise everyone with her engagement, yes, and marriage to Kenneth Ford."
"Yes, I was surprised too" he said, though he was not, not really. Rilla had always seemed to have a soft spot for Ken even as a little girl, and he was glad that Ken had finally noticed her before Rilla had gotten over him.
"Jem, Jem and Faith have gotten married," she said softly. "They live over the hill, still close to here, and Faith-" Una trailed off, an unhappy look on her face.
"Yes, Jem told me" Walter said, oddly touched that Una had seemed concerned about him, like Jem had when he had told him, "that Faith was pregnant." He gave her what must have been a tired smile. "It's okay, Una, it was a long time ago. It's not like I still..."
After all, even long ago Faith had belonged to Jem, even when Walter was pretending that she could be his and she was his muse that gave him many of his words.
He has other things to move him now, to inspire him, so much more that had started with one distant echo so many nights ago.
She looked at him carefully, hesitantly, and he tried to smile again.
"We've all changed, after the war" he said softly.
"Yes," she said softly, her eyes glowing with what could have been unshed tears and Walter wonders how anyone could ever call Una Meredith plain, when she looks like realized hope in this one moment, "we all have."
"Were all of them good changes?" he asks rhetorically, but Una has a real answer for him.
"Maybe not all of it," she says quietly, "but they were needed, as the war was."
He would not be able to forget the war, but all he would be able to do would be to move forward, to honor all he had gained and all he had lost.
She stands up apologetically as the first sunbeams filter through the trees. "I have to get breakfast for Father and Rosemary and Bruce ready," she explained, "They will be worried."
He stands too. "Come, I'll walk you to the crossingpath."
"Oh, there's no need," she says softly but Walter would not be deterred as he takes her arm to help her through the grass.
"I've missed you, Una."
He comes back to Ingleside when the sun has risen, with his mother waiting for him at the front door with the smile that never failed to comfort him when he had a thousand thoughts of sadness as a child, as a young man, and now as still a young man but with so much more weight on his shoulders.
"I'm home," he says carefully. "I was at Rainbow Valley."
"I know," she said with that special fondness in her voice as she hugs him, "Welcome back."
And he is finally able to put his pen to paper, for realized hopes and those yet to be realized, of finding out there is another tomorrow after today.