For the next four months, Leyla and Viper anxiously waited for any news about Humphrey. Then one day in early spring, they finally got it. Humphrey was finally getting out of his cast and Leyla left to go and get him. When she got there, she almost didn’t recognize him. Because he had spent so much time completely immobilized, Humphrey was being wheeled around on a large, flat cart. His fur also hadn’t gotten much of a chance to grow back while he was in the cast, so Leyla could see his bare skin and most of his body was only covered in a very light coat of fur. His head was the only thing that still had a full coat of fur on it.
He was also wearing some kind of special back brace that was made of a stiff piece of mesh that ran the whole length of his back and hung down around the sides of it as well, completely restricting his movement and forcing him to keep his back completely straight and the mesh allowed his fur to continue growing back. The brace was secured around all four of his legs in a way that allowed for them to move freely, but still kept his back in a fixed position.
He was still sleeping as he was rolled out and after Leyla took him, she carefully put him and the cart in the back of the truck and headed back to her house. Viper was anxiously waiting for them and when she heard them come through the door, she quickly slithered toward them. She was just as shocked at Humphrey’s state as Leyla had been.
“Oh my goodness,” she said. “Humphrey.”
“He’s sleeping,” Leyla said. “Let him rest. He needs it.”
“What is that thing?” Viper asked, looking at the brace on Humphrey’s back.
“It’s a brace for his back,” Leyla replied. “It forces him to keep it straight while it heals.”
“How long does he have to wear it?”
“They told me to keep it on for about three months,” Leyla said. “His back was broken pretty bad, so it’ll take a while to heal, and he has to wear it constantly.”
Humphrey woke up a few hours later. Leyla brought him water and helped him roll over onto his stomach so that he could drink it. Humphrey was still in pain, but that was unavoidable. Eating was difficult but going to the bathroom was worse. Humphrey had no strength in his legs, so Leyla had to lift him up and place a tote underneath him.
He didn’t talk much for the first week or so. The sounds he made were ones of discomfort and pain. The first month back with Leyla was the most difficult. Humphrey was almost completely helpless. Everything had to be done for him and his back brace was very restrictive.
By the end of the first month, Leyla tried getting Humphrey to stand again. His legs needed to start regaining their strength after not being used for five months. It was a difficult task for Humphrey, but Leyla was patient and he was fully committed to it. The first couple of tries failed but Leyla was there to help hold him up. They started out like this for a few days with Leyla supporting most of Humphrey’s weight and letting him put a small amount of it on his legs.
As the days passed, Leyla began supporting less and less of his weight until Humphrey was eventually able to stand on his own again, though he still needed help getting to his feet and laying back down again. Throughout his entire recovery, Humphrey never lost his fun-loving, playful attitude, even if he couldn’t actually be any of those things yet and while Viper couldn’t physically help him like Leyla, she stood by him as a friend and supported him the entire time. As time passed, Humphrey’s fur slowly but surely began to grow back as well.
A couple of weeks after Humphrey was able to stand again, he and Leyla began to start slowly walking around the house. He didn’t go very far the first couple of times, but he slowly began to get his strength back and was able to take short walks around Leyla’s living room. By the end of the month, Humphrey was back to walking around the house and would sometimes venture into the backyard, although he still moved pretty slowly, and he had enough strength to stand up while he ate. The moment of truth came the next week. It was finally time for his brace to come off.
Everyone had gathered in Leyla’s living room. Humphrey stood up as Leyla undid the clasps under his legs and slowly slid the brace off his back. For the first time in seven months, Humphrey could feel the cold air on his back. It was sore, but it felt good. It itched like crazy and he wanted so much to roll onto the floor and take care of it, but he knew he couldn’t and resorted to letting Leyla do it for him. He carefully stretched his back, turning it from one way to the other and let out a large sigh of relief. The next day, Humphrey went outside and was able to lift his leg to go to the bathroom again.
Life began to return to normal after that. Humphrey’s condition continued to get better and better. Finally, eight months after he was crippled by Viggo, Humphrey was more or less back to his old self. His fur had almost completely grown back, yet he would carry visible scars from the knife wounds for the rest of his life, along with many internal scars on his bones from the breaks and fractures. He also walked with a very noticeable limp on the leg that Viggo had snapped in half and while it would get better, it would never fully go away.
But as Humphrey’s recovery came to an end, Viggo’s final words to him echoed in his head. He began to consider the thought of returning home and making his survival known to the pack. For the next two weeks, Humphrey considered his options, wondering if this was the best choice. He knew that once he made a decision, there would be no going back.
In the end, Humphrey decided that it no longer mattered if he stayed away from the pack. Viggo would be going after them either way and it was his job to protect them. Viper and Leyla were shocked when they heard the news that Humphrey was leaving.
“You’re going back?” Viper asked.
“Yeah,” Humphrey replied. “I gotta go protect my family from Viggo in whatever way I can.”
“I’m coming with you,” Viper said.
“No,” Humphrey objected. “It’s too dangerous. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you. Please, stay here with Leyla.”
“Alright,” Viper replied, sadly.
“I’m going to miss you,” Leyla said, kneeling down and hugging Humphrey around the neck.
“Take care of her,” Humphrey told Leyla.
“I will,” she replied. “And good luck, Humphrey.”
“Bye, guys,” he said.
Humphrey smiled at Viper and Leyla as he walked out the door and headed eastward toward his home. After seventeen years away from his family, Humphrey was finally going home. He stopped and turned around, looking back at Leyla’s house. It had served as a sort of peaceful retreat from all the bad that had happened to him since his quest to find his parents. Viper and Leyla were such good friends, always having his back, rushing to save him when he needed them. Part of him hated to just leave like this. But he knew he had to. For Kate and his pups, although they weren’t really pups anymore. This was going to be weird. He had been away for seventeen years now and things definitely wouldn’t be like they were when he left.
Humphrey spent the next day traveling due east toward the back part of the valley. He arrived around midday but stopped when he smelled something troubling. Humans, lots and lots of humans. As he carefully peered through the bushes, he caught his first view of his home in seventeen years. He could see his old den, high up on the rock, overlooking the valley below. And scattered all around the area where tons of humans. Then he spotted him. He saw Viggo and someone else standing on the rock that jutted out from his den. He was too late. Viggo had already gotten there. There weren’t any wolves anywhere. Just humans. And then Humphrey saw something that made him proud.
Down in the valley, coming out of the forest, was Stinky, leading the pack in an all-out attack on Viggo and the other humans. Humphrey almost didn’t recognize him at first, he was so grown up. He watched as the battle progressed, impressed and proud of the leader his son had become. It wasn’t long before Viggo and the rest of the humans turned and retreated out of the valley. Humphrey smiled as he watched his son’s victory from afar. He laid around for the rest of the afternoon, simply watching everyone go about returning to normal after the battle.
As evening fell, Humphrey decided to get under way. He got up and circled around the pack, heading down to where the forest met the valley. Everyone he wanted to see first was gathered there. But as he got near the edge of the valley, he suddenly stopped. He could see Stinky, Claudette, and Runt through the trees. They all looked so different, it almost brought Humphrey to tears. They were talking with two other young wolves he didn’t recognize. They looked a couple years younger than his pups, so he assumed they had been born not long after he left. He saw his siblings-in-law, Garth and Lilly; and his own siblings, Adam and Kenya; and even Steven. Kate was the only one who wasn’t there, but he knew she was out on patrol. He had seen her leave.
He felt nervous looking at them all. They were within yards of him and they didn’t even know it. Suddenly, Stinky’s attention broke from the conversation he was having. He began to intently sniff the air, slowly turning toward the tree line. He was now looking directly at Humphrey, although it was clear he didn’t see him. It was time. Humphrey drew in a deep breath before slowly walking toward his son. He was home at last.
As Humphrey finished his story, he looked down sadly.
“This is my fault,” he said. “I can’t help but blame myself for everything that’s happened to us.”
“I can’t help but blame you either, but I’m totally willing to forgive you for it,” Steven joked.
“Humphrey, I’m so sorry this happened to you,” Kate said.
“I’m sorry too, Kate,” Humphrey replied. “But now we need to stop Viggo and make sure that he can’t do this to anyone else.”
“What happened to Viper and Leyla?” Kenya asked.
“Did I hear my name?”
Everyone turned to see a brightly colored snake slithering toward them.
“Viper,” Humphrey said, “what are you doing here?”
“No matter how much you want to keep me safe, I’m not leaving you,” she replied. “I owe you my life. You’re not getting rid of me that easily.”
“How did you find us?” he asked.
“Humphrey, I’m a viper,” she replied, smiling. “I used my pits to follow your heat signatures. For real this time. I left the day after you did and when I saw the explosion, I followed it. Then I saw your prints and I started following those. I didn’t stop until I found you.”
Humphrey smiled warmly.
“Well, I’m glad you’re here.”