“I can’t believe you cut your hair!”
“How are you so tanned?”
“Oh please, Brazilian sun for half a year? Of course he’s tanned!”
The welcome is cheerful and loud, giving Louis and Harry hardly enough time to get out of the way of all the other passengers that are coming through customs and are making their way into the arrivals hall at Heathrow. Lottie and Gemma jump on them immediately, hugging their own brothers first and then switching, Liam grabbing them both into a big bear hug next.
Louis sees Harry’s smile fade a bit as he’s looking around. “Babe, of course he’s not here. You know how much he hates the carrier, it’d been too much stress for him.”
Harry looks guilty. “I know, I’ve just…”
“Missed your cat more than anything?” Gemma takes a wild guess. “Well, newsflash. He’s my cat now. He loves me. Won’t even remember you.”
“Gem, please,” Louis snickers. “I thought we agreed you’d wait at least an hour before you’d make Harry cry:”
“That’s it, I’m going back to Brazil. Not staying here listening to by boyfriend and sister mocking me,” Harry says dramatically and turns his trolley back towards customs.
“What, and not see Oldie?” Gemma quips.
Harry turns his trolley around again, Louis putting his arm around him and squeezing him briefly.
They take the tube, first going to Harry and Gemma’s to see Old Catford (Louis tags along, Lottie and Liam kindly promising to get his stuff back to the house) and then all heading to Homerton, where the welcome back -dinner is taking place later.
Old Catford hasn’t changed a bit. It doesn’t acknowledge Harry for the first fifteen minutes, instead it’s all over Louis. Harry looks like he might be on the verge of tears, and perhaps the cat senses it, because it then climbs into Harry’s lap and purrs louder than any of them three has ever heard, paws digging into Harry’s thighs as it keeps kneading Harry with all its might.
It’s a miracle, all things considered, that they’re only 45 minutes late for dinner.
Their families and friends are all there, welcoming them back home from their Brazilian adventure. Harry’s mum seems most chuffed about him having chopped off his long hair. They indulge in a proper British Sunday roast, even though it’s a Friday; it’s loud, it’s rowdy - it’s wonderful.
Louis finds himself shocked that they seem to now have not one, not two but an actual glorious amount of three sauce pans in the flat. Niall has Louis up in stitches with telling about the flatmate they’d had during Louis’ absence – Niall is convinced the guy was a secret voodoo priest, which would explain the recently emerged back pains Niall is having. Louis lets him have his theories instead of suggesting it’s probably because Niall’s crouching position over his laptop is incredibly unergonomic. Lottie and Liam aren’t even being casual anymore, they are full on dating and Harry, being such a romantic, looks smitten with how cute they are. Louis agrees, secretly at least – he’s not going to let the opportunity of some brotherly jabs go by.
“So, Harry dear,” Louis’ mum starts. “I hear congratulations are in order!”
Harry and Louis flush red as the whole room suddenly goes quiet, staring at them. “No, no, no,” Louis rushes to say. “That sounds… Yeah, nothing like that.”
“I got into uni,” Harry explains shyly, feeling uncomfortable being put on the spot, “I’m going to become a vet.” He sounds a bit proud, and Louis feels incredibly proud. There’s a round of applause, several people making comments how it makes so much sense; should’ve seen it coming.
Louis leans in to kiss Harry and tell him for the millionth time how proud he is of him. Harry’s wonderful with people once he gets over his nerves of getting to know them, but he’s just magical when it comes to animals. In Brazil, Harry had volunteered in an animal shelter and after two days, had come home and declared to Louis that he actually knew what he wanted to do now.
As for Louis, he’d found something good in Brazil too; found himself, in a way – or found himself again, more like. He’d absolutely loved working on the set, and he’d excelled at everything he’d set his mind out to do. It had been hard and he and Harry had fought too at times, with Louis being so stressed about finishing uni and Harry fretting over his own future, but they’d made it through stronger than ever before. And it’d been worth it - James had offered Louis a job at the production company, which Louis had happily accepted.
The evening draws to an end, after they’ve relayed most of their adventures in Brazil to their families over dinner. Because it’s so late, it’s decided that Louis’ family will be accommodated at the boys’ flat, whilst Harry’s is going to his.
“So weird, not sleeping with you,” Louis murmurs as he hugs Harry in the garden. “Or not living with you, really.”
“Mm,” Harry agrees. “It was a great adventure. Thank you for doing it with me.”
“Thank you,” Louis kisses Harry. “I’m not going to hold you up any longer, I know you have a cat to get to.”
Harry at least has the decency to look a little embarrassed. “I know it was weird for you to get used to sleeping with me,” he starts then. “And now it’ll probably be weird to sleep alone, so I made you a little something.”
Louis looks around, surprised to not see Harry reach into his pockets or anywhere to give him anything. “Well? Where is it, then?”
“You’ll see soon enough,” Harry winks and kisses Louis one last time, before he, his mum and Gemma bid goodnight to everyone else, heading home.
Louis’s phone beeps. It’s a message from Harry, just a link and a password (loveyou). Louis smiles fondly as he sees Harry’s just changed his profile picture on whatsapp. It’s a picture of the two of them, probably Louis’ most favourite picture – taken on their last morning in their little flat in Brazil, smiling tiredly before they began their journey back home. They look so... together, like they belong. It looks like they’re almost melting into one being, having had such a wonderful adventure with all the ups and downs that only the two of them experienced as a unit. Louis feels his heart get bigger at the thought of their journey still continuing.
Louis clicks on the link, finding himself on YouTube.
“Hello, lover,” Harry’s gentle, raspy whispering greets him. “I thought you might have trouble sleeping, so I wanted to tell you my very favourite bedtime story. It’s called Mercy, and it’s about how you should always trust life. I love you a lot, by the way,” Harry adds as a side comment. “Ahem. Here we go. There’s one spot in particular in Hackney Marshes that Louis always seems to find himself in…”