It’s 10:45 on a Tuesday night and there’s an alligator onesie on Louis’ lap, a kitten resting on his bare feet. The television is on mute and the only light in the room is a lamp by the corner, dimmed down to the point where the walls are a hazy golden hue and Louis’ eyelids feel heavy with every passing moment. He only has a few more clothes to fold, but they all belong to Darcy. And because she’s Harry’s daughter that means Louis’ bound to have at least four tutus and ten years’ worth of Halloween costumes to deal with.
Which makes no sense whatsoever because Darcy’s two years old. She’s been alive for two Halloweens, neither of which she can even remember – because she’s two years old – but somehow she has an entire dresser of ridiculous outfits that Harry’s bought for her. Louis can’t step out of the house without his daughter dressed like a banana or a cowgirl or whatever her latest fascination is. Last Thursday it was elephants. Louis is secretly hoping that sticks with her a bit longer, only because she looked so damn cute in her fuzzy little trunk and gray tights. She’s a miniature version of Harry so she looks like an angel no matter what she’s wearing, but Louis is only slightly biased when it comes to elephants. Just the smallest bit.
It would help if she didn’t have Harry wrapped around her pudgy little fingers, though. Maybe then Louis would have someone to help him with the laundry instead of spending the last hour and a half reading Goodnight Moon. (And rereading, then reading again, and then rereading it a fourth time after a potty break because Darcy’s still not asleep.)
He’s starting to understand what the lads were on about all those years ago, but Louis’ almost positive that the control he had over Harry when they first started dating can’t even shed a light on Darcy’s reign these last two years. He’s officially been replaced, but it doesn’t sting too much. Darcy’s got Louis wrapped around her other finger, so Louis knows what it’s like to spend close to two hours reading about bears and moons. It was his turn last week, anyway.
By the time Louis is down to the last piece of clothing it’s just past eleven and there’s the soft thudding of footsteps upstairs, Achilles purring sleepily on his feet. He stacks the last tutu with the rest of Darcy’s clothes and sits back, sagging into the cushions of the couch. It’s the first quiet moment he’s had all day, he realizes. These few minutes – the ones in between the kids having finally fallen asleep and Harry puttering about upstairs before making his way down – are the only moments he has solely to himself. It’s not like he needs an escape from his husband and children, but a minute to just breathe is always nice. Zayn’s always going on about silence being golden or whatever and fatherhood has drilled that message home for Louis.
So he shuts his brain off, lets himself sink into the couch, and not think for the next three and a half minutes. If he listens closely enough he can hear the almost-silent buzzing of the muted television, Harry opening and closing the drawers of their dresser, the wind howling through the kitchen window. It’s peaceful, soothing, and it feels like hours before the wooden floors creak and Harry settles down beside him.
“You ready to go?”
Louis exhales deeply, but doesn’t say a word. He can feel the heat of Harry’s body radiating onto him, begging him to come closer, to touch; always tempting him in.
So Louis does. He shuffles around, eyes still closed, until his back rests against Harry’s chest. He can feel Harry’s heart beating against his temple, soothing away the dull throbbing of his headache from earlier in the day.
“Gimme five more minutes and I’m good,” he mumbles into the fabric of Harry’s shirt. “You drive, though. I can’t promise I won’t crash.”
“S’okay. Pez said Zayn’ll be out of the shower in a few and he’ll pop right over.”
“Mmm,” Louis hums. “Good ole’ Zayner.”
He nuzzles closer, rubs his cheek against Harry’s chest. His husband smells like fabric softener and Darcy’s wild berries shampoo, a combination that Louis’ come to call home over the last few years. It’s like with every baby Harry’s taken on a new scent. Beck gave him sweet pea and vanilla, Finn brought them the simplicity of sweet apple, and now Darcy’s got herself and Harry clinging on to her wild berries. He’ll always smell like Harry underneath - soft skin and subtle cologne - but it’s almost as if Louis can smell the life that they’ve built together when he nuzzles close and kisses him. Different layers of sweetness, each light and airy on his skin. And when Harry’s lonely, there’s also the occasional scent of Louis’ body wash or cologne instead of his own.
Louis yawns long and with his whole body before sitting up and stretching his arms over his head. He blinks a few times, vision adjusting to the dim light of the living room. He’s too comfortable to get up, it seems, but he knows he doesn’t have a say in the matter.
“Okay, okay, I’m good. Let’s go before I change my mind.”
“You say that every time,” points out Harry.
“I know, but I mean it this time.” He forces himself off the couch and puts his hand out for Harry. “I’m an old man, Curly. I can’t keep up with you and your eternal youth, whatever you’re on.”
Harry places his hand on Louis’ and pulls himself up. “You’re 31, you’re not—”
“Don’t,” Louis threatens, quickly throwing a hand over Harry’s mouth and shutting him up.
It makes Harry giggle in response, the opposite of what Louis was aiming for. It’s kind of ridiculous that his husband thinks no longer being in his twenties is the end of the world, so much so that he refuses to ever bring up his age.
It’s so ridiculous, Harry thinks. Louis in his thirties is, like, everything Harry’s wanted for as long as he can remember. The thick muscles of his arms and the hard line of his jaw. A beard Harry can nuzzle against and kiss until it leaves his skin stinging and bright red. Louis is his husband, and the father of his children, and he’s a man. He’s 31 and Harry is in a constant state of breathless horniness when he looks at Louis now, like he’s 16 again and being kissed by a boy for the first time. He loves that Louis is 31, wants to remind him every day because that’s just another year that he’s been in Harry’s life; 365 more days of kisses and raising their children with his best friend.
Thirty-one is great.
Harry kisses Louis’ palm and pulls it away from his mouth, laces their fingers together instead. He doesn’t mention 31 again, just grabs the keys on the coffee table and kisses the corner of Louis’ mouth. There’s still the fluttering butterflies in his belly, though, and the stupid grin on his face when he lets Louis lead them out of the house. He has to physically refrain from gluing himself to Louis’ back the moment they step out. The walk to the car is too short and Harry doesn’t think he’ll be able to stop once he starts. Instead, he settles on squeezing Louis’ hand and kissing the back of his bare neck right above the collar of his thin shirt.
“Is this mine?” he asks as he opens the passenger side door.
It’s not like he can differentiate between his and Louis’ clothes any more, but sometimes he likes to ask just to know for sure. There’s a huge difference between thinking maybe Louis’ wearing my shirt? and knowing that when his husband walks into a room, anyone with eyes can put one and two together to realize who those clothes belong to, who Louis belongs with.
Louis gets inside the Range Rover slowly, noting in the back of his head the way Harry still holds onto his waist as he steps up. Even subconsciously, Harry still takes care of him in all his little ways.
“Your daughter threw up on mine earlier,” Louis explains when he settles in. “Feel free to take up all charges with her.”
“Maybe she just likes seeing her papa in daddy’s clothes.”
“Maybe,” Louis turns to face him, “you should get in the car and stop projecting your kinks onto our children.”
“I can’t be blamed for their great taste,” Harry tries to poorly defend himself. It doesn’t really work because technically he’s to blame for any taste that Darcy has.
Louis raises an eyebrow. “I literally just spent the last hour folding ten pairs of tutus and an alligator onesie, Harry. It worries me that you take any pride at all in their ‘taste.’”
Harry fixes his husband with a frown and crosses his arms. “Hey, pal, you bought Darce that onesie for Christmas, so don’t you put that one on me.”
Well, then. That shuts Louis up on that matter. He fish mouths for a second before giving up and putting his seatbelt on, turning to face the front of the car.
“You can get in whenever you please, mate,” he says. “It’s not like we have things to do or places to be.”
“Alright, alright, Jesus.”
Harry sneakily kisses him on the cheek, feeling Louis smile into it reluctantly while he breaks out into a small chuckle himself. Eventually he gets his shit together long enough to get into the driver’s seat and start the car, pulling out of the driveway with practiced ease. Louis rolls the windows down immediately and as they drive down the dark streets, the thick summer air blows against their heated skin and cools them down. It’s a relief to finally be able to turn the air conditioning off and inhale the fresh air of August; a little damp and chilly, but freeing nonetheless.
It’s a short drive, no more than seven minutes at this time of night, and they don’t really speak. Not that they ever do, but tonight just feels different for some reason. They’ve been doing this same thing for years now, varied at different points in their lives, but it’s been the same routine for a little over twelve years nonetheless. Maybe when they were drunk or extremely horny – back in the old days, as Harry jokingly refers to it – there was more conversation and drunken giggling, a loud, excitable force that radiated off the both of them and made the car ride or short walk a lot different. Things have changed since then, though, and that’s also okay.
Maybe it’s just the summer air mingling with nostalgia, or maybe it’s Louis’ warm palm on his thigh, but Harry feels himself shiver when he makes one last turn and drives forward to park the car. This is his life, he realizes. This is… This small, trivial, hour-long task is the highlight of his week. It’s Harry and Louis for over twelve years now.
“You ready, love?”
Harry shakes his head into focus. “Yeah, yeah. M’ready, let’s go.”
He turns the car off and steps out, walking over to Louis’ side immediately. As he helps his husband out of the car, Harry is overcome by images of Louis throughout the years, images of them at every moment of their lives. Maybe when he was 16 and being kissed by a pretty boy with soft hair he didn’t think about what the next ten years of his life would look like. Probably didn’t even think that he’d be kissing that same boy for the next ten years – and then some – probably couldn’t even believe that he was getting a kiss at all, much less by a boy like Louis, who was well out of his league then and isn’t even in the same universe as Harry now.
Jesus, Harry’s got a lot of catching up to do.
“Stop looking at me like that,” Louis mumbles as they start walking toward the entrance. There’s the slightest hint of nervousness in his voice, like he’s worried that Harry’s noticed another gray hair or that he can’t stop staring at the bags under his eyes because they’re so ghastly and unattractive.
Harry fits his hand inside the back pocket of Louis’ jean shorts and presses himself closer. “Sorry,” he apologizes softly, though he’s not. “You make it hard not to.”
Louis chuckles dryly, shaking his head. “You’ve already made an honest man out of me, mate, there’s no need for the wooing.”
“I like the wooing.”
“I like the wooing too, but save it for the bedroom at least. Or, you know, not on a Tuesday night in the parking lot of a grocery store, love.”
Harry grabs a cart with his free hand as they step inside the deserted store, a stupid grin on his face. “I distinctly recall a few activities that would—”
“Haz—” Louis hisses, pinching one of Harry’s nipples quickly. “You promised not to bring that up.”
Harry retaliates by squeezing his bum and then immediately pressing a kiss to Louis’ temple to cancel out his raunchiness. “I won’t, I won’t, I promise.”
“Let’s just get your bloody groceries and get home before you come in your pants like a fourteen year old,” Louis huffs.
Louis looks up at him and his lips are pursed, cheeks hollowed out as he tries not to grin as much as he wants to. “Again,” he agrees, picking up on the specific incident that Harry’s referring to.
That was so long ago and Harry’s come in his pants so many time over the years that Louis’ kind of surprised he can even remember that incident amongst all the others. It says a lot about the man Louis’ turned him into that Harry finds that sort of thing romantic. Awfully heartwarming and everything, that his husband can remember in detail every time he’s jizzed himself like a fourteen year old.
“What do we need, anyways?” Louis asks as they walk toward the fruits. “Cereal and milk? Eggs?”
“I have a list on my phone, hold on.”
Before Harry can move, Louis is already digging his hands into Harry’s pocket and pulling out his phone. Harry can see the exact moment that Louis notices his wallpaper, a picture of Louis and Darcy Eskimo kissing at Finn’s birthday. His face shifts almost instantly, eyes going soft and cheeks pinched pink as he runs his eyes and fingers over the screen, probably taking in every detail of the photo over and over again. Harry lets him. He hooks a thumb into Louis’ jeans and pulls him closer, until he can physically feel his husband’s muscles loosening. Louis only refreshes the screen twice before finally putting in Harry’s passcode and pulling up his notepad, the smallest of regrettable sighs slipping from his lips as he does so.
In between an entry of random song lyrics and the schedule to Finn’s piano lessons is their grocery list, the same place it always is.
“We’re out of bananas again?” scoffs Louis as he scrolls through the list. “And why do we need more vegemite? I just bought some last week – who the hell is eating vegemite in our house anyways? I’ve yet to see any of the kids go near that shit.”
Harry plucks his phone out of Louis’ hands and kisses his temple again. “Beck needs it for a ‘project,’ he says. I decided not to ask about it.”
“Seems like a smart decision.”
“It will be until neighbors come running again. Did you know the Smiths still bring up the volcano project you helped Beck with last fall? This entire neighborhood probably thinks we run a circus, Lou.”
Louis giggles to himself as they walk past the fruits and then the bakery, now closed and nearly empty. That’s the downside to going grocery shopping late at night, but there are so many positives that it doesn’t really bother Louis that he’s missing out on a fresh baked pie or whatever. That’s what he has Harry for, anyways.
“I mean, they’re not that far off,” he hums, pushing the cart toward the cereal aisle. “We’ve got three kids and Zayn living next door. They’re lucky Niall and Liam still live in the city or this neighborhood would be properly fucked. Text Zayn and see if he’s at the house yet, will you babe?”
Louis stops the cart in the middle of the aisle and turns around in Harry’s arms, watching his green eyes scan across his phone.
“He just checked in on them, said we’re out of apple juice and to bring more,” Harry snickers with a roll of his eyes. “Bloody twat.”
“Are you just saying that because you forgot to add that on your list?”
Harry peeks over the top of his phone to look at Louis, a sly and knowing grin on his husband’s face. It’s nearly impossible for Harry not to break out into a smile with the way Louis leans over and kisses him on the cheek like he still finds it hopelessly charming the way Harry always, always forgets just one item on his list when they go grocery shopping. They’ve been doing this for years now and maybe Louis’ favorite part will always be this little slip-up of Harry’s, how it’s a constant in his life just like the chore itself.
Twelve years later and everything is still the same, except now they’re feeding three extra mouths – that don’t belong to Niall and Liam and Zayn – and Harry’s no longer a blushing, cherubic darling frantically scrolling through his phone.
Now he’s Louis’ spouse, frantically scrolling through his phone.
“I can’t believe I forgot apple juice,” Harry frowns. “Finn’s been pestering me to get some all week. He wrote it on the fridge list and everything.”
His eyebrows are furrowed deeply, one hand still in the pocket of Louis’ shorts and the other holding his phone. Louis takes a step closer and kisses him in between his eyebrows. It’s silly for Harry to be this worked up over apple juice and Louis can’t help but kiss him again and again because it’s this sort of thing that makes Harry who he is. Even the smallest things mean the most to him, like there’s nothing in his world that doesn’t deserve every ounce of his attention and genuine care. Especially when apple juice and his babies are involved.
“You’re very cute when you get stressed over apple juice, you know,” Louis mouths against his jaw. He wants to nibble on Harry’s cheeks, make him giggle until the tension in his forehead subsides and he’s got his usual, blinding smile on his face.
“It’s important to the kids, Lou—”
“I know, I know, darling. C’mhere.”
Louis grabs his phone and drops it into the pocket of his flannel button down, shuffling about until Harry’s got both arms around his waist right there in the middle of the cereal aisle on a Tuesday night. Louis presses in close and inhales Harry’s subtle wild berries and faded cologne scent. His skin is just the slightest bit golden from the summer sunshine and the apples of his cheeks are littered with the faintest freckles. Louis knows that if he kissed his neck right now, Harry would taste like sweat and sunshine; if he ran his fingers through his hair, Harry’s curls would still be warm from being in the sun all day, haunting his fingers with warmth when he eventually has to pull his hand away.
So Louis does both, but doesn’t have the heart to stop, to remove his lips from Harry’s neck or slip his fingers out of Harry’s curls. He’s happy where he is, all tangled up in his husband.
“I like you so much,” he whispers like a secret.
“I like you too, pal.”
Harry can feel Louis smile against his skin, trailing his nose along the column of his neck to find its place back home in the swoop of his collarbone.
“Betty’s gonna kill us if we make her stay any longer,” he mumbles into the top of Louis’ head. It earns him a scoff, unsurprisingly.
“Betty’s got four teenagers and an emotionally unstable Yorkie back home. I think we’re doing her a favor, love.”
“Oh yeah?” Harry laughs. “Cuddling in the cereal aisle is your version of doing people favors now?”
Out of nowhere, Louis quickly detaches himself. He turns his back to Harry and begins to walk away, headed for the Coco Puffs, probably.
“If you didn’t wanna cuddle, mate, you could have just said so.”
Harry knows what Louis’ doing, but he indulges him nonetheless, quickly grabbing the back of his t-shirt and pulling him against his chest again. He crashes softly into Harry’s body. Harry tucks his chin over Louis’ shoulder and squeezes his arms around his waist. “Always wanna cuddle with you, darling,” he whispers earnestly.
“Could’ve fooled me.”
Harry reprimands him with a bite to his ear, making his husband squeal in his arms. “Don’t get smart with me, Lewis, we’ve got things to do,” he says sternly, following it quickly by pursing his lips and closing his eyes. “Now give me a kiss.”
To his surprise Louis actually barks a loud laugh and forces himself out of Harry’s grip, walking toward the Coco Puffs for real this time.
“Heeeeey,” he pouts when he opens his eyes, apparently unkissed.
By now Louis’ already at least ten steps away on his tippy toes reaching for the Coco Puffs. It’s all the way on the top shelf, though, and Louis, much to his own chagrin and Harry’s amusement, still isn’t quite tall enough to reach. His fingertips just barely graze the rectangular box, a sliver of skin exposed where his – Harry’s, actually – shirt rides up. His hair is a mess and his jean shorts are tattered and grass stained, folded up at the ends. He looks like he’s 20 years old, on a quick midnight snack run to get him through his Breaking Bad marathon, and Harry hesitates for a moment before giving him a hand. Louis never asks for help, is the thing, and it’s not so much that Harry enjoys watching Louis pout and struggle – maybe just a little bit – but sometimes he just wants to sit back and admire his husband, watch him from afar as he goes on with his day. Especially right now, when his chest aches with nostalgia and he can see the fine, golden hairs at the small of Louis’ exposed back, the curve of his spine.
When he does eventually walk over and grab the box for him, he doesn’t say anything. Just hands it over and slides his hand underneath Louis’ shirt, palm flat against his warm skin. Louis settles flat on his feet and his shirt falls down, right over Harry’s hand. Maybe it’s all in his head, but Harry swears he feels Louis instinctively press himself closer and sway his hips just once, like he’s trying to feel Harry’s large hand graze the small of his back for a moment longer. Harry doesn’t mention it.
Louis’ voice is softer when he speaks this time. “Do we need a box of Cheerios or have you still got some at home?”
“I’ve still got some at home, yeah. We’re good.”
“What else is on your list?”
Harry digs his phone out of his pockets and reads, “Vegemite for Beck, brown rice, oatmeal, spaghetti, and quinoa. Um… Eggs, milk, skim milk, two percent milk, vanilla extract, baking soda, and sea salt. And then a bunch of fruits and veggies, but I was going to go down to the farmers’ market with Darcy tomorrow morning and get them from there.”
“How do you still have the patience to make all of her food by hand?” Louis laughs. “She’s two years old, babe. I’m pretty sure smushed bananas taste the same no matter where you get them from.”
“But she likes helping me cook,” Harry pouts.
Louis can’t really argue with that, can he?
“Okay, okay. Let’s just go get your bloody quinoa and sea salt or whatever.”
“Wait—” Harry grabs Louis’ hand and stops him midway. He still has his box of Coco Puffs in his other hand, hasn’t tossed it in their cart yet. “Say smushed again.”
Louis looks at him like he’s grown a second head, but decides not to say anything about how odd his husband is being.
“Smushed, jeez, H. What the hell are you on about?”
Harry breaks out into a wide grin and shrugs his shoulders. “Nothing really, just like the way you say smushed. It’s cute.”
Louis stares back at him for a minute and doesn’t say anything. He’s not really sure how to respond, not that there’s much to say to something like that anyways. He feels his cheeks grow warm, a tingling sensation in his belly. He feels 18 years old again. Harry stands two feet away from him, staring back entirely clueless about the affect he really has.
Louis clears his throat. “Um. So. Vegemite, yeah? I think that’s in, uh, aisle—”
Harry stops Louis’ wordless blundering and pulls him back into his arms yet again. This time he squeezes his arms around his husband’s shoulders, swaying their bodies left and right just slightly, naturally. There’s an awfully uncomfortable cardboard box in between them and they’ve definitely been in this stupid cereal aisle for far too long, but Louis shrinks in Harry’s arms and nuzzles close to his neck.
It’s easy to be overly affectionate when they’ve fought to even be able to hold hands, Harry thinks. This is the easy part. This, holding Louis when he wants, for however long he wants, and not having to worry if anyone sees—this is the easy part. It’s what they worked so hard for. It’s been more than a few years, though, so maybe they should do as the kids beg and give it a break with the public displays of affection, but Harry can’t get himself to stop just yet. He’s got too many years to make up for, still.
The kids are too young to know how things started out. They see matching tattoos, but they’re too little, too innocent to understand the stories behind them. The only version of HarryandLouis they’ve ever known is the married one, the one where they get to call Harry and Louis dad and papa. Harry hopes that’s the only version they’ll ever have to know, but he realizes that realistically, they’ll grow up and they’ll get curious, find out things that would be easier to not have to discuss as a family. For right now, though, it’s comforting to pretend like this is the only version of them that’s ever existed, will ever have to exist.
This is the easy part.
Eventually Louis breaks the silence. He knows he has to or they’ll never let go.
“We should probably get those groceries, right?” he sighs into Harry’s chest.
“We should, yeah. Zayn probably thinks we fell asleep in the car again.”
Louis takes a step back and Harry’s hands slip down to his waist. “To be fair, it wouldn’t be the worst thing we’ve put him through,” he points out. “Come on now, no more dirty talk until we at least get through the dairy products. I’m getting sleepy.”
It only takes another five minutes and a handful of kisses to get Harry to finally start moving again, which is probably a new record altogether.
By the milks and juices Louis slowly undoes the buttons of Harry’s flannel and presses himself against Harry’s bare chest, feeling his husband circle his arms around his shoulders and keep him warm.
When they get to the baking products Louis buttons him up save for the first three. He kisses the small amount of bare skin and sighs, quietly, “Wanna give the birdies some air.”
They spend almost ten minutes discussing which type of pasta they actually want; Finn and Harry like linguine, but Louis likes penne and Beck likes angel hair. Darcy just wants her bananas, so she’s out of the question altogether. They get to the point where Louis calls Zayn and asks him to check the cupboard to see which kind they’re out of. They end up getting spaghetti, just as the list had read the entire time.
Getting the milks, the vegemite, the brown rice and the spaghetti is the easy part. They walk the aisles aimlessly for a few moments, but they get there in time, not necessarily in any sort of rush. They’ve been going to this same grocery store for years now and they know it like the back of their hands, but it’s still nice to get lost sometimes, especially when it’s empty like it is right now.
The neighborhood is small enough that everyone knows everyone, and Louis distinctly recalls there being hushed whispers when they’d first moved in. It didn’t take long for the curiosity to die down, probably aided by the birth of Beck, who quickly became the neighborhood menace the minute he could waddle about on his chubby little feet.
Maybe they’re that boring suburban family now, Louis wonders as they search for their favorite brand of brown rice – the one they can never remember the name of for some reason. Most likely they are, but they’re Old and Responsible now. Their wild days are far behind them. Instead of touring the world and selling out entire arenas, they’ve settled for creating their own label and songwriting. And doing their grocery shopping at midnight, like all Old and Responsible adults.
It’s only when they get to the frozen section that something catches Harry’s eye and they get stuck, out of nowhere.
“I want mint chocolate chip, though.”
Louis looks up at his husband. “Beck doesn’t like mint.”
“And I don’t like rocky road,” Harry frowns.
“Well neither does Finn, so that’s out of the question too.”
It really shouldn’t be this difficult. It’s almost pathetic that it’s this difficult. They’ve had seven years of practice. They should be better at this.
“We could just get all of them,” Louis suggests, the same way he does every single time they have this argument.
Harry turns to him, arms crossed over his chest and eyebrows furrowed in deep thought. “You know we can’t. Ice cream wasn’t even on the list, Louis. We have to go by the list.”
“List, schmist, Harold. It’s bloody ice cream. Why don’t we just get vanilla, then? You can’t go wrong with vanilla.”
Harry faces the ice cream again. The two of them stand in the empty grocery store, arms crossed and stubbornly trying to figure out which flavor of ice cream to buy – ice cream that wasn’t even on their grocery list. Thirteen years they’ve been in each other’s lives, seven of which they’ve spent being parents, and something as trivial as picking out a flavor of ice cream seems to be the most trying task of their relationship.
“Which kind?” Harry motions with his chin to the ten different varieties of vanilla ice cream before them. “French vanilla, vanilla bean, slow-churned, creamy—“
“Let’s just get popsicles then!” Louis quickly gives up.
“Popsicles are entirely corn syrup and food dye.” Harry shakes his head and lets out an exhausted sigh. “You know, I’m starting to understand why we never have ice cream on the list.”
Louis shrugs his shoulders. “Maybe ice cream just isn’t the sort of thing you should be shopping for at midnight.”
“We used to do it all the time though.”
When Louis looks over at his husband, he thinks that Harry looks a lot like the pigeon-toed boy who came into his life all those years ago. Maybe it’s the sleepiness getting to him and making his brain all fuzzy, but Louis looks at him and sees 16; a wild mess of springy curls and blushing cheeks, begging for just one more good luck kiss, pretty please before they have to go on stage. Or maybe it’s the fluorescent lights above them and the bright colors of all the labels and signs, the cold air seeping from the freezer and into their bones that has Louis shivering with a bit of nostalgia.
They were a lot more spontaneous back then. Carefree and light on their feet, running out of the house to the closest Tesco too late in the night and grabbing a bunch of junk food to munch on. It’s different now, but only because they’ve got three kids and a mortgage, are out of the city, and are less naive. It’s a relief to Louis that at least they’ve still got this: late night runs to grocery stores.
And one another, mostly.
Without another thought, Louis slides open the freezer door. He can feel Harry watching him as he quickly picks up a tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream and tosses it into their cart. “Ice cream is ice cream,” he shrugs, as if that’s a good enough explanation. “Tomlinson men will eat it up regardless.”
The way that Harry smiles at him, blushing and victorious because he’s gotten his pick of something as simple as ice cream, has Louis thinking that maybe a lot has changed, but definitely for the better. The way he sees it, everything has to change; get beat up and torn down a bit to get to where it needs to be, and him and Harry have gone through more than enough of that to last them a lifetime.
They’re not young and naïve anymore, no longer tied down and drowning in uncharted waters. It feels cliché to say that they’re free now, but it’s true. Louis has Harry now, and he can kiss him and hold him and have as many babies with him as he wants, and that’s exactly where he’s meant to be. Every rough tide and stormy sea has brought him where he is today, a ride both painful and worth every ache, just to get to his destination. Home.
Louis reaches out with his free hand, palm open, and Harry twines their fingers together. He pushes the cart down the store with one hand and with the other rubs his thumb across Harry’s wedding ring. It’s a subconscious habit that Harry noticed years ago, the way Louis will grab for his hand and play with his wedding ring. Sometimes he can go on for hours, until their palms are sweaty and Harry starts to feel like they’re attached in more ways than one. He still isn’t really sure why Louis does it, but it feels nice and homey, so Harry’s never once encouraged him to stop or brought it up. He likes to save Louis’ little quirks for himself.
“Shit!” Harry curses abruptly, stopping in the middle of the store. When Louis twists his head to give him a curious glance, Harry gasps, “I forgot the apple juice!”
Before Louis can say anything, Harry is letting go of his hand and running off to the other side of the store.
“What—” he mumbles to himself as he watches his husband – in his oversized jean shorts and ratty plaid flannel – run off. For a moment he debates just standing there, confused and sleepy, but eventually he gives up and heads off to the check-out aisle.
Many years ago, around the time that they got married, Louis remembers moving into this neighborhood. Back then there were still hectic tours and hushed whispers and a drive into this area on their way to Anne’s house one day. Harry had been – well, Harry: stricken with baby (and wedding) fever, so they’d gotten off the M1 for a snack break and to shake out their legs.
Everything was fine until Harry had caught a glimpse of a house and that was it. The front porch and the big yard, the swing set and the For Sale! sign. It took a while to visit an open house, get the legal work done, and then plan out the renovations, all while touring and recording. Louis thinks that looking back, maybe it was an impulse move, a desperate grasp for just one small thing that belonged to them and them alone, something no one else could touch or poke at or take away from. It was home, beyond the curves of their spines and the ink on their skin. Something physical and permanent; a starting point for the rest of the lives.
Everything afterward is history. Three children, a mortgage, and a local grocery store open until late.
When Louis reaches the register – the only one up this late at night and half an hour before closing – Peter, a 20-something university student and Betty’s nephew, is sat on his stool flipping through a gossip rag.
“Hey, Lou,” he greets almost immediately. He’s got a wild head of brown curls and a big dimpled grin, flimsy with his movements and all long limbed.
He’s also got a massive crush on Louis that he’s never really bothered being subtle about.
Louis stops the cart and steps in front of it, leaning over to rest his elbows on the conveyor belt. He breaks out into an equally wide grin and whispers in a soft voice, “Hey, love. How are you?”
Maybe sometimes he likes to flirt a little with Peter. He’s sweet and blushes cherry red with every little word, and Louis’ always loved that in a man. A little harmless cheekiness has never hurt anyone, especially a uni student with a late shift at a grocery store.
“I’m good, yeah, thank you,” Peter responds, just barely managing to keep himself from squealing. “How are you? Where’s Harry?”
Louis shrugs. “Sleepy, a bit. And Harold’s off on a mission for apple juice, I think, so we’ll probably never see him again at this rate.”
“Oh.” Peter straightens up in his seat, looking serious now. “Apple juice should be in… Aisle 4 – do you want me to—”
Louis quickly brings a hand to Peter’s arm, settling him down with just one touch. He smiles at the dazed-out look on Peter’s innocent face.
“Nah, don’t worry about it, love. Harry’s a big boy. He’ll find his way eventually.”
Just as Louis starts placing items on the conveyor belt and Peter asks how Beck’s swimming lessons are going, Harry appears out of nowhere, breathless and carrying his beloved bottle of apple juice.
“Hey!” he pants heavily. “Didn’t miss anything, did I?”
He’s got a tight grip on the juice bottle and his cheeks are blushed a lovely pink. Louis glances at him, then to Peter, and then back to Harry once more. He’d noticed a slight resemblance a couple of months back, but it’s still weird to wrap his head around. It’s not like Louis is oblivious to attractive people, but he’s ten years older than Peter and – God, it’s such a cliché to say that nobody holds a candle next to Harry, but it’s true. The butterflies in his belly have never been wrong about that much.
Louis cups a hand around Harry’s hip and pulls him in close. The rise and fall of his chest is slowing down and there’s a thin sheen of sweat across his honeysuckle skin. Louis squeezes a little tighter, presses in even closer. He wants so badly to kiss him, but he’ll save that for later.
“Nothing, love. Got your juice?”
Harry breaks out into a wide, proud smile. “Yeah! I got the organic one, too. It’s Finn’s favorite.”
Louis’ heart goes into something like a subdued frenzy because of his husband. Instead of breaking down on the spot and leaping into his arms, he settles for a small, thankful kiss to the corner of his mouth. “He’s gonna love it, darling. Thank you.”
Harry knows they’re just talking about apple juice, but he also knows that there’s way more to the way Louis slides his hand underneath his shirt than just thanks for the juice, love. He knows that the way Louis presses his fingertips against his skin, the way he rubs his thumb across the soft flesh at his hip, speaks volumes that have become a second language to him.
He settles the bottle of juice on the conveyor belt and brings an arm around Louis’ shoulders, scanning his eyes across the now full conveyor belt of groceries. “We’re not forgetting anything, are we?”
“No, we’re okay,” Louis confirms, plucking Harry’s wallet out of his pocket as Peter begins scanning the items. “Besides, it’s getting late. We shouldn’t keep poor Peter here any longer, anyways. Is Betty in the back?”
“She is, yeah,” Peter answers. He scans the bottle of apple juice and then looks up at them. Louis catches him glance at Harry’s fingers tucked inside the collar of his shirt and quickly look away, blushing. “I don’t mind, honestly, I haven’t got anywhere to be. And Aunt Betty takes a while to close up anyways, so.”
“So you’re stuck having to clean up after Harold and I here.”
Peter shrugs. “I’ll just leave that to the morning crew – you can slide your card now.”
As Louis pays for the groceries, Peter begins to bag them up. Harry would help, but he’s getting sleepy and Louis is so sturdy beside him, holding him up. By the time they get home, put all the groceries away, wash up, and get into bed, it’ll be almost half one in the morning, which means they’ll get a good four hours of sleep – if they’re lucky – before Darcy is up. He finds solace in the fact that it’ll be Louis’ turn to get their daughter when she inevitably decides it’s time to wake up her daddies and begin the day.
Harry plans on getting a straight eight hours of sleep, though, so that by the time Louis finally crawls back into bed, he’ll just be waking up. It gives Harry a few moments to curl up against him all over again and watch him fall back asleep, force himself not to be lulled, too, by the soft rise and fall of his husband’s chest underneath his cheek. It’s not going to be nearly enough time, because the boys will eventually wake up and make some sort of ruckus, usually in an attempt to make breakfast. The fire alarm will go off, a dish will be broken, and Achilles will come meowing into the room in horror – something will happen to force Harry out of bed, away from Louis’ soft breaths and sleep-warm skin.
It’s probably a bit boring for the normal person, Harry thinks, but after all the interviews and the PR stunts and the sold out arenas, Harry is in love with the idea of boring. He likes lazy days by the pool and writing music in the studio, likes Darcy’s late night baths and Beck’s annual firework shows with Uncle Zayn. He likes helping Finn with his piano lessons, and he likes grocery shopping with Louis late on Tuesday nights.
When Harry picks his head up, all the groceries are bagged up and back in the cart, Peter is closing down the register, and Louis is staring at him, equally as sleepy. He can see the faint, tiresome lines of the years etched into the skin by his eyes, soft when he smiles, crinkly-eyed and gentle. Louis looks weary and warm, but domesticity and three children will do that to even the best, Harry figures, and it definitely doesn’t get better than Louis Tomlinson.
“Yeah,” Harry mumbles slowly, blinking just as lazily. “Let’s go home.”
They say goodbye to Peter, reminding him to say hello to Betty and his parents, before they head toward the exit. Louis keeps one arm around Harry’s hip, tucked underneath the fabric of his shirt, and uses the other to push the cart along.
When they step outside the parking lot is empty, just as it had been when they’d first walked in. The summer wind is thick and cool, apologetically fanning at their damp skin for the humidity of the previous day. It smells like rain is coming and Harry inhales deeply in the dark of the night. It reminds him of how much cleaner the air is in their little town outside of London, away from the traffic and pollution and the hurry. He takes another breath and they’ve reached the car.
“C’mon,” Louis says, stopping the cart by the passenger side door. He lets go of Harry, causing him to stumble over a bit. Before Harry can pout and complain, Louis hops onto the hood of the car. It’s a bit of a jump considering they brought the Range Rover, but Louis’ got years of practice underneath his belt. He wiggles back until his bum is seated comfortably and his legs dangle over the edge. He put his arms out, frowning, and makes grabby hands at his husband. “Come to me.”
There’s a full moon out and in the soft glow of the streetlights Louis’ cheekbones are sharp, his knobby knees golden, and curves of his ankles impossible for Harry to draw his eyes away from. He looks smaller against the black metal of the car, standing out in his white t-shirt and ratty jean shorts folded up just past his bare knees.
“Are you just gonna stand there and stare or you gonna come and kiss me, Tomlinson?” Louis challenges.
Tomlinson, Harry repeats in his head. He’s still not over how wonderful that sounds.
“Hold your horses, Tomlinson. I’m coming.”
Harry steps around to the front of the car and seamlessly fits himself into between Louis’ dangling legs. Like this, Louis’ got a few extra centimeters of height advantage over him and his knees bracket Harry’s waist with ease. Louis does what he does best and uses his legs to force Harry closer, circling them behind his back until they’re chest to chest.
“Hi,” Louis whispers, finally pleased with the lack of space in between them.
When Harry kisses Louis he can feel the smile spread across his husband’s lips, taste the iced tea he had at dinner, feel him grip the hair at the back of his head and smooth it out. When Harry kisses his husband, he feels him sigh into his mouth, something like relief and welcome home. Harry kisses him without any intention to stop, just keeps his arms secure around Louis’ waist and cranes his neck back further and further, lets Louis have his way. The best part about growing up and marrying your best friend is that you can kiss for hours without it having to go anywhere, Harry thinks. He’s found comfort in endless snogging and late night grocery shopping, in this little town outside of London and in Louis Tomlinson.
“We should probably get going,” Louis sighs when they eventually stop to catch a breath.
Harry makes a displeased noise in the back of his throat and knocks theirs foreheads together, refusing to open his eyes. “Can I kiss you more when we get home?”
He’s close enough that when Louis does open up his eyes, Harry can feel his eyelashes just barely fan his skin. Louis sighs deeply and pulls away only to press a long kiss to Harry’s forehead. “For however long you want,” he promises. “Now come on, your ice cream’s gonna melt and Zayn’s probably worried sick. Pick me up.”
Harry opens his eyes, Louis kisses him once more, Harry picks him up, Louis drives them home. They’ll have a small chat with Zayn and when he leaves they’ll put away the groceries and wash up. Louis will check on all the kids once more and Harry will drag him to bed, making sure he keeps to his promise. It’s going to be the same thing all over again: a crying baby and broken dishes, failed attempts at breakfast and a terrified kitten, next Tuesday and another grocery list in between an entry of random song lyrics and the schedule to Finn’s piano lesson, the same place it always is.