The thing is, Harry knows Louis doesn't like himself. Actually, he really hates himself, as he told Harry somewhere at the beginning of their relationship, when he was crying into Harry's arms and finally letting himself lose control after what seemed like a lifetime. Louis told him back then, just like that, just those three words that broke Harry's heart. Between sobs, that is. It's just that Louis not liking himself is hard enough to handle for Harry - he can't make himself think of it as hating. He thinks that if he did, he'd break completely.
And it's not like Louis has a reason for that. Harry told him hundreds of times. It's just, Louis' mind keeps telling him otherwise.
Once, after a really bad day, Louis locked himself up in their bathroom. He turned on the water, but Harry could still hear the muffled sobs through the door, and he knew Louis was sitting on the floor, knees pulled up against his chest, like he always did. He spent hours - at least it seemed like that to him - pleading Louis to let him in, on the verge of tears himself. When the older boy finally opened the door, Harry had him wrapped in his arms in a second. He kept telling him he was okay, he was fine, everything'd be fine. After Louis calmed down enough, he didn't stop, told him how much he loved him, how beautiful and amazing he was. He knew Louis didn't believe him. He told Harry he loved him, too, even more, and when Harry said it was impossible, he shook his head, bit his lip, but stayed quiet.
That was the moment Harry realized Louis wasn't really fighting those thoughts, that he let them take over. Or maybe he didn't let them, but it happened anyway. It was also the moment Harry swore to himself (and later to Louis, too) that if Louis wouldn't fight them, he'd do it for him. So from then on, it became a constant battle between Harry and Louis' mind.
When they were doing a photo shoot a few weeks later, all five of them standing next to each other, Harry knew something was wrong. At that point, he was so used to looking for any bad signs in Louis' behavior that he spotted one immediately after it had appeared.
Now it was Louis looking down at his shoes for a brief moment between two takes, and before he could hide his face under his fringe, Harry saw that look on his face, the one full of disappointment and failure and helplessness and sadness, so much sadness. He couldn't do anything there, though, and when Louis looked up again, he managed to put himself together.
Harry didn't let it go, though, so when they were finally alone, he sat Louis down on their bed, holding him tight in his arms, stroking his back. After a long time of "Louis, what was it" and "talk to me, Lou" and "please" and "tell me what's wrong" and a lot of "nothing" and "nothing, really," Louis admitted he felt bad about being shorter and smaller than the rest of them. If it wasn't for Louis' teary eyes, Harry might have laughed because, honestly, that was one of the things he loved about Louis' body the most. Which he told him, of course. Which Louis didn't believe, of course.
"I look stupid," he said.
"You're gorgeous," Harry corrected him. "I love it that you're shorter than me. I love how adorable it looks when you want to kiss me and have to stand on your tip toes to reach if I don't lean down. I love how I can wrap my arms around you so easily, how you just fit there, like we were made for each other. And I love how it makes you weigh less than me because I get to pick you up. I love all of it. I love you."
"I love you, too," Louis said after that, blush appearing on his face. Harry knew he was just trying to distract him from continuing. Louis didn't understand why he thought all of that. Harry would make him understand.
Then there was the time when they went to the gym. It didn't really surprise him when Louis, after they came back home, lay down on the sofa in front of the TV, an empty look on his face. Harry knew it'd take him some time to open up, even though it wasn't hard to figure out what was going on, so he made Louis hot chocolate and when he sat down beside him, Louis was the one who crawled onto his lap, face hiding in the crook of Harry's neck.
"I'm sorry," he said. Harry figured that Louis knew he knew.
"It's okay," he told him.
"It's just," Louis continued, "it's just that all of you have these... bodies, you know? Like, you work out a little and boom, that's it, you look amazing. And I'm stuck with these stupid arms and stupid legs and a stupid tummy, god, how I hate that-"
"I think it's cute," Harry interrupted him. "It's completely normal to have a tummy. It's not a rule to have a flat stomach or anything."
Louis shrugged. "But I still feel so weak, you all have so many muscles, and here I am like a girl, god..."
Harry flipped them over so Louis was laying on his back and he straddled his hips. He held both Louis' hands above his head, not giving in to Louis' attempts to free himself.
"I'm not denying I'm stronger than you," Harry said with a smirk on his face. "But I don't see what's so bad about it."
He then leaned down and kissed Louis, and then kissed him some more, and then kissed him some more until he forgot all about tummies and working out, even though Harry knew it was only a temporary distraction.
Two weeks after that, they just finished a show in Seattle. Personally, Harry loved Louis' live singing more than he liked the edited version. Judging by the look on the older lad's face after the concert, Harry knew Louis thought the complete opposite.
Which is why, as soon as they had a little moment for themselves, he pinned him to the nearest wall, attacking Louis' mouth with his.
"Don't you dare think that," he murmured.
"What?" Louis asked, breathless.
"You know what," Harry pulled away from the kiss. "Your voice is terrific. You know how much I love it when you sing."
"I don't even like my voice when I'm talking, Harry," Louis sighed.
"Well, I love your voice no matter what you do with it," Harry said and, with a mischievous grin on his lips, leaned down and started kissing his way down Louis' neck and stopped on his collarbone, where he started sucking a small bruise. Louis let out a moan and Harry pulled away.
"Although," he smiled, "I think your moaning is my favourite sound in the world."
He saw Louis blush before he looked down.
"Come on," Harry said. "Let's go."
But before they left, he whispered, "I love you," into Louis' ear.
Louis kissed him on the cheek (standing on his tip toes) and said, "I love you, too."
But then there was that time Louis really broke down.
They just returned from an interview and they didn't have to do anything the next day, so they were with the other boys in Niall's hotel room, watching a random movie they found in his laptop.
Harry noticed Louis was a little off, a little more quiet than usual, but didn't say anything because this was the first night in a really long time they spent together, all of them, doing nothing. When he realized there really was something wrong, it was too late. Louis was snuggled up against his side, of course, so he felt the small sob more than he heard it. Louis had immediately his whole attention.
"Lou? What's wrong?" he asked, now aware of three other pairs of eyes watching them.
Louis shook his head, tears already streaming down his cheeks. He buried his face in Harry's chest, embarrassed from crying in front of the other boys.
"Lou, please," Harry said as Louis' body trembled and his tears were starting to soak Harry's shirt. He sat on the bed, dragging Louis up as well.
"No, no, please, no-" was escaping his mouth between the sobs. It was tearing Harry's heart apart, seeing Louis like this.
Harry saw Niall touch Louis' arm in the same moment as Liam said, "Louis?" but he didn't have much time to react because Louis jumped to his feet, backing away from the bed, from them, from Harry, hugging himself with his arms.
Harry was next to him in a second, trying to calm down his "no, no, please, I'm sorry." He had a feeling Louis himself didn't know what he was saying.
"Harry?" he heard from one of the boys, but couldn't care less.
"Louis, listen to me," he told the upset boy. "Louis, it's okay, it's alright, you hear me? I'm here, okay? You're okay."
But Louis didn't hear him, or maybe just chose not to react, so he told him, "let's go to our room, okay?" and he was so relieved when Louis nodded he almost smiled.
He sent an apologetic look to his confused band mates and lead Louis out of Niall's room into theirs down the hallway, silently thanking god that it was empty.
When he closed the door, Louis threw himself in his arms.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he murmured, still crying and sobbing, "I couldn't- they were all there and - and I couldn't h-help myself, I'm sorry, I didn't want to, I'm sorry-"
And Harry could only hold him because he wasn't listening, lost in his own head.
"It was so bad, Hazza, everything, and it doesn't make s-sense, b-but I just couldn't help myself, I swear, I- I tried, I wanted to s-stop it, but it was so bad-"
"Louis," Harry said, "Louis, you have to calm down."
"No, no, you don't un-understand-"
"Explain then," Harry told him and somehow managed to move them to their bed, sitting down with Louis on his lap. "What is it, Lou?"
He didn't stop crying and Harry wished so bad he would, he hated it-
"I just, this whole day, this whole week," Louis said. "It's just, sometimes it's w-worse than other times, and it's b-been so bad, Hazza, I couldn't stop it, and it was - it was too much and I started thinking and I didn't know what to do, I just wanted to stop it so bad, the thoughts, they're horrible, they're m-making me feel horrible, and I didn't know how to stop them but I just wanted it to end s-so bad, and I swear it was only for a moment, I swear, Harry, but I just, I wanted it to end so bad, and I just, I just thought what if, what if I ended them, the thoughts, what if I ended it all, everything, so I wouldn't have to b-be here, and I got so lost in the idea, but I - I thought about you, and you were so close and - you brought me back and I swear I wasn't - it was only a moment, but I - I got so scared afterwards, and I'm so sorry, so sorry, Hazza, I'm sorry-"
He was full on sobbing by the time he finished, and Harry was sobbing as well, this time, not understanding half of what Louis told him. He wanted to end it? Like - as in - end? He wanted to...?
"Lou, Lou, Louis," he said into his hair, choking on his words, "don't you dare, don't even think about it, you can't do that, you can't leave me, okay? You can't, Lou, don't think about things like that, oh my god, Lou, just don't, you should have said something before it got this bad, god, why don't you just talk to me-"
"I'm so sorry-"
"No, no, don't apologize..."
Louis pulled away, face wet from tears and puffy eyes staring into Harry's. "B-but I don't - I don't want to do it, you have to believe me," he told him, "I just, I just spaced out or something, I promise I don't want to do it."
"God, Lou," Harry pulled him back. "Promise me you'll talk to me about everything that bothers you, no matter how unimportant or stupid or silly it'll seem to you. Swear to me you'll say something. God, I can't lose you."
"Okay, yeah, I swear, I swear," Louis said in a breathless voice.
They were holding each other for a couple of minutes after that, calming one another down. When their breathing evened out, Harry moved so his back was leaning against the headboard, Louis laying on his chest.
"I love you, Lou, I love you so much, you have to believe me."
"I love you, too-"
"No, stop it," Harry cut him off. "You always say that you love me and I believe you, okay? But you don't believe me, Lou. You never believe me, no matter what I say. You have to,okay? Because I wouldn't lie to you. And I'm not saying it - I've never said it only because I'm your boyfriend. I'm saying it as a person to another person, alright? Equal person. You're worth as much as me, the boys or any other person in the world. When I say you're amazing, I say it because you are and I saw it and wanted to tell you because I love you and I like to compliment you, okay? But I'm not making things up. I'm just commenting on something that's already there. And you have to believe me. You're amazing. Everything about you is amazing. You're perfect. Except for the fact that you're super messy and can't cook. But I love that about you, too."
He saw Louis crying, and he hoped that what he saw on his face was an actual smile.
"Well," Harry thought about it, "I guess you could be less messy."
Louis shoved him in the shoulder and let out a small laugh. Harry tightened his arms around his torso and pulled him even closer. He kissed Louis on his hair. He thought he saw that spark in his eyes and for a moment, he thought everything would be alright.
"I love you," he said.
Louis smiled and after a moment of silence, he said, "I know."
And yeah, things were definitely going to be alright.