They all notice at the same time.
They're in the loft, all around Jace who's fipping through some old photo albums of the three Lightwood siblings through their training to become Shadowhunters. The three couples have tried to make dinner a weekly thing. Magnus made grilled chicken salads, and paired with some wine and apple pie, they are stuffed and finding ways to pass the time before they all go back to their separate lives.
They all notice the cuts on Alec's arms.
It's clearly an old photo, Alec couldn't have been more than fifteen years old.
The cuts that are too distinct to be accidents with a seraph blade, too small to be an accident with his bow.
"Alec, what are these cuts on your arms?" Jace asks, rather impolitely. They all know he just cares too much, but the rest of them know what it is without needing explanation.
Alec's gaze finds his shoes. Only two people know what he used to do, know just self destructive he used to be.
And even those two people have no idea how to fix this.
Izzy knew as soon as she became in tune with Alec's sexuality. There was no one to tell, since their parents would probably approve of such behavior when they realized they had a gay son. Izzy can't remember the amount of nights she spent in the bathroom with Alec, applying iratzes and wrapping the wounds.
Magnus knows because he was the reason Alec stopped. It took a lot of discussions, breakdowns, tears, and pain, but Magnus finally got Alec to stop taking a blade to his skin or tearing apart his knuckles with a punching bag. Magnus gave Alec more coping mechanisms, and told him if Alec needed him, he would be there, no questions asked. Alec never had that sort of support in his life before. It took time to realize someone really cares for him to such a degree; however, once he knew he really had that kind of support, he started taking it.
Jace doesn't know, because he would react in a way that would be the last thing Alec needed at the time. Alec needs consistency, calmness, stability.
Magnus and Izzy can give him that energy, that equilibrium. In Alec's moments of weakness, Jace cannot.
"Alec, what are these?" Jace asks, more aggressively since no one gave him an explanation the first time.
"Jace, please," Izzy softly murmurs, "Let it go."
"I- I can't do this." Alec's vision blurs with shame and agonizingly sharp distress. He feels a hand brush his arm, whether it's his husband's or his sister's or even Clary's he has no idea and frankly he doesn't care.
"No Izzy, why would I let something like this go-" Jace's voice is cut off as Alec steps out on the balcony. He presses his hand against his mouth and sobs.
He grips the wall, separating him from his home and the rest of Brooklyn.
For the first time since Magnus returned from Edom, he wants to press a blade to his wrist. Not enough to seriously hurt himself but enough so he can feel the pain and block out the emotional pain. That's all he wants: a distraction, an avenue to release agony.
God he hates that he wants it. He hates that he wants to hurt himself, and hurt so many others in the process. "When you hurt yourself, you're hurting me. Alexander, imagine doing this to someone you care about. Could you ever cut me like this?" Magnus asked gently, after finding him curled up in his bathroom after a particularly hard day months ago.
Magnus' voice is soothing, but firm as he remembers that night. That was the first night Magnus saw the Alexander he really was, and Alec remembers shaking his head in response and willed the tears to defy gravity and go back into his tear ducts.
"Then you shouldn't hurt yourself. I care about you immensely, and whenever you purposely hurt yourself it like making these same scars on my arms." Magnus grasped Alec's forearms. They talked for hours that night. Alec let everything out, he was held, he was taken care of. He realized that he was indeed hurting others when he self-harmed.
It rarely happened after that. Only when they broke up or had an argument. Magnus was, is, and always will be his anchor.
Magnus' voice pulls him out of his subconscious as he murmurs, "I sent them home. I told them you needed to be alone right now, they said they would call in a few days."
Alec's hands tremble as he imagines how relieving it would feel to physically hurt. He'd take that any day over mental and emotional turmoil.
Magnus comes closer, giving his husband a choice. "Would you like to be alone right now?" If Magnus' gaze wasn't directed solely at Alec, he wouldn't have noticed the small shake of his head.
Magnus stifles a sigh of relief. The one place he wants to be right now is beside Alec.
A few moments pass. Alec stares in the distance, the bright skyline of Brooklyn, delaying the inevitable, attempting to come up with an explanation but only coming up with jumbled phrases.
But as always, Magnus senses what he needs before Alec even can. "You know you never have to explain anything to me. You said that to me before, and your past is just as important as mine. You deserve closure, peace, and comfort. If I can be of any help to achieve that just say the word. Let me help." Alec swallows another sob, releasing his grip on the wall to angrily wipe his tears away.
Alec inhales shakily and then whispers, "It isn't the memories or photos that bother me, it's the emotions I remember even though this was years ago."
"I understand." Magnus says softly, and Alec knows he has someone who does.
"It's just..." Alec stops, twisting his hands together and pressing his thumb into his palm. Magnus notices this, and not wanting Alec to return to his old coping mechanisms, takes his hand and soothingly runs his thumb over Alec's knuckles.
Magnus brings Alec's hand to his lips and brushes his lips along his knuckles, stopping when he gets to his wedding ring, letting Alec find his words.
"This is really stupid, to be sitting here like a child remembering a past that doesn't even compare to my present."
"No, it's not, darling. The past doesn't care about the present."
Before Magnus can continue, Alec cuts him off. "My life is amazing. I have everything that I dreamed of, even when I was self harming. My life really couldn't be more perfect right now. It's selfish and pathetic."
"Alexander, don't degrade yourself because you're emotional. I'm living the life I never thought I would have in four hundred years. I'm happily married to someone who knows me better than I know myself, I have a job where I can help people all over the world, I'm part of a group who is changing the world one meeting at a time. Love, sometimes things come up and memories resurface and it doesn't matter how good your life is at the time. They just affect you."
"I can't tell you the amount of times I wondered who would miss me. If I made a wrong move while fighting a demon so they could have an advantage. I could die the way I was meant to, and be honored as a warrior and protector. And then it wouldn't hurt anymore." Tears stream down Alec's face, and Magnus can't hold himself back anymore. He pulls his husband toward him and embraces him.
"I'm so sorry Alec, I'm so sorry. I know it doesn't help anything, but you don't deserve this. You don't deserve one second of the way you were treated back then. If I have to tell you that every single day I will." Alec sobs in Magnus' arms, and it takes every ounce of Magnus' willpower to stop his own tears from falling.
After a few minutes of tightly embracing his husband, Magnus pulls back, for no other reason than to look at him.
"My dear heart, you have no idea how much you are needed on this world. The amount of people you save daily is insurmountable, and you're doing something no one in history has been able to do before: change the closed mindedness and ignorance of the Clave. Not to mention your family. How else would Jace remember to wrap his hands before he trains? How else would Clary remember how to stand right while fighting if you haven't drilled that in her head? How else would Izzy know what an older brother's love feels like? How else would Maia get entertainment while working? All of these people care about you deeply, but we haven't even begun to discuss how much I need you around. That would take decades, darling. You're like a breath of fresh air. You make everything better. You aren't your past, Alexander. What makes you you is the way you pushed through it and even though the world was against you, you still defied them and did what you wanted. You took a brave step, one that was incredibly difficult, and made your life so much better for yourself. You gave yourself the chance to catch the happiness you deserve."
"God, I just hated the way I was back then." Alec says, sniffling and squeezing Magnus' hand.
"All of that pain, that hatred, that suffering, is still present, and as I can imagine, it still hurts, but it meant something. Does it still bother you? Like, do you think about it without being prompted like you were tonight?"
Alec shakes his head. "Rarely. Mostly just when I'm having a bad day, but even then you normally help me through it."
"And that's it, Alec," Magnus starts, rubbing his thumb in soothing circles on the top of Alec's hand. "It doesn't hurt as much because you've gotten through it. You pushed through, and you're on the other side. You have the life you want, the love you deserve, the job you worked for, the support that you needed decades ago. Memories can be the most sadistic enemy, sometimes." Magnus lets go of Alec's hand to place it against his cheek, running a thumb along his damp cheekbones. Alec leans into the touch, eyes fluttering shut, exhaling shakily.
"I'm sorry this happened tonight. And even no one has ever told you, I'm sorry that you went through so much. A wise man once told me someone's past shouldn't have enough power to define their future. Of course you remember moments that are both happy and upsetting, but then you let them pass. Acknowledge the feeling, but don't do anything more than that. Embrace the knowledge that things are better, and your younger self should be pretty damn proud of where you're at now, yeah?"
Alec nods, "I just wish he would've seen that all the pain he went through would be worth it. To be able to wake up next to you each morning, and work with my siblings, and train the next generation of Shadowhunters, it’s perfect. I love my life, but when I’m reminded of how I was so close to ending it when I was a teenager, it scares me and I start to build walls and I just feel myself starting to get bad again.”
"That time is over. I’m not trying to say it isn’t wrong of you to feel that way, but if you dwell on those feelings you’ll miss what really matters now. You have the rest of your life to live and love. You have so many people who love you dearly, and want you to ask for help and support when you need it. I know it's hard to ask for help sometimes, but that's the strongest thing you can do. You’re so strong to be opening up to me about this, you hear me? Asking for help is the farthest thing from a weakness, okay?”
At some point while Magnus was talking, Alec moved to lay his head against his shoulder. Alec nods in response and nuzzles closer to Magnus, as Magnus’ arms wrap around him and they sway gently on the balcony of their home.
Magnus knows this is Alec’s way of saying he’s finished talking about hard topics for the night. Magnus knows this is Alec’s way of asking for comfort, support, solace.
“I’m here, Alexander. I’m not going anywhere. How about we get ready for bed. A good nights sleep will make you feel so much better, yeah?”
Alec nods again but doesn’t move from his place in Magnus’ arms. Magnus squeezes Alec’s waist softly and then starts to move them both to the bedroom, where he curls Alec in their fluffy comforter and resumes holding Alec for the remainder of the night and part of the morning where they talk more.
The conversation ends with damp lashes and wet cheeks, but Alec walks into the Institute later that day knowing he’s more than his past, just like Magnus is. And more importantly, he’s loved immensely and indescribably by his husband, siblings, family, and friends.