Erik goes in prepared for anything, dressed as if for battle: helmet, cape, gloves, boots, all of it, everything that separates his life now from the life before. He wears it as armor - literally, when it comes to the helmet; less so, for the rest of it, but it makes him feel better, as if he has a great measure of control over the situation, over himself - and does breathing exercises while pretending he’s not, and by the time they reach the mansion, he’s prepared for whatever Charles might throw at him. Anger, accusations, tears, pleading; there’s nothing he’d not braced for, nothing he’s not girded to deflect, absorb, crush.
And still, his first sight of Charles in the wheelchair nearly brings him to his knees.
They look at each other for a long moment, Erik taking in everything: the weight Charles has lost, the new lines on his face, even the realization that the wheelchair he expected to light up like a brand for him is just sitting there, something he can see but cannot hear, smell, taste, touch, wrap around himself along with his guilt and grief and -
Charles speaks first. “What in the name - what are you wearing?” And then, before Erik can so much as process this, never mind form an answer, Charles begins to laugh.
Of all the things Erik has himself braced against, Charles’ laughter, Charles’ mockery, isn’t one of them.
And it’s too much.
Erik realizes he’s crying around the time Charles stops laughing and starts to look concerned, and around the time someone behind him says, “I see what you mean.”
Ironically, when Erik glances back to see Angel passing several dollar bills over to a smug-looking Raven, he feels himself piecing back together. He’s the leader here; if he falls apart in front of his people, he’ll never be able to earn back their respect. It’s not like he’s going to be in the position of lifting a submarine out of the ocean again any time soon, and there’s nothing else he can think of that would beat that.
He can still turn this around.
“Charles,” Erik says, after giving Raven a ‘we’re going to talk about this when we get back to HQ’ glare, “it grieves me to see you this way.” When Charles lifts an eyebrow, he clarifies, “In that.”
“…I see,” Charles says. “And I understand completely. After all, it grieves me terribly to see you in that.”
As Erik begins to cry again, he decides, Fuck everything.