-in filmmaking, the rough cut is the second of three stages of offline editing; the first stage in which the film begins to resemble its final product
Erik grunts as a faceless stranger jostles against him, sending him off-balance. He whips around to growl at the man and maybe bite a few heads off but whatever venom Erik is about to throw at the rude stranger is cut short when he is face to face with him. The man's mousy brown hair and his cleanly-pressed shirt remind Erik too much of another person, a person who even now means the world to Erik, even though he really should try to move on. After all, he's pretty sure Charles already has.
Erik can the familiar nagging ache in his heart even as he thinks of his name and fights back the flood of memories that threaten to overwhelm him: a gentle caress, those vibrant blue eyes that always held so much promise, fingers accidentally brushing against his own and the happiness that blossoms from within when they intertwine with his, that head of hair resting against his shoulder, soft breath tickling the hairs on his neck, those obscenely red lips pressed against his skin...
Erik shakes the memories away as he feels his pants tightening uncomfortably and looks determinedly at the tracks as if concentrating on the weathered metal will help him suppress the unwanted snippets of the past. He tries to think of more mundane things like the bills that have gone unpaid, wondering if he'd remembered to shut off his oven before leaving his apartment, that crucial film project that has had him stumped for days now.
He is barely able to suppress a groan at the strong sense of frustration associated with the project, bringing him crashing back down to the reality of the bustling subway. His professor, who Erik had always been under the impression was one of those who took joy in seeing his students suffer, had required the class to submit a short film in collaboration with the animation department that he was supposed to direct and star in.
Erik's already talked it out with his partner, some guy with a really hipster name like Pietro (who the fuck named their kid Pietro, anyway?) but Erik had to grudgingly admit that he was very good at what he did, and Erik had the script penned out already and secured all the permits he would need to do the filming. All he needed to do was the filming itself but that was where the problem lay.
At one point, Erik had thought it would be a good idea to try the script out first with Emma (to say that that didn't turn out well would be a massive understatement; in fact, Sebastian, the last person who mentioned it laughingly in front of Erik ended up with a lovely shock of blue hair the next morning even though Erik still insists to this day that the dye ending up in his shampoo was purely accidental and definitely not his doing).
And then there's Magda and she's great, really. Erik's always admired her natural acting ability and she's a real sweetheart. She's been patient with Erik's many revisions and requests, but there's just something about the chemistry that they have (or lack thereof) that doesn't sit well with him and it makes Erik want to pull at his hair because, by all accounts, Magda should be the perfect choice.
Directing the film is going to be a piece of cake, sure, but Erik's never considered himself a decent actor. He did not come to film school to study acting, he came to make movies. He belonged behind the camera, not in front of it. But if his film fell short of his professor's expectations, Erik will most definitely be failing the subject.
Failure was not an option.
Erik bites down on the rising panic as it occurs to him that the deadline is slowly approaching and he hardly has anything to show for it. He supposes he can continue with Magda, if he doesn't come up with anything better. They're not perfect, but she's the best he's got.
Erik recalls all the sappy romance movies his mother and his sister had always enjoyed and suckered him into watching with them. He'll never admit it, of course, but it kind of was those very movies that inspired him to take up film. Fred Astaire and his magnetic on-screen presence, Gene Kelly's rugged good looks and infectious dancing, Marlon Brando with his dark energy and, his sister Ruth's favourite, Clark Gable with his easy charisma that left her (and, at times, even Erik himself) absolutely swooning.
He is unprepared for the sudden stroke of genius that grips him in that familiar way that he knows will not ever leave him alone until he acts on it. He chews on his bottom lip as he shifts his weight from one foot to the other, a hand on his pocket fingering his mobile phone. It's brilliant enough to work. He doesn't know why it's taken him this long to come to this conclusion but, well... There are social intricacies to be considered here that he doesn't want to step on.
He's holding onto his mobile now, fingers dialing of their own volition the number he's memorised by heart, despite the rational side of him protesting, telling him that this isn't worth a good grade, that he should learn to leave well enough alone, that this isn't right, this isn't going to work and it would end up in disaster. But he doesn't hang up when the phone starts to ring, and he stays on the line as that voice that still haunts his dreams answers on the other end.
"Hello, Charles? I need you to pretend that we're in love again."
It doesn't take Erik long to go back to his apartment, gather his equipment and round the crew up in the subway. Two hours later, they're setting up and Erik takes in a sudden breath as he spots Charles descending from the elevators, cheeks flushed and hair windblown. Charles, who was always so responsive to his caresses and whispered sweet nothings that made it easy for Erik to lose himself even as he hesitated to take their relationship further.
"Erik? Honey, you need to focus." Emma's waving her hand in front of Erik and his eyes are distant when he looks at her, forgetting that they were having a perfectly lovely conversation before the sight of Charles swooping in made him forget about everything else.
"Oh. Um. Yeah. Right. So this part is where you pan out and hold the camera steady." He points at the haphazard sketches on the clipboard in Emma's hand, explaining the scene to her. Emma drops her gaze down to the clipboard, nodding as she visualises it in her head, brow furrowing in concentration.
Erik feels a warm presence by his elbow and he can feel his heart flutter in his chest because he doesn't have to turn around to know that it is Charles standing beside him. Emma throws them a knowing look and smirks.
"Alright, that's all I needed to know. I'm going to go and see if Moira needs anything." She blows Erik a kiss before walking off and Erik takes a deep breath before turning to face Charles, mustering up the best smile that he can.
"Charles. Thanks again for taking the time out of your schedule to help me out with this." Erik feels his knees go weak at the flush that creeps up Charles' cheeks as he tries to brush the comment away.
"I must admit I was caught a bit off-guard at your request. I thought you'd prefer a more ah-- conventional approach but, well, anything for a dear friend."
Friend. It's surprising how one single word can make Erik's heart sink although he supposes he's lucky that Charles even considers him as a friend, after what he's done and flashes of their last night together surface, unbidden, in Erik's mind:
The bar is crowded and Erik can barely hear himself think as bodies grind against him, the lights pulsating above, agitating the headache already pounding in his head. He wrestles from the brutish grip on his shoulder, which only tightens as he is led forcefully to the nearest exit.
“Alright, I get it already, geez!” The security guard finally lets go as Erik bursts through the back door, the cool night air expanding his lungs as he breathes in. He hears the door swing behind him, Charles' muttered apologies and Erik grits his teeth.
“Erik, calm your mind, my friend.”
Erik whirls around to face him with every intention of yelling at him, giving him a piece of his mind, that he had a right to be angry, dammit, but as his eyes meet Charles', he can feel the telltale weakening of his knees and just like that his resolve is shattered. He results instead to being antagonistic, like a child throwing a tantrum.
"Why are you even apologising to them? The guy's lucky I only got one punch in.”
Charles' disappointed sigh gnaws at him more than he is comfortable to admit but Erik clenches his hands into fists, his nails digging into the palm of his hands, stinging as they draw blood.
Erik, he was only pointing out the truth.” Charles' voice is gentle, barely above a whisper but his words make Erik cringe anyway.
"But we aren't! I mean... You and I... FUCK!” Erik fumbles with his words, kicks at the wall. Charles turns away, suddenly transfixed with a nearby street lamp.
That's not what you told Emma last week.”
Erik slumps against the grimy brick wall, needing something solid to lean into. What's worse is that Charles' voice is quietly calm, free of any hint of venom or anger and it would be so much easier if Charles was angry at him. Erik drags his hand over his face and lets out a deep breath that he hadn't realised he had been holding in.
So, where does this leave us?” Even now, Charles sounds like he's merely asking for directions. Erik wishes he would just yell at him already.
I don't know. I--- Motherfuck.”
Anyone who doesn't know him any better would think that there is nothing amiss with Charles' smile when he finally looks at Erik. But Erik can detect the hint of sadness in it, and it tears him apart inside that he has caused that because he's being a dick but it's like a slow motion accident that he can't stop and he knows that if he says the right thing now, he can stop Charles from leaving but he doesn't.
'm sorry, too, my friend.”
"Erik? Erik, can I have a look at that script of yours?" Charles is all business and now it's Erik's turn to flush. He's not being fair to Charles, dragging him along like this but it's a bit too late to turn back now. Emma would have his head if he canceled on everyone. Come to think of it, Pietro, too, since it is their joint project. Erik clears his throat in a futile effort to mask his embarrassment and starts to flip through the sheaf of papers in his hand.
"Of course. Now I know I've shown this to you before before when I was still working on it but I've actually made several changes since then."
Charles hums noncommittally as his eyes skim the pages and Erik takes this as his cue to continue, ignoring the jolt of electricity that tingles his spine when Charles' fingers brush against his.
"Well, over here, there's a part that I scrapped because it was interrupting the general flow, and I hope you don't mind but I thought it would help the mood if it was raining in this scene."
Erik flips the page and leans towards Charles as his finger hovers over the bit of text that he's talking about just as Charles leans in and their heads smack together with a hollow thud.
They look at each other uncertainly before Charles bursts out laughing and his laugh is so infectious that Erik is joining him. Erik wipes the tears in his eyes as Charles doubles over and places a hand on his shoulder while his other hand clutches his stomach, laughing uncontrollably.
It is only the need to catch their breaths that get them to stop and their eyes connect and Charles is fixing Erik with a look that sets the butterflies in his stomach in a frenzy. Erik could be imagining it but Charles is leaning up just a teeny bit and Erik is ducking down ever so slightly, gravitating towards those intense blue eyes--
"Erik! I finally found you! So we're all set up but-- Oh, hi, Charles-- Magda's not here yet and-- Oh... OHHH..."
Erik hastily pulls away, putting some distance between him and Charles and tries not to let out an exasperated sigh as Moira hovers between them, a look of understanding crossing her face. Erik can practically see the gears in her head turning as she looks from Erik to Charles and back again to Erik. To her credit, she only shoots them both a grin even though Erik's sure she's burning with questions at the sudden change in casting.
"Well, I just thought you'd want to know that we can start rehearsing. Whenever you two are ready." Moira excuses herself as Emma waves her over and Erik sees the two women exchange in excited conversation, giggling as they look over at Charles and Erik. Pfft. Women.
"We should start rehearsing." Erik nods over to where the others are gathering, fussing over equipment, props, whatever else they could get their hands on. He suddenly feels self-conscious at having to put on a show before his friends, especially one that hit so close to home, but Charles places a hand lightly on his arm and that is enough to still the butterflies of stage fright in his stomach. The problem was, it also sets his heart aflutter at the gentle touch and the warm smile that Charles is always so generous to hand out.
Erik is hunched over the computer screen, sipping on what is probably his fifth cup of coffee for the night... Or was it morning already? He steals a glance outside his window and blinks in surprise at the steady stream of sunlight that pours in.
There are bags under his eyes that have been a permanent feature for the past couple of weeks but now the finish line is in sight and he still can't breathe easier. All in all, filming had gone as smoothly as anyone could hope for. Erik and Emma had a few creative differences but nothing that Charles and Erik and Emma's mutual respect for each others' handiwork couldn't smooth over between them. Magda had even dropped in on them and had graciously offered to be an extra. She and Charles hit it off really well and if Erik hadn't know that the man was gay and if Magda wasn't... well... Magda, he would probably have been jealous at the easy way they slipped into each other's company.
Charles' sister, Raven, had been a constant presence as well and provided incessant distraction for Azazel, who was more prone to goofing off in her presence in a misguided attempt to woo her. Emma had wanted to ban her from the premises but Raven would have none of it and defied all of Emma's ultimatums and Erik had to give her props for that even though he really should have been worrying more because this was his final grade at stake here.
Erik's yawn is wide as he clicks play and views the unfinished work for perhaps the tenth time tonight even though his eyes are bloodshot and his eyelids are heavy and all he wants to do is crawl into bed and hibernate for the next few months.
The video first introduces the viewer to a sketchy animation of a typical New York subway (Erik had been very impressed that Pietro had been able to finish it in record time but he suspected the guy was running on a diet of espresso, he always seemed to be in a rush) while cheerfully indie music plays in the background (that his buddy Sean was more than happy to provide him with, given that Erik gave proper credit) and is basically just showing some establishing shots as the credits roll in before transitioning into a live-action shot of people milling about a bustling subway, street performers putting on a show before focusing on Erik-- no, Max, he's Max in this film-- who is at the platform, waiting for the train that would take him home.
Max leans forward to catch a glimpse of the oncoming train while the shorter man beside him (Francis, played by Charles, although Max is not yet aware of who he is nor does he suspect the role this man would later play in his life) is checking his watch.
When the N-train arrives, Max fights for purchase in one of the overhead handrails while Francis, too slight to reach the overhead rail comfortably, jostles for a place in one of the metal poles. The scene cuts after a parting shot of Max and Francis on opposite ends of the cabin, oblivious to the other's presence and then the video fades to black.
Max is rushing down the steps and bumps into Francis, causing his briefcase to pop open and Max stoops to help him pick up his wallet and his eyes linger on his driver's license declaring Francis Pembroke, age 19 from Westchester, NY. Their fingers brush as Max returns the wallet to Francis, their eyes briefly meeting, before the sound of the oncoming train jolts them both back to the present. Francis hastily shoves the papers into his briefcase while Max hurries to catch the train.
After the cut, Max is seen slipping into the cabin and rushing to an empty seat, quickly claiming it as his before anyone else can. Beside him, someone settles into the other vacant seat and he turns to see Francis, who has also shifted to look at him and the noise dims in the background, the scene slowing down as they share the faintest of smiles before Max is jostled and the moment is broken and then there's a stuttering cut in the video as it shows a soaking wet Max (Emma, Moira and the others had had far too much fun drenching Erik) and Francis seated next to each other, a dripping umbrella at their feet and leaning into each other with their hands entwined before the camera pans out to focus on the platform name and then the sketchy animation comes in again and Sean's music and then the title before it cuts.
Erik feels little joy that the film is turning out well. It's almost finalised, they just have to shoot the final scene, where Max and Francis share a kiss in the rain. They have left it for last no thanks to Erik's stalling (which he's been able to justify by saying that they need actual rain for that scene, and while this is true, it isn't really the main reason Erik's been happy to dawdle).
Even now, Erik's not sure that he can actually go through with it in front of all of his friends. Erik glances at the laptop's clock, which tells him that it's 11:21 AM. In about five hours, they will have to shoot the scene if Erik's going to have time to edit the footage and if they're going to catch the rain that Charles' friend Ororo in the Meteorology Department promised them was going to come.
Erik shuts off the computer and pushes off from his desk, groaning as his body protests at the amount of effort it takes. He trudges over to the bed and buries his head in his pillow and blindly reaches for his phone to set an alarm for 3PM. If he's lucky, he'll be able to catch a couple of hours of sleep before he has to leave for the shoot.
Erik turns his collar up at the crisp late-afternoon air and stifles a yawn as he slumps next to Emma. He nuzzles his head onto her shoulder and makes a sound of protest as something is shoved into his hands and peeks from under heavy eyelids, frowning at the styrofoam cup in his hand.
“What's this for?” He sniffs at the golden brown liquid and is even more confused when he recognises the dark, heady aroma that can only be rum.
“Just figured you'd need a little liquid courage for the scene.” Emma doesn't even look up from her clipboard. Erik lets out a derisive snort but drinks from the cup anyway. The rum slides down his throat easily, offering him some warmth against the chill.
“I hope you're not planning on getting my crew drunk.”
"Of course not, honey. Just you.”
Erik laughs and finishes the contents of his cup, tossing it to a nearby trash can and then leaning onto her again. He looks down at the clipboard and, despite earlier misgivings, feels a ceratin pride swell up at the amount of work they'd managed to get done within a short amount of time.
“Do you want to go over the scene again? I know how this is important to you.”
Erik blinks, not sure that he heard what he thought he just heard. Emma was the type of girl to do whatever she wanted so it was a suprise to him that she was considering his own visions for his film. He glances sideways at her but she's still engrossed with the clipboard.
“I trust you.” He thinks he can see Emma's lips twitch into a smile.
“Hey so do you really think it'll rain?” Azazel saunters towards them and pours himself some rum but Emma flicks his hand away. He mutters something unintelligible under his breath but another look from her silences him.
“Ororo said it would. Her predictions are fairly accurate.”
Erik's tells himself that it's the rum that makes his heart pound in his chest and when Charles takes a seat beside Erik, he convinces himself that it is Charles' warm presence that makes his body heat up (never mind that he's been sitting next to Emma all this time and he was still chilly).
As if on cue a fat raindrop lands on Emma's clipboard and she frowns down at it, swiping at the water before it smears her notes. “Places, everyone!”
Charles gives Erik's hand a reassuring squeeze before running off to his place marker, leaving Erik in his own personal thunderstorm. But there's no time for that because Emma is pulling him up and Azazel is making sure that the waterproof bag over his video camera is secure and Janos is handing Erik his suitcase while Moira is checking on the lighting.
The rain's coming down in earnest now, and Erik can feel the water trickling down his collar. It looks almost comical that they're here, outside, frantically getting their gear together, while passers-by push against them to some sort of shelter or another. Erik can't blame them. Whose crazy idea was it to film in the rain anyway? Oh, right, it was his idea. Exceptional.
Erik starts to jog in the direction of the subway, with Azazel trailing him in his makeshift dolly but Erik tunes him out and takes several deep breaths, placing himself back in Max's shoes which is getting really easy to do that it's a bit unsettling.
Max is rushing past the torrent of rain that patters against his trenchcoat, using his briefcase as a shield. He is already soaking wet, his clothes drenched and the subway is still a block or so away. What a day for his scatterbrain to forget an umbrella.
He is caught by surprise when he is suddenly saved from the onslaught of unrelenting raindrops falling on his head and he looks up to see Francis holding an umbrella up for him and they silently head for their shared destination, their shoulders bumping together companionably.
And maybe it's because of the umbrella's limited space or the crowd shoving past them or something else entirely but they're both walking close to each other, closer than was absolutely necessary, really, and Max has his arm around Francis' shoulder.
At the lip of the stairs that led to New York's underbelly, Francis hesitates and Max stops, looking down at him and then just like that he leans down even as a crowd pushes against them and captures Francis' lips in his own. Francis' body presses flush against him and he shivers as the cold seeps through his now-damp sweatshirt and uses that as an excuse to wrap his arms around Max's neck as Max rests his hands on Francis' waist, kissing each other lazily.
“AAAND... CUT! That's a wrap!”
But Erik holds Charles even closer and Erik starts to curl his fingers into Charles' hair. Erik nibbles on Charles' lip and Charles gasps and Erik takes the opportunity to slip his tongue inside Charles' mouth. Charles lets out a small groan at the back of his mouth as Erik lets his tongue explore the little cavern that it had grown to know so well for the glorious few months that he and Charles had previously dated.
Finally, the need for air makes them both pull apart from each other and Erik is pleased when he sees that Charles' mouth is swollen and they're breathing hard and he must look like a mess but he doesn't care. A light touch to his elbow makes Erik turn and he can see Emma smirking at him.
“Honey, you might wanna change into some warm clothes first.”
Erik can actually feel Charles shivering underneath him and he runs his hands up and down Charles' arms to help him warm up. Belatedly, Erik realises that he's just made out with Charles in front of his friends and complete strangers alike and Azazel probably has the whole thing on video nd he wouldn't put it past him to use it to his advantage sometime in the future. And, despite the chill, Erik can feel a blush creep up his neck and to his ears.
He accepts the towel Emma is handing out gratefully and wraps it around him and Charles as they make their way past a snickering Raven (who has mysteriously showed up somehow even though Erik can swear she wasn't there earlier) to Azazel's van. They peel off their soaking wet clothes and Erik tosses his shirt onto the floor before grabbing a turtleneck. It warms him instantly and he is grateful for his insight to have packed it earlier. He doesn't bother to hide his interest as he stares at Charles while he buttons up a shirt and turns red under his gaze.
And Erik can't help himself. Charles just looks too adorable when he's all flustered and embarrassed. He leans toward him and places his hands over Charles' fingers that are fumbling at his buttons and kisses him, soft and sweet. Charles relaxes under him and Erik's hands slip under his shirt, fingers tracing Charles' side, his chest, his stomach and Charles gasps under the icy cold of Erik's fingers ghosting over his skin.
Erik trails soft kisses along his jaw and down his neck, his breath caressing the pale skin, and nips at the sensitive flesh, eliciting a sharp gasp from Charles before Erik licks over it soothingly. Charles lets out a ragged breath that Erik takes as his cue to continue, pressing his mouth against Charles' once more and letting his tongue run along his bottom lip.
Erik hums distractedly as his hands are now grazing the top of Charles' jeans, teasing the skin under there and he runs a hand down his crotch, smiling when he feels Charles' arousal. He starts to play with Charles' zipper and frowns when Charles places his hands over Erik's and pushes him away gently but firmly.
Erik looks up to meet Charles' gaze and is surprised at the intensity there.
“Erik, not that I don't like where this is going but the last time I checked, we were the couple that weren't a couple and I'm not really interested in starting something again if you're just going to drop me like a hot potato when you're having another personal crisis.”
Well, that really sobered him up. Erik untangles himself from Charles and steps away, running a hand through his disheveled, damp hair.
What did he want? Because no matter how much Erik tried to deny it--- well, that was the point really, he couldn't anymore. Because throughout the course of making the film with Charles, Erik's been having such a good time just being around him again and he likes to think that Charles has also been enjoying his company as well.
But then... Even then... Flashbacks from that night at the bar still stung him. At how he had so easily backed down when Charles had tried to label them as a couple and Charles deserved better than that.
“Charles, I know I've been a dick and I'd totally deserve it if you hated me forever.” He takes Charles' hand and brushes it against his lips.
“The thing is, I'm an idiot. For making the mistake of ever letting you go, for ever running away. And I know that now, and you deserve better but Charles...” And he's suddenly gripping Charles' hand tight and Erik feels so raw and open just like this baring his heart out but he swallows down the lump in his throat.
"Charles, I really care about you. And if you're willing to give me another chance, that's all I can hope for.”
It all comes out in a rush and Erik takes a breath. He feels like he's hanging in the balance and he blames the stress from filming but really the thumping in his chest is because Charles isn't saying anything and Erik thinks that he just might be breaking inside just a little.
Erik is taken aback when Charles lunges for him, holding onto the collar of his turtleneck and pressing their foreheads together. “You are ridiculous.”
And Charles yanks him closer, kissing him roughly and Erik pushes him to the wall so that the van rocks with the impact. It's awkward and their teeth clash together and Erik can taste the metallic tang of blood and he's not sure if it's his or Charles'. He pulls back slightly and Charles is smiling under him.
“We're hopeless, aren't we?”
“Yeah, we really are. Just a couple of douchebags.”
Just then the door slams open. Erik and Charles look over to where Emma, Azazel, Raven, Janos and Moira are staring at them and Erik's not sure if it's possible to feel even more mortified.
It is Azazel that breaks the ice when he suddenly turns to Janos with his hand outstretched. “Dude, you lost. Pay up.”
Janos grumbles but hands him a $20 bill anyway.
“Wow, Erik, when I said you probably wanted to get into dry clothes first, I didn't think you'd actually move this fast. I hope you boys can keep it in your pants because we're all soaked and cold and you're treating us to the pub to celebrate.”
They all manage to settle down on the floor. Raven's sitting in Azazel's lap while Janos is driving and Emma's leaning into Moira's as they're engrossed in conversation and Erik and Charles are pressed against each other. Charles leans his head against Erik's shoulder and Erik smiles as he looks down at their hands, which have somehow twined together.
And just sitting like this, he feels the contentment seep into his bones and Erik can't imagine ever running away from this at all. Because if it's going to be him and Charles against the world, Erik reckons he can probably take on the world if he had Charles by his side.