All he had wanted was a cup of coffee.
Seung Gil stares as his designated paper cup travels behind the coffee bar, never nearing its final destination at the pick-up counter. He has yet to see a single drop of milk poured into it and the espresso shot has, without a doubt, lost its heat by now. Yet the brunette barista continues the pretense of being busy while throwing shy smiles at the Canadian skater leaning over the counter.
Disdain sits in the back of Seung Gil's mouth like a bad taste. He knows for a fact that Jean-Jacques Leroy hadn’t been ahead of him in line. It’s near impossible to miss someone that loud and…loud. He’s certain he himself hadn’t been spotted, and would rather keep it that way. The guy is clearly a talker. Unfortunately, with every minute that passes, it’s becoming less certain that Seung Gil will get his drink order without intervention. He wonders if he even wants it anymore, but he’d already paid for it.
As the troubled introvert contemplates his options, the ache of a yawn begins in his throat. He takes a deep breath, holds it, and clenches his jaw to force the reflex down. He's low on sleep. The night before the flight into Moscow had been a restless one. Airports make him nervous, so the thought of that hadn’t made it any easier. The coffee is supposed to be a much needed shot of caffeine. He had thought he deserved that much after finally checking into this hotel.
The Canadian distraction leans further over the counter, bracing his forearms against its surface to bring his face closer to the blushing employee. He says something that makes the girl giggle as she twirls her fingers through a stand of hair. Seung Gil notes it’s the same hand that held a metal thermometer a few seconds ago and he grimaces.
This situation has many things that are unsanitary.
Deciding patience is a wasted effort, he finally leaves his waiting spot against the hotel cafe’s wall and makes his approach.
“I’ve been waiting for my drink,” he declares at the counter. The barista blinks, confused by his appearance. Seung Gil stares at the paper cup in her hand. She looks down, following the direction of his gaze, and ceases smiling. Her face pales as she realizes just how long he’s been kept waiting and she flinches away in guilt.
“I-I-I’m so sorry, sir!” she blurts in accented English. Clumsy with panic, her hands rush to turn on the milk steamer.
“Could you replace the cold espresso first?” Seung Gil interrupts, voice sharp.
“Y-yes! Please wait o-one moment. I will make a new one! R-right now!” She hurries to the back counter where the coffee grinder sits, the back of her neck red in embarrassment. She washes her hands while rinsing the portafilter, Seung Gil notes. His displeasure eases somewhat at that.
Something firm nudges his left shoulder. Seung Gil looks down at the arm invading his personal space and follows it up to a familiar face. Right. That guy is still here.
“Hey!” the taller figure skater greets upon eye contact. His mouth widens into a rakish grin. He is acting friendlier than he should, considering that the two had never spoken with the other before. “Don’t get too mad. She’s a fan of JJ. Couldn’t help herself, you know?”
Seung Gil doesn’t return the smile.
“Aww, don’t make such a scary face!” JJ chuckles and nudges Seung Gil's shoulder again. “That ice queen look is too much. C’mon, try something else. A little smile?” He taps a finger against his chin in reference to his own. His teeth are unnaturally perfect.
“No.” Seung Gil was right. This guy talks too much. He turns back to watch the preparation of his beverage.
“I’m asking so nicely though. C’mon, Seung, don’t be such a—”
“Don’t call me that,” Seung Gil cuts him off, glaring from the side with narrowed eyes. Rather than the insulted reaction that he's used to, JJ’s response is to grin even wider. Seung Gil wonders if he’d unknowingly engaged a pervert.
“Not one for nicknames, huh?" JJ takes on a light, sing-song voice. “That’s no fun, Elsa. You’ve gotta loosen up. Let it go!”
“Go where?” Seung Gil says. His flat tone efficiently deflates the playful mood of the conversation.
JJ goes silent next to him. Seung Gil has a brief moment of peace before his harasser erupts into a peal of laughter. Several other cafe patrons turn heads to look at them. JJ continues snickering, leaning his full weight into Seung Gil's shoulder. He keeps starting and aborting words in the midst of his hysterics, and Seung Gil’s disdain grows thicker by the second.
“You mean you haven’t…oh wow…wooooow…” JJ raises a hand to wipe a tear from his eye. He looks down at his fellow skater with mirth and renewed interest. Seung Gil takes a step to the right to put space between them. “Oh. No no no, snowflake, I wasn’t trying to be mean—”
“Your drinks!” The barista returns, setting two lidded cups down on the drop-off counter and sliding them to the athletes. She glances between them with a flustered expression. “I apologize again!”
Seung Gil swipes up a cup with a nod and turns to flee. JJ starts as if to give chase, but something distracts him, giving Seung Gil enough time to speed walk across the lobby and around a corner towards a set of elevators. A maneuver that he regrets upon seeing the flock of reporters lying in wait.
“Seung Gil Lee!” shouts a journalist. His peers swivel their heads to pin Seung Gil with their gazes, killing any chance of feigning ignorance. Eager faces swarm to surround their Korean target, armed with recorders and notepads.
“This is your first season in the Grand Prix, and now you’re at the Rostelecom Cup. What are your thoughts about your competitors?”
“Congratulations on medaling in your first event, by the way!”
“Yes, your performance was stunning!”
“Are you disappointed that you are one season too late to compete against Viktor Nikiforov?”
Seung Gil stares at at the line of elevators just beyond the crowd of journalists. He is so close. Does he even have the energy to deal with this right now? He takes a sip from his cup to buy himself time, and stills at the bitter taste that hits his tongue.
This isn’t his drink.
Faced with the expectant eyes of the press, Seung Gil forces himself to swallow while maintaining a neutral expression. The taste of acidic, black coffee burns down his throat.
He thinks back to the cafe counter. The barista had made two beverages. He’d taken the wrong one. Which means his vanilla-caramel soy milk latte is in the hands of that disaster.
Seung Gil takes a deep, steadying breath. The reporters are still here, he reminds himself. He can't just ignore them. His coach would have words with him if he blows them off. Mustering his remaining patience, Seung Gil carefully chooses his words as the questions just keep coming.
“I am not on familiar terms with the skaters here. Thank you for the compliments. Nikiforov is not a concern. I am here to compete, not to watch him perform.” He feels stupid holding the coffee cup like a prop.
“Your placement in last season's Worlds makes you a highly anticipated skater. Do you feel pressured?”
“I take the expectations as encouragement.”
“What is the inspiration behind your new masculine style?”
“I studied styles of dance over the summer to enhance my skating.”
“A mambo and pavane are so strikingly different. What made you choose them for your programs?”
“I chose them specifically for their differences.”
“You are quite popular amongst women, yet there are no rumors of any relationship past or current. Do you have an interest in anyone?”
“I concentrate time to my sport.”
“So is there—?”
“No.” He can't take any more of this. “Excuse me. I am tired and unable to answer further questions. Please ask me tomorrow, thank you.” Seung Gil rounds the crowd, using his duffel bag as a barrier to carve an escape route. It's not the most polite way to end the interview, but the reporters back off, spotting a new target rounding the same corner behind him. Seung Gil doesn’t chance a glance back, not wanting to jinx his first spark of good luck this day. He mentally thanks whoever is behind him for their sacrifice.
He chucks the full cup of coffee into the first waste bin he sees before entering the elevator hallway.
No way is he drinking that sludge.
Now weary and deprived of caffeine, he just wants to sleep. The small panel above one set of elevator doors is lit up, numbers flickering in descending order. There's a chime as the doors slide open, and Seung Gil’s ears are assaulted by an unwelcome cacophony of voices. Michele Crispino is passionately hollering in the face of Emil Nekola, much to the scolding protests of his sister, Sara, who is pressed between the men. The Czech skater just laughs helpless and nervous apologies that do little to calm the furious brother.
Seung Gil stares at the drama unraveling before him. The beginnings of a headache stir in his skull.
He didn't ask for this.
Sara Crispino is the first of the three to realize that they are not alone. Her face smoothes into a smile and she takes an amiable step forward.
“Hi, Yuuri,” she greets. Her voice is warm and sweet, a sharp contrast to her previous reprimanding tone. Seung Gil realizes that she is addressing someone standing beside him. It's Katsuki Yuuri, the skater from Japan. Seung Gil hadn't even noticed the other's quiet presence, too focused on his own problems. He doesn’t have long to be bothered by his poor sense of awareness before Sara Crispino’s smiling attention is turned to him.
“Hi, Seung Gil. Do you want to come with—”
“No.” Seung Gil steps past her, prepared to board the elevator. The two young men still standing inside aren't making room for him though. They are gawking at him.
“Hey!” Sara steps close into his space, the reprimanding tone returning. Her expression twists in a show of her affronted feelings. “If you’re turning a lady down, can’t you be more considerate?” Seung Gil’s grip on his bag tightens. He hates it when women use their gender like that. Why is he supposed to go out of his way for someone based on their reproductive organs? They aren’t handicapped. It makes no sense at all.
“Do I get any benefit out of being friendly with you?” he asks coldly. The Crispino twins gape at him with identical expressions before simultaneously exploding with noise. Seung Gil can’t tell their overlapping words apart. The headache thrums into a steady throb. “Could you step aside?”
"Ehh?" booms an infuriated Michele. He shows no intention of doing so. The angry Italian takes two steps forward, fully prepared to defend his sister's honor, before being yanked back by Emil's arms hooked through his own.
“Come now!” Emil laughs, his good nature shining through. He uses his hold on Michele to pull him away and around Seung Gil, giving the Korean a wide berth. “He's still carrying a bag, he probably just got here!” He offers a sorry smile. “We'll get out of your way. See you at the competition.” Despite his gentle disposition, there's a competitive glint in his blue eyes. It's spirit that Seung Gil would have appreciated in a better state of mind. Instead, he enters the elevator platform without another word. Sara steps back with a dissatisfied frown.
“You'll come eat with us another time!” The words are declared with heartfelt promise. She turns on her foot to catch up with her two companions.
As the doors close, Seung Gil notices that the Japanese skater is missing. He must have taken another elevator in the commotion. Whatever the case, it leaves Seung Gil as the sole passenger to the seventh floor. His shoulders relax in relief. His luggage should already be in his room. He shouldn't sleep, it would throw off his sleep schedule, but he was in dire need of a nap. A couple hours shouldn't do any harm. There's a familiar flip-flop in his stomach as the platform slows to stop. The doors chime open and Seung Gil checks the numbered plaques on the wall to discern which direction leads to his room.
The east wing, was it? He walks through the carpetted corridors, reading the numbered plaques as he turns. Left, left, right. His room should be in the middle somewhere. He swipes the key card he'd received at the reception desk. The tiny light on the door lock flashes green as the door lock buzzes and clicks unlocked. He feels a small sense of victory. Seung Gil turns the handle and pushes the door open with a shoulder. He ignores the sound of another door opening in the hallway. That is, until—
Seung Gil halts mid-step into his room. The door handle is still turned in his grasp when he looks over his shoulder.
JJ is leaning against the door directly across from his own. He’s had a change of clothes. Tan hands are lazily hooked into a pair of dark jeans, one long leg crossed over the over. A quilted leather jacket hugs his broad shoulders, left open to show off a stone-gray knit shirt that fits snug to his torso. He's wearing a silver belt buckle shaped like his first two initials and that unnaturally perfect smile of his. A hand raises to flip up his violet-tinted sunglasses, revealing gleeful, dark blue eyes. JJ throws a saucy wink.
“Looks like we’re neighbors!”
Seung Gil slams his door shut behind him.