If Kaldur had to choose the point in his life that things took a decidedly odd turn, it would have been the moment that a beautiful, dark-skinned woman with short black hair sat at his bar and ordered a shot of whiskey.
Merely raising an eyebrow at her exasperated expression and choice of drink, Kaldur nonetheless complied, sliding the shot glass in front of her a few moments later. The woman downed it in one go, calling for another before she’d even set the empty glass back on the glossy surface of the bar.
It wasn’t until he’d served some other customers and the woman had gone through her third whiskey, thankfully more slowly than the first, that some light was shed upon her situation. “My friends,” she said in a low voice, with all the certainty of the ocean tide, “Are idiots.”
“You’d be surprised how little that one comes up in here.” Kaldur answered her in his usual mild tone, idling wiping up spills from the bar top. “Usually people complain of their family, or significant others.”
“Oh, believe me, I’ve got plenty to complain about on that particular score, but it’s my friends that are the trouble at the moment.” She set to explaining. “Either they’re too busy arguing or dancing around the issue at hand to notice each is interested in the other, or they’ve got older problems getting in the way of making something good for themselves.”
“I take it you have a lot of friends.”
The woman let out a short bark of a laugh. “Eh. It’s really just the three ladies I’m close to, but I’ve been around most of the boys long enough to see the obvious problems, even when none of them do.” Frowning at her empty shot glass, the woman reluctantly sighed and asked for a glass of water rather than more liquor. Kaldur happily complied.
“My name’s Raquel, by the way. Raquel Ervin.”
“Kaldur Ahm.” He briefly excused himself to serve another customer, then returned to his conversation with Raquel. “If they all seem to be having so much trouble with seeing what is in front of their very faces, are you inclined to assist matters or let them lie where they are?”
The noise that she released was an odd cross between a sigh and a groan. “I want, very much, to let the morons figure things out for themselves, but that’s just going to make my life harder in the long run, and I’ve got more than enough problems of my own.”
“Yes, you mentioned having plenty of things to complain about earlier.”
Her face flickered through several varied emotions, almost too fast for him to follow: anger, grief, frustration, and finally a dull sort of acceptance. “You really wanna know?”
“I do if you are inclined to talk about it.” And to be honest, he was. Part of being a good bartender was putting up with customers talking about their lives, but Kaldur often found himself genuinely wanting to listen and help however he could.
“I’m a single mom. My boyfriend walked out on me five years ago ‘cause he didn’t want to keep the baby, and most of my family stopped talking to me afterward thanks to my decision to go through with the pregnancy.”
“I’m sorry. None of that can have been easy.”
“It hasn’t, but having a few good people on my side has really helped. Anyway, I had to give up on college for a while to take care of my son, but now I’m back with scholarship money to get my graduate degree in robotics.”
“That is a lucrative field right now - anything in particular you’re trying to pursue?” Immediately, Raquel launched into an expansive explanation of her studies and work, trying to improve the unmanned drones and spaceships set upon exploring their solar system. Frequently, Kaldur had to step away to tend to his other customers at the bar, but he kept returning to the spot across from the space-robotics scientist who had no end in sight to her goals and dreams. Eventually, though, she did manage to reach the end of her subject, and unexpectedly turned the discussion on its head.
“So, what about you, Mister Ahm? Is dealing with tipsy and drunk bar patrons to be your lot in life, or are you looking to other ventures?” She leant forward to rest her chin on a curled hand, watching him inquisitively. It took a moment for Kaldur to adjust to the topic switch.
“Well, that’s a long story in and of itself.” He paused for a moment, considering the pain this woman had been through, and decided his own was of a close enough level that he was inclined to share. “I had been in the midst of gaining a degree in marine biology, but chose to halt my education in order to work full time to support my girlfriend when her own funding was cut off. After a few months or so, she left me with no warning, eloping with most of our savings and... and my former best friend.” It had been nearly two years, and still the pain of Tula abandoning him for Garth burned deep, no matter how much Kaldur tried to forget.
Raquel’s eyes had gone wide as she looked at him with an odd expression. Seconds later, both her hands reached across the bar to grasp his own. “Kaldur, I am so sorry. No one deserves to feel that kind of betrayal, least of all someone as kind-hearted as you.”
He felt his lips twitching in a helpless smile. “I should point out, you have not known me nearly long enough to deal out such compliments.” Raquel merely shrugged, her hands retreating back across the top of the glossy bar, and leaving Kaldur’s feeling oddly cold.
“Hey, anyone willing to put his future on hold like that, especially for someone who ended up being so not worthy of it, is as kind as it gets.”
“I suppose it takes one to know one.” He replied with a small grin, which got Raquel to smile widely in response. They ended up in a conversation about the local university, the scope of the offered courses, the recent expansion efforts thanks to generous donations from businessmen like Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen, and eventually to the kinds of people Kaldur met during work hours.
“Mostly students, as you can easily imagine.” He said. “Quite a few members of the upper class, surprisingly enough. We aren’t close enough to the southern residential district or the shipping docks to get very much in the way of poor workers and drunks, which I for one am grateful for.”
Raquel snickered. “Yeah, somehow I can’t see you being happy about stepping out here to chuck out any unruly patrons. Though, that’s not to say I don’t think you could do it.” She’d eyed his lean frame with an appreciative look that had Kaldur struggling to contain a blush.
“Indeed. My black belt certainly helps, though.”
“Tae Kwon Do, actually.”
“Color me impressed. I joined the Krav Maga movement as a teen, myself...” From there, they discussed the positives and drawbacks of various martial arts forms, until it became late enough that Raquel had to leave.
“I left Amistad, my son, with some friends tonight, but I need to be at their apartment bright and early tomorrow morning in order to pick him, which definitely isn’t going to happen if I stay here any longer.” She began to rise and pull out the money to pay off her tab, before pausing to glance anxiously at Kaldur. “Are you going to be working here again this week?”
“Every night but Wednesday.” He answered with a small smile, which Raquel returned.
“I’ll be back sometime to see you, then.”
“I look forward to it.”
The next night was Friday, and as usual had a much bigger crowd than that of Thursday, but that didn’t stop Kaldur from noticing the instant Raquel walked in the front door, arm in arm with a pale woman with midnight black hair. Approaching the bar, neither of the pair looked up from their hushed conversation until they seated themselves on the high stools.
“Kaldur!” Raquel grinned slyly as he approached, making the man equal parts joyful and nervous. He wasn’t entirely sure what all was entailed within that smile, but at least some of it was bound to be other than good... “This is one of the friends I mentioned, Zatanna Zatara.”
The second woman eyed her with an arched eyebrow. “Rocky, have you been telling tales out of school?”
“You could say that. I was just talking to Kal here last night about the problems some mutual acquaintances of ours seem to be having when it comes to getting over themselves and just asking someone out.”
“Ah.” Zatanna nodded in understanding. “I tried again yesterday with getting Artemis to admit that she likes Wally, but nothing I say manages to get through to that girl.”
“In my experience,” Kaldur smoothly stepped in, getting the drinks Raquel asked for, “Repeatedly telling someone the same thing over and over tends to make them tune it out whenever the same subject is brought up again.”
“Very true.” A call from the far end of the bar took up Kaldur’s attention for several minutes - the private room at the rear of the establishment had been rented out again for a private party, and he needed to prepare a dozen drinks of varying ingredients for them. By the time he was able to return to the pair of ladies, the two of them had both gained a calculating expression.
“So, Kaldur- may I call you Kaldur?” Zatanna asked him.
“Cool. So, if you were going to try and force someone to realize how much they were crushing on somebody else, how would you go about it?”
“To start, you are using the term ‘force’ - never a good idea when attempting to help a relationship get started. If, indeed, it is a relationship that is desired. I would recommend a subtle approach, such as getting the intended targets to go on group outings where they will spend time in each others’ company, and begin to create opportunities for the two of them to be left alone together.”
“Don’t you just love the way he talks?” Raquel murmured to her friend before meeting Kaldur’s bemused gaze. “Good idea, except there’s just one problem: these two people argue with each other just about every time they’re in the same room, regardless of who else is around.”
“Ah. Perhaps, in that case, it would be a better idea for them to meet at public events, or some similar environment where to cause a scene would get them removed by officials?”
“They would still fight wi- ohh, I see.” Tapping the side of her nose in an exaggerated gesture, Zatanna winked at him. “Get the both of them dumped outside together, when they’ve got no one to blame but themselves, and then see what happens, right?”
“I gotta admit, Rocky, you were so right about coming to talk to this guy.”
“Mm-hm, I told you girl. Now, Kal, what would you recommend for a girl who’s been best friends with a guy for the better part of a decade-”
“Oh no you don’t.” Kaldur was hard pressed to contain his snort as Zatanna clapped a hand over Raquel’s mouth. “I happen to quite like my relationship with Dick, thank you very much, and I’m not doing anything that might screw it up.”
Still blocked from talking, the dark skinned woman simply rolled her eyes at Kaldur.
“Not interested in any advice for yourself, I take it?” He asked dryly. Zatanna hesitated for a moment, conflict clear in her eyes, before giving in to the need to explain.
“Look, Richard and I have been good friends since we were pre-teens, and while we’ve joked around sometimes about having getting serious with each other, we just... Haven’t. We’re friends, we go on dates with other people, commiserate when things don’t work out-”
“Moon over the other constantly when they’re going out with someone else.” Raquel finally managed to free herself. “After the meltdown Artemis told me you nearly had over his dating Barbara again, don’t you dare try and say you don’t have feelings for the guy.”
“I do!” Zatanna burst out. “But, I don’t want to lose what we have if it doesn’t work out.”
“If I may...?” Kaldur spoke quietly, interrupting them. “Preserving what you have now may be good, but that also means potentially missing out on something better. Don’t be afraid to enter into a deeper relationship, especially if you talk to him about your fears beforehand.” The younger woman looked contemplative at his words.
He had to step away again after that, refilling the drinks for the private party, returning some minutes later to find that Zatanna had gone, while Raquel was smirking.
“She left to go visit Dick’s apartment.” She answered his silent question. “You, my friend, are a wonder of relationship advice.”
“I will admit, working here has given me ample opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t.”
“Mm.” The smirk settled into something more relaxed as Raquel spent the next several minutes merely observing the man as he went about his tasks as bartender. Eventually, the time again came for her depart, and the woman paid off her bill, blowing back a kiss to Kaldur as she went out the door.