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The Startup

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Kuvira found herself squinting as she opened the door, letting herself in and locking the California sunshine out. The apartment was dimly lit, and surprisingly silent. "Baatar?"

There was something oddly comforting about returning home to a dark apartment that smelled of takeout and fresh laundry, even if her boyfriend was playing deaf. The most recent visit with the CEO of Varrick Industries had proven more successful than she had hoped, the launch party for Colossus was imminent, and she had miraculously ended up in a seat without an energetic child behind her on the flight back. Still, a welcome home from her significant other was hardly an unreasonable expectation, and she found herself frowning as she dropped her bag in the entryway.

"Baatar, I'm home. For the first time in a week?"

The apartment was still silent, though the glow from the sofa and the silhouette that occupied its far end made it clear it was not uninhabited. 

"Baatar, can you hear me?" Kuvira said crossly. She flipped the light switch, rolling her eyes when he only grimaced at the sudden brightness and adjusted his headphones. "I'm calling your mother and telling her that we're living together," she said loudly, planting her hands on her hips.

He appeared to be gaming. There was still no reply.

She waited a few moments longer, trying his name in increasingly sharp intonations before pinching the bridge of her nose and opting for a different approach. "I'm not wearing pants and in sore need of your... assistance."

"Kuvira!" In an instant the game was paused, the laptop forgotten on the vacant couch, and his arms around her. "You're back so early, I wasn't expecting you for another few hours." He kissed her at last in an overdue greeting. "You're also a liar, those are almost definitely pants."

Kuvira adjusted the waistband of her leggings. "I'm glad to see you only have selective deafness," she said archly, extricating herself from his embrace and flicking him on the forehead. "Done with your dissertation yet?"

"You insult me," he said, returning to his spot on the sofa and clearing away a sheaf of grid paper, patting the seat next to his.

"Well, it looks like you've been playing DoA for hours. Excuse the presumption."

"I know what I need to do to finish, I'll be done by tomorrow," Baatar said easily. "I've been readying Colossus for the first rounds of beta testing, which is arguably more important than an additional degree--"

He was explaining a new facet of the programming, going into far too much detail about the minutiae of how he had ironed out kinks in the operating system for the nanobots. His face was incandescently lit as it always was when he talked about his work, the glow amplified by the laptop screen, and she smiled as she crossed to a spot behind the sofa, and wrapping her arms around him. "You're talking over my head again. I've been away for a week, you aren't going to ask me about the trip? About the meeting with Varrick? I didn't expect him to be so supportive of our startup."

He was suddenly tense. "I actually do have something to ask you, now that you're back." There was a curious new strain in his voice and Kuvira laughed, dipping her head down to press a kiss to his shoulder.

"No, I didn't meet a better developer than you." She climbed over the back of the couch, landing on the seat beside him. "How's the new research assistant?" she asked, turning around and reaching behind for his hands, guiding them to her back. "Sato's daughter, right?"

"Asami? Very capable," Baatar said as his fingers went to work on the knots in her shoulders. "She's apparently a fashion blogger as well... unusual, but I can't say I'm surprised, having worked with her. She's good to have on the team."

"Excellent," Kuvira said, a faint groan escaping her. "Lower, please."

He acquiesced, mirth evident in his voice. "You aren't jealous? She's very pretty, you know."

"Then I look forward to meeting her. Invite her to the launch party," she said, closing her eyes. "What did you want to ask me, earlier?"

Baatar paused, resuming his ministrations when she returned his hands to her upper back, a demanding noise escaping her throat. "Yes, that. I wanted to surprise you--"

"Oh?" The word ended in a gasp as he attended to a particularly sore spot. "By taking up the entire couch with your work and marathoning video games?"

"No," he said, stopping abruptly and turning her to face him. For the first time in years, he looked genuinely nervous. Kuvira couldn’t recall the last time he had looked that way; after West Point, Baatar had become infinitely more confident and self-assured, fully cognizant of his talents. Now his shoulders were bowed and anxiety was etched into the contours of his face in little lines of distress. "I wanted to ask you something important."

"Fine, I'll help you with the demo," she said, squeezing his fingers. "Be warned, you know I'm not a developer.. besides, that's supposed to be your moment in the spotlight so I'll just do the introductions and offer moral--"

"Oh, that? No, you don't need any programming knowledge to help with that," he said, relief stealing into his face and leaving it just as quickly. "No... I actually wanted to ask you... Actually, give me a minute."

She crossed one leg over the other, perplexed amusement in her voice and face. "Take as long as you need." He disappeared into the bedroom, and she busied herself with the slew of papers that littered the coffee table. There were notes from his graduate coursework, forms pertaining to Colossus' IT certification, and loose sheets of graph paper with calculations in Baatar's thready scrawl. One sheet was particularly well-used, bearing signs of repeated scribbling and erasing. The blue ink grid had been practically worn away in some places, and the words had been crossed out more often than not. Kuvira picked it up, eyes narrowing in curiosity; it was evidently a speech, rather than a complicated proof as she had first though, and she had barely begun to read when she stopped short.

"This... this is happening?"

"Kuvira," Baatar was saying, suddenly back in front of her and his hand in his pocket. He was saying something, something suspiciously similar to the content of the sheet of well-used graph paper, and then he was taking her hands in his, looking into her face in earnest. "If it weren't for you, I wouldn't have gone to West Point," he said. "If it weren't for you, I'd never have followed through with Colossus. We wouldn't have attempted a startup... we wouldn't--"

"You did all of that yourself," she reminded him, freeing one hand to cup his cheek. "Remember? I don’t code--"

"You know I've loved you since we were little," he said, dropping to his knee, "and you've had my heart for the past decade. I wanted to tell you that I'm yours, and to ask you if you'll have me." His voice was soft, his face open and upturned, and she could see the glint of a diamond in his hand. "We've added the roles of business partners to our relationship," he said, a thread of insecurity sneaking into his voice. "But I'd much rather be your partner in life. Kuvira,  you've made me the happiest man alive, and I only ever wanted to return the favor. Will you marry me?"

It took her a moment to find her voice. "Is this a real question?" she said.

Hurt flitted across Baatar's face. "Yes," he said, "and I--"

Kuvira pulled him back to standing, kissing him with renewed enthusiasm despite a long day of travel. "I meant that I would love to marry you," she said, breaking away after a moment and laughing at his visible relief. "I meant that I only ever imagined my life with you in it, and that I love you, and that you didn't really need to ask me to know what my answer would be."

"I was mostly sure you'd say yes," he said with a shrug as he slid the ring onto her finger. "But until I heard it from you I couldn't take it as a given."

"You're my fiancé now," she said, kissing him again. "You're my fiancé... Baatar, you don't know how long I've wanted this."

"Not as long as me," he teased, "because I've loved you since I was sixteen. You have no idea how lucky I feel right now for being able to call you my future wife."

"No," she smiled, letting him kiss her cheek, "I don't. You should show me, after we meet Opal for dinner."

"What?"

"Baatar," she reproached him. "We talked about this. Opal is meeting us at Delfina at seven. She's your sister, I shouldn't have to remind you--"

"You've always been family," he insisted, pressing gentle kisses to her hair. "Always. It's just official now."

"It is," she said, patting his cheek and reluctantly pulling away. "I'm going to go shower, we'll have to head out in a couple of hours--"

"Good idea. Need any help?"

Kuvira grinned. "Disgusting."

o0o

The restaurant was sleek, with long, minimalist tables and modern light fixtures that cast the interior in a warm glow. Opal and Bolin had already arrived, though the younger couple assured them they hadn’t been waiting long. “It’s good to see you again, little sister,” Baatar said warmly, pulling Opal forward for a hug. The girl suffered through it, her expression disgruntled, and Kuvira felt the beginnings of a sour evening approaching before it had properly begun.

“Kuvira,” Opal said, nodding. “It’s been a while.”

“Yes,” Kuvira agreed, “it has. But I’m glad to see you brought Bolin-- I didn’t expect to see my favorite couple this evening. What a wonderful surprise.”

Bolin smiled sympathetically, mouthing ‘sorry’ before speaking. “Yep. Isn’t this great, sweetie?” Opal didn’t reply.

They were seated shortly after. Their table was against the window, rather than in the thick of things, providing the perfect opportunity to people-watch. The foliage decorating the mediterranean-inspired archways overhead, combined with the tuscan color scheme, lent the establishment a pleasant ambience that blended the traditional with modernity. “So,” Opal said at last, “you were in L.A. for the week?”

“I was,” Kuvira said neutrally. “Business trips are a necessary part of the profession.” She had barely taken a sip of water when Bolin exploded with excitement, drawing the eyes of the nearby patrons and prompting Baatar to cover his face with his hands.

“Is that a rock on your finger?” he said, voice too loud. “Oh, wow! Let’s see it! Baatar, you finally asked her?”

“Stop,” Baatar said flatly. “Bolin, please.”

“A rock?” Opal echoed. “You don’t mean...”

“I’m sorry you had to find out this way, Opal,” Kuvira said, shooting Bolin a filthy look --that he proved completely oblivious to-- as he pointed to her left hand, beaming. “Yes,” she added, her face softening, “your brother and I are going to be married.” She could see Baatar smiling at her in her peripheral vision, and she squeezed his hand under the table.

“That’s… so great,” Opal said flatly. “Do Mom and Dad know yet?”

Baatar winced. “We’ll tell them eventually.”

“You could update Facebook,” Bolin supplied helpfully, nearly upsetting a passing server. “Then everyone would know!”

“I doubt Suyin would be happy about finding out that way,” Kuvira said. “No, we’ll tell them in person… or we’ll call. Either way, it won’t be an enjoyable conversation.”

“Ready to order?” Their waitress was young, probably a college student. She was looking at Bolin with interest, and suddenly snapped her fingers. “Oh my god. Okay, you probably get this all the time… but are you Nuktuk? From that series, Hero of the South?”

Bolin grinned. “The one and only,” he said. “See?” he added in a whisper, nudging Opal. “They still recognize me!”

“Would you mind giving me an autograph?” the woman said excitedly. “Oh my god, I can’t believe it. I’m a huge fan-- is it true that you dated Asami Sato, the heiress to Future Industries?”

“What? No!” Bolin put an arm around Opal’s shoulders. “No, we’re just friends. Asami’s great, she’s working on important… engineering stuff. After all, her dad.. well, yeah. It’s old news. I'm taken?”

“Right. Sorry about that, do you need another minute before you order?”

It was odd, Kuvira reflected, that their server had suspected a romantic link between Bolin and Asami. Hiroshi Sato’s imprisonment after losing a massive tax fraud case was completely unrelated to his daughter’s personal life, and there had been precious little of Asami in the papers even at the time of Sato’s arrest. The headlines were instead dominated by his affiliation with Amon and Tarlok, the brothers formerly responsible for east coast-based Equalist Inc. Amon’s dealings with the mob were well known long before the case was brought to a close, and Sato’s association with the two had made for much juicier gossip than the lovelife of his daughter, even if the family was all but celebrity. After Sato’s arrest, the brothers had been found dead in their car from carbon monoxide poisoning, the exhaust directed in with piping and retained with shut windows. The deaths were deemed suicides, and Future Industries had lost its position as the corporation on the cutting edge of the tech sector shortly after. The timing could not have been more perfect for debuting Colossus; Asami’s new position in Baatar’s lab consequentially could not have been more awkward.

“So,” Opal said, taking a bite of a roll, “engagement. Who knows so far?”

“Just you two,” Baatar admitted. “I only asked her today.”

“That’s great!” Bolin said, drooping a bit when Opal still appeared unmoved. “Uh, that’s cool. Chill. Really chill, guys. Congratulations.”

“Mom still doesn’t know you’re living together, does she?” Opal pressed. “When are you going to tell her that?”

“Probably when I tell her we’re engaged?” Baatar said. “Opal, I know this is strange--”

“This isn’t about Kuvira growing up with us, this is about you guys betraying the family,” Opal said, her voice rising. “You could’ve told Mom and Dad about the startup, you didn’t have to poach Mom’s investors--”

“Opal, please,” Kuvira said, her voice firm. “We did not ‘poach’ Su’s investors. I can’t help it if Varrick wants to invest in our startup, the same way I didn’t make Baatar apply to West Point with me. Your family was angry about that too, and it’s been nearly eight years. Don’t you think it might be time to forgive, and forget?”

“Okay,” Bolin said nervously, “I thought I was going to be at a nice, normal Beifong reunion… and now I remember why those things don’t exist. Hey, why don’t we all have a drink? I’ll buy!”

“No,” Opal said. “Baatar, you can’t be serious.”

“About Kuvira, or the startup?” he said, quirking a brow. “I’m very serious about both, Opal. You know that. Can we talk about something else? Tell me about school, you’re starting your junior year--”

“Fine,” Opal said, crossing her arms over her chest. “I would text Mom right now if it were my business… let me know what she says when you drop the bomb.”

“Drinks? Yeah, let’s do that,” Bolin said, forcing a smile and beckoning to their server. “So, you guys are getting close to the launch,” he added, wine list in hand. “That’ll be cool.”

“Yes,” Kuvira agreed, “it will be. This guy,” she said, nudging Baatar and smiling openly, “is about to change the way we use nanotechnology.”

There was silence at the table. “...Colossus is for nanotech?” Opal said at last.

“Yes,” Kuvira said. “Why?”

“Well, the name is just kind of…” Bolin trailed off. “Bad? Innacurate. Really innacurate.”

“It’s ironic,” Baatar said tiredly, taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes, his expression aggrieved. “I thought it was obvious.”

“It’s a misnomer,” Opal said. “But I’m glad you’re getting your first big patent.”

“I am too,” Baatar replied. “It wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Kuvira.”

“Because MIT would have been a horrible college choice for an aspiring engineer--”

“The point,” Kuvira cut in, “is that your brother and I are changing the approach to modern medicine. We’re changing the landscape of a field that’s ripe with untapped potential, Opal. I hope you’ll try and focus on that, not on a little argument with Su that’s nearly a decade old.”

Opal looked at her for a long while before looking away. “So you named it Colossus to be ironic,” she said at last, the words directed to her brother.

“That’s right.”

“He named it after his dick,” Opal said to Bolin. “See? There’s the irony.”

Baatar shook his head, a guilty smile at the corners of his mouth. "Zero irony there."

Kuvira buried her face in her hands as Bolin’s laughter yet again drew the attention of the other tables. The rest of Baatar’s family would be present for the launch party --that much had already been confirmed-- and if this was Opal's reaction, she could only imagine what that evening would bring.