Nilak followed the muffled sounds of explosions until she found Sozu out on a terrace, setting various plantlife on fire in a relatively controlled manner. Nilak bit her lip, watching her for a moment, before she took a few hesitant steps forward, clearing her throat. "Hey," she said softly. "You... um. Are you all right?"
Sozu looked up, stopping herself in the middle of a motion -- seeing it was Nilak, she relaxed a little, and straightened, slowly releasing the breath that would have expressed itself as another small blast of flame. The dry grass around her was singed and blackened, where it hadn't been burnt away entirely.
"... Not particularly."
She let that hang, somewhat unhelpfully,
"I see," Nilak said, coming a bit closer and sitting on an only very slightly singed rock at the edge of the clearing Sozu has made. "You, ah. You seemed really upset about the plan we laid out." She took a deep breath. "Would you be willing to talk about it?"
She swallowed and hesitated a moment. "I'll talk about it. Do you really want to hear about it?" She remained standing, ill at ease.
Nilak just looked at her, her dark eyes steady. "I wouldn't have asked if I didn't," she said evenly, watching Sozu's face, her own features still and calm.
Sozu swallowed again, and, slowly, spoke. "I -- I know that my reaction is unwarranted. I know that we need to do this, to keep Zeng from bringing the might of his Dread--Flying Whatsoever It Is--Dreadnought? Bringing that to bear on the temple. And I know that..." Her face soured (even more) and she left the bending stance she'd been keeping. "The idea of doing it -- of doing what that man of all people suggested, and this of all things? It makes me want to scream!"
By the end, her voice had risen to a shout, and her fists were clenched, her face red and bright and her eyes sharp -- prime Firebender temper.
Nilak looked at her hard, her brow furrowing. "I don't know that your reaction is unwarranted, Sozu, but I don't really know why you're having it. It's not like you, but I trust you, and if something is making you this upset, I can only imagine that you have a good reason. Why does the idea of this plan specifically upset you so much?"
Sozu, though still in a high temper, restrained herself from snapping back at Nilak - not a mean feat - and took a breath instead. In, out, deep breath. "I -- when Fire Lord Ozai launched the attack, by air, on the Earth Kingdom, when the Comet came... My brother Aizen served aboard one of those airships. In the fleet that Sokka," she hesitates slightly in saying his name, even, though she knows quite well the famous name associated with the battle, "and his friends sabotaged and -- well, rammed into one another. Exactly what he is now asking me to do."
Nilak let out a breath in a slow, controlled hiss. "Oh," she said, before she drew in a breath. "Yeah, I'd say that's fair." She chewed her lower lip hard, hesitating, before she asked, "Is... is he all right?"
Sozu's reply was immediate and, from the way that her voice almost cracked, saturated with pain: "He survived. Barely. He can't walk. He can't Firebend. He barely even leaves the house any more. He's going to spent the rest of his life in a chair. A stupid little chair with wheels."
Nilak made an airless, gutpunched sound, her eyes widening helplessly. "I'm--I'm sorry," she said thinly, when she could tear her eyes away from Sozu's face, looking down at her hands. "I--" She pushed to her feet and took a few shaky steps over to Sozu, reaching out hesitantly to touch her shoulder. "I'm sorry," she said again, uselessly, her throat tight. "I just--I don't see what else we can do. But I won't ask you to take any part in it, if we can't find another method of stopping the Fire Society before they hit us. That--that would just be cruel." She blew out a trembling breath, biting her lower lip. "And... I'm sorry you're upset. I know I can't--I can't really do anything about it, but... still."
"You don't need to be--" She started to shrink away, as if she expected some kind of saccharine over-sympathy. The thing she'd seen Aizen met with so many times in the last year. So when Nilak delivered something far more akin to real sympathy, Sozu had a moment of unsureness, and didn't go anywhere, and so let the Waterbender's hand remain on her shoulder. Which was... what was she supposed to do about that, exactly?
She looked away briefly, clenching a fist again. She was back to a normal speaking volume, even perhaps a slightly quieter one. "I can't not involve myself and -- and I feel sick thinking about it. I know this can't hurt him. I know this helps. I know how much this matters." She had broken down into a mantra of repeated affirmations, probably the things she'd been telling herself since the idea first came up. "I don't know what to do!" The last word (like so many things Sozu has been saying in her agitated state) was punctuated with a rise in volume, a further fist clench, and an abrupt, small jerk of tension throughout her whole body.
"... Ugh. And for this feeling I make myself a petulant child and an honorless dog."
Nilak caught Sozu's fist carefully in a fit of daring, not entirely unsure she wasn't about to be burned very badly. She blew out a shaky breath when Sozu's hands didn't catch fire, squeezing her shoulder. "Sozu, you're one of the most honorable people I know, and being upset over your brother being injured in battle to the point where he can't walk isn't being childish," she said, her voice a little hoarse, but firm. "I wouldn't expect you to sit in the middle of the Air Temple and twiddle your thumbs while this is happening either, but there are other things we can do besides go out with the first wave. Everybody can't go, we can't leave a temple full of children unprotected, and the temple will need offensive fighters as well as defensive in case some of the Fire Society gets through."
She squeezed Sozu's hand gently. "This isn't about it hurting him," she said slowly. "This is about it hurting you. And asking you to go out with the team taking out the airships would be pointless and awful, and I'll put anyone who says otherwise on ice." She sighed shakily. "In the meantime, we can try to figure something else out, but... try not to worry about it so much?" She swallowed hard, her mouth tilting up crookedly. "I guess that's selfish of me. I just... don't like seeing you this upset." She managed a grin. "And the surrounding plantlife isn't too thrilled about it either."
"This is a preventive measure," she responded with a hint of royal rhetoric and pride. "If I can burn it and it catches, then the Fire Society can, too. Best to burn it all now, in a controlled way. They will not put out what fires they start."
But after that, she sagged; some of the conviction, and an awful lot of the almost-prissiness, went out of her. So too did the threat that the hand Nilak was holding might burst into flame; Sozu's skin even cooled a little as her fist partially relaxed. "To be not willing to carry out my duty is dishonorable. Even if my duty is frightening, or painful, I know a better person than I would put personal terror and distate aside. Aizen would put it aside. I need to be strong enough. I'm sorry if -- I'm sorry if my worries make it harder on you. I don't mean them to." It took her a moment to get that last part out: apology was a mode of expression Sozu reserved for a very select few people, after all.
"Yeah, but your duty isn't to go out and do something you find abhorrent and horrible," Nilak said softly. "Your duty is to keep the Fire Society from murdering a temple full of innocent children to get to the Avatar. There are a lot of different ways to do that that don't involve making you feel like you want to throw up." She tightened her grip gently on Sozu's wrist, then pulled back a little, her cheeks warm. "And, you don't have to apologize. Your worries are legitimate. I just let them bother me because I hate seeing you sad." She managed a crooked smile, her head tilting a bit. "That's my fault, I guess, not yours."
Sozu blinked a little, and looked at Nilak, surprised, but not displeased, at least not entirely. "I don't feel good about abandoning all of you, either... Part of my duty and loyalty is to you." Though it was meant to be collective, what with the two of them standing rather close togetehr on a deserted terrace, holding hands, well... It seemed less so, perhaps.
"But I won't keep burning things to stop thinking about it. Or being sorry for myself, especially if it bothers you. There are more productive things I could be doing." That last statement was not as full of conviction as Sozu's pronouncements usually were: she wasn't sure if there actually were. Not until the battle began. In a rather quiet way, as if trying not to sound small and unsure, Sozu asked, "... there are, aren't there?"
"Ha," Nilak said, grinning at her, her dark eyes bright. "Abandoning me, hell; I'm staying here with you. I get anxious enough on that flying hunk of junk without running around banging it deliberately into larger metal structures, thanks." She squeezed Sozu's hand again before she let go, elbowing her arm lightly. "Like you could get rid of me, anyhow."
She shrugged, still smiling a little. "Feel free to keep burning stuff, if it really makes you feel better. That's really kind of the end result I'm hoping for. But of course we need your help, Sozu. You're a part of the group; like I said, you're kind of stuck with us. If it'd make you feel better to stay here and burn things, that's okay too, but if you want to be actively doing something, then you can come help Yan and I make traps, and we'll use him to test if he starts being a jerk. More of a jerk than usual. Whatever."
Sozu smiled first, slightly astonished and amused, and as Nilak continued, she managed an expression that looked like a laughing one, if there wasn't a laugh in and of itself. "Burning things is entirely productive," she insisted again, "but we could work on traps as well."
She looked up at the tower, briefly, and then back down at Nilak. "I wouldn't say stuck," she said, and sort of let that hang, unsure exactly where to go from there.
"If you say so," Nilak said airily, still grinning. "I'm glad you're not 'stuck,' I guess, not least because being crammed in a tiny metal box for weeks on end with an irritated firebender is a quick and easy recipe for flash-fried teenager, but still. I--I know I'm glad you're here." She looked down, smiling and rubbing a little at the back of her neck. "And this whole battle thing... really boils down to whatever you end up wanting to do. If... if everyone decides to go out to meet the airships head-on and you're at a place where you feel comfortable going, then we can go. If not, then... we won't. But we really can't do anything about that now. What we can do is go rig explosives."
"Okay then. Where to? ... you know, you do like exploding things, I realize." She chuckled, and looked around at the layout of the temple, as if predicting where they might most need blasting jelly and explosions, when the fight started. She took on an analytic sort of expression for a moment as she looked across the high platforms, imposing towers, and down into the clouds below. That faded, though, and she looked back at Nilak again. Something the Waterbender had said a moment ago was rattling around in her brain, and she needed to speak to it.
"I'm not glad I'm here - not at the place, not in the situation, not standing against the people we're about to fight. None of it. But... since I have to be here, there's--well, I'm glad I'm here with you."
"A little," Nilak said, smiling, before she flushed faintly, looking down at her boots. "I... thank you," she said, forcing herself to look up at Sozu, her face warm and unguarded. "That means a lot." She took a deep breath, nodding further into the Air Temple. "Come on, this way. I was just taking a break, we'll have to see how far Yan's gotten since I left."
Sozu followed, and she seemed even less prickly and bursts-of-spontaneous-fire prone: maybe it was something about Nilak's reaction. Or - oh, she wasn't sure herself. And the fact that she was warm - surely had to do with the firebending. Surely, and only, that. "What have you been doing?" She asked, clearing a bit of tremble out of her voice. "I hear 'explosives' and 'traps' and... you know, I should probably be aware of where all the explosives are, at least."
Nilak smiled at her, trying not to let it become smug. She'd gotten Sozu to smile, at least, if not laugh, and she definitely looked more relaxed. Nilak counted that as a win. "We've mostly been jury-rigging whatever we can with the supplies we have, nothing fancy," she said. "They're pretty easy to spot if you know exactly what to look for, but..." she trailed off, grinning. "They're nasty if you don't. C'mon, I'll show you." She beckoned to Sozu and started to wind her way back through the temple, feeling warm and happy all over, her cheeks a little flushed and her eyes bright.