He remembered it all too clearly. Much too clearly. Her disregarded body sprawled up against a crystal wall, unsure of whether or not she still retained a pulse. He hadn't wanted her to get in the way, but that was hard to ask for, considering she always made it her duty to get in the middle of things.
He hated having to travel to Ba Sing Se ever since the fight. It was the fight that made him a hero and a murderer. The Avatar was one thing, killing him was a necessity for the Fire Nation to retain its power, but there was no need for the girl to be so brutally killed. She just always had to get in the way. It was a shame too, had she been a firebender, she would have made a great ally. Her loyalty was unquestionable and even in her final moments she continued to fight until it wasn't physically possible anymore.
But what haunted Zuko the most was that he had to just stand there and watch her die, when they had so clearly connected not moments before. But it was either her, or finally being able to go home, and Zuko couldn't give up the dream he'd been fighting for for so long just for a girl he barely even knew.
The Avatar already lying dead on the ground, Zuko watched as Azula delivered a final blow to Katara's already gushing scalp. She had fought well, but by the time Aang went down, she had lost too much energy to be able to fight off everybody by herself.
Insisting that they shouldn't waste any more time, Azula made the order to return to the Fire Nation to report the Avatar's death. What happened to his body, or hers for that matter, Zuko didn't know, but at times he didn't want to. He recalled his last action towards the girl. As the others were preparing to leave the Earth Kingdom, Zuko silently and quickly turned back to the waterbender and unclasped the blood-drenched necklace hanging from her still body. Better he took it than some asshole who'd steal it and pawn it for booze money. Zuko didn't know if it was right, but it felt like something he needed to do.
I should have at least buried her or something. He sighed.
"General Zuko!" Zuko stiffed and gasped back to reality as he quickly stashed the blue necklace back into his pocket. "The troops are ready to move on sir." An officer called into his tent.
"Yes, thank you. I'll be out in a moment."
Four years had passed since the Avatar's death and Zuko had already established his place as a general. Of course, it helped greatly that his father remained Fire Lord, but Zuko silently knew he had only been given such a position by his father so that he could no longer meddle in affairs back home.
Any chance to get rid of me. He thought.
Hunting down people of the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes wasn't Zuko's ideal way to be living his life. But it got him out into the world again, which was something he surprisingly found himself missing once he returned home a hero. Zuko didn't enjoy killing either, but with time and experience it became something so second nature to him, and if demolishing the numerous rebellion armies that were quickly coming into play in the war would give him something to fight for, then so be it.
As he tightened a few spots that had loosened in his armor, Zuko reminded himself to be more careful about where he kept the waterbender's necklace. As he took it where ever he traveled, there were times when he occasionally misplaced it, or it would occasionally fall out of his pockets and he'd have to secretly go back and search for it, although its remaining beautiful quality never made it hard to find. Although the piece of jewelry never meant much to him symbolically, it tended to keep him calm in the face of battle. Never having anything left of his mother's possessions after she had disappeared, the necklace gave him some sense that perhaps Katara was watching over him, but hearing the thought over again made him chuckle in disbelief.
As if she'd ever watch over me in anything other than loathing.
Of course, rumors still spread throughout the world that the Avatar and perhaps even the girl were still alive, but Zuko flushed the thoughts from his mind to maintain purpose and professionalism. If the Avatar had lived, he would have reappeared by now and there would be no need to search for the next reincarnated Avatar, but that was someone else's job, a job Zuko wanted nothing to do with. Not again.
Emerging from his tent, he faced his rambling troops doing nothing but fooling around and slacking off, their irritating child-like actions starting to piss him off.
"Hey!" he called loudly, but received no attention. "Shut the fuck up!" the men quickly silenced seeing the steam starting to escape from Zuko's mouth. Breathing out the smoke, he calmed and simply stated, "Let's go".