A/N: This is more or less my first attempt at fan-fiction, or creative writing, period. When searching for inspiration to write this, I was sort of inspired by the whole Silence of the Lambs dynamic with the evil psychopath behind bars with his brain being picked by the hero (or perhaps the "brain picking" may have been the other way around…but I digress). I'm not really sure if this will be a traditional "Chapter" story, or perhaps a series of interconnected drabbles…we'll see how it shapes up. While the piece is intended to be a dark drama revolving around Ozai and the various visits he receives from other characters while imprisoned, there will eventually be Zutara undertones. Nothing flagrant, but consider that fair warning. And while we're on warnings, I'm going to rate this "T" for now on account of language and adult themes, but if I get complaints I may raise it to "M".

In any case, I hope you enjoy-but even if you don't, constructive criticism is most certainly appreciated! Just don't brow-beat me for silly grammatical errors. I'm only human.

{Many of the characters, locations, ideas, represented in this work of fan-fiction are property of Nickelodeon and the creators of Avatar, and I do not presume to claim them as my own. A few ideas are indeed of my own creation, but to avoid liability-I hereby denounce them...}

Conversations with Ozai

Prologue: A New Era

The warm summer nights brought with them the tepid rains that gave life to the lush, tropical landscape. This evening was no different. Droplets pattered softly upon the sandy streets of the bustling Capitol; drowning out the usual din of activity in the harbor district of the city. The seasonal rains were ample enough to fill the freshwater cisterns for at least another year, and at the very least they provided a much desired treat for those afflicted by unusually balmy Fire Nation heat.

Filthy street urchins giggled and squealed in pleasure as they played a game of stickball in a dilapidated alley, the rain leaving muddy trails down their faces. High on the rooftops of one of the whitewashed structures that made up so much of the city's red-capped skyline sat a lone figure, legs swinging freely over the side of the building. His golden eyes darted back and forth between the playful children in the alley below and the dead body of a haggard old beggar only a few yards away from them. How well it summarized life as he had come to know it these past few years.

In the months since the Avatar's defeat of Fire Lord Ozai, a fragile peace had been imposed upon the four nations…but with the war's end had come a myriad of challenges; particularly for his own. As it turned out, most of the world was far less willing to forgive a hundred years of transgressions than Aang had claimed they would be. Hunger riots had to be quelled daily in the city—for when the Earth Kingdom colonies were ceded back to their pre-war standing, so too were the tracts of fertile land that had become the bread basket of the Fire Nation. Crime was becoming rampant as soldiers returned home to a way of life they no longer understood. Even across the sea, those former colonies were subjected to much chaos in the wake of the Avatar's decree that "All shall be as it was." Whole towns were uprooted. Families were torn apart. Lifetimes of work and wealth were ripped away. And in the midst of all the confusion, one thing had become painfully clear to the newly crowned Fire Lord: His people were very, very unhappy.

And none of them understand, he mused not for the first time. The young man raised a hand and wiped the rain from his brow, pushing a few strands of wet hair back behind his ears. There were a million pressing matters that should have drawn him back to the palace, but they could wait. They would have to wait. There was someone Zuko needed to see first.