Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

AN: I've always been fascinated by the relationship between Gaara and Shukaku, especially because it is something Kishimoto has never really explored. Which of course leaves it completely open to interpretation by me. Enjoy.

The Iron Curtain

Gaara had always known about the barrier in his mind. It was on a purely instinctual level, but he'd known it nonetheless. The mystery to him had been why it was there, and what was on the other side. He'd been three when they finally told him. And that knowledge only made it all the more intriguing.

The first shinobi skill he'd even been taught was the art of mediation. His teachers seemed to think that they couldn't stress its importance enough. It would be the foundation upon which his entire life would be built. If he wasn't using it as a substitute for sleep, then he was using it to explore that barrier.

It was almost like an iron curtain, flexible but strong; it would give but never break. And its movements resembled fabric as well, swaying and undulating gently as if in a light breeze. Leylines of golden chakra streamed out from underneath it, scoring intricate patterns in dark red sandstone. But he never touched either the leylines or the curtain; after all, it was a monster that lurked on the other side, as he was constantly told. And one mustn't disturb a monster (exactly the reason why no one wanted to be around him).

That didn't mean he never approached the curtain, oh no, he did that all the time. Even from a distance the presence behind it fascinated him. The way it mirrored his movements from the other side of the barrier, it was almost like they had a game together. He walked closer, so did it. He walked in one direction, so did it. He turned, it turned. He ran, it ran. A mirror game that was a source of endless amusement to a sleepless child. Something to do in the dead of night when no one else was around.

He had been five when he made the connection between the leylines and the Sand that was a constant companion in his external world. He had already known that it responded to his thoughts and emotions, but it was during his meditations that he realized that the power that fed it came from beneath the curtain. He deliberately inserted his own chakra into those leylines, and the sand's movements became more focused and precise. It wasn't easy and it left his head throbbing, but it was helpful to know.

It was also around that time that he started to notice the personality of the presence behind the curtain. He began to feel its laughter in his gut, and the feeling made him happy. He began to taste its rage in his throat, and the taste made him angry. He began to feel its shame as a weight in his chest, and when it went quiet the feeling made him sad. Their emotions played off of each other, triggering and reinforcing. Even when he was alone, it was like he had a best friend.

His teachers weren't too happy when they learned of this. First they'd panicked, then they'd scolded him, and then they'd begged him to be more careful. He did not understand their reaction back then, he was too young. He could not comprehend why they would give him this power, teach him about this power, and then expect him to leave it alone. But like any child eager to please, he obediently complied with their request.

That didn't mean he stayed away entirely, of course not, that would have been an impossible feat for a child so young and curious. He would still travel those well worn paths deep into his mind, late at night when there were fewer teachers around to potentially scold him. He would stand before the iron curtain, bouncing on the balls of his feet, hands clasped behind his back, leaning in as close as he could without actually touching it. And on the other side, he could feel the demon mimicking him as he'd always done, as if nothing had changed between them, as if their secret game had never been discovered. And that meant a lot to Gaara.

The routine went on: by day he'd work to make the sand react to his thoughts rather than just his feelings, and by night he'd continue to play with the dark presence trapped in his head. And in doing this, he was content. In doing this he could attain a measure of happiness in his otherwise lonely life. But soon, too soon, everything changed.

His reality shattered when his uncle, the one real person he thought truly cared about him, tried to kill him. The salt in the wounds: his father had ordered it. Gaara could no longer bear it. He folded in on himself, away from a world that hated him, deep down to the last refuge he had. So deep that for the first time in his life, he touched the iron curtain.

"Don't worry, Precious, I still care. I would never abandon you. Never."

And now the presence had a voice. Now the presence had a definitive shape, pressing into him, supporting him from the other side. Now he could truly feel its power; power that was suddenly his to command.

"Trust me."

The curtain lifted slightly and a large, sandy paw slipped out from underneath. Gaara sunk his hand into the back of it and let that power consume him, his uncle's final revelation dominating his thoughts like a mantra.

Love only yourself… fight only for yourself… in this way you will be sure to survive…

"We are as one, Precious. You are mine, my body. I am yours, your weapon. There will be nothing that can stand in our way. Nothing."

Gaara barely felt the sand cut his face, carving a single word into his forehead. Didn't hear his own screams, didn't smell his own blood. His senses were instead consumed by the demon chakra that coursed through his veins. And as the tanuki gave him a taste of his power, the boy gave him a sliver of his mind.

Their partnership forged, their alliance sealed, the world would rue the day it dared to wish Gaara harm.

And Shukaku would always be just beyond the curtain.