The first time Trafalgar Law lays eyes on Strawhat Luffy, his dæmon is a squirrel clinging to his shoulder as they fall through the ceiling of the auction house. Law is decidedly unimpressed – he can judge a person fairly well by their dæmon, and he's never met a squirrel dæmon whose human didn't either get on his nerves or end up being fairly useless. Still, their arrival is eye-catching, so Law regards them with mild interest. Lounging on the bench beside him, Sirona blinks lazily and whisks her tail, but she doesn't turn her head away. They may as well keep watching, as long as they're here. From what Law has heard of Strawhat, he has a habit of surprising people.
And, lo and behold, he does.
Strawhat appears calm in the face of a triumphantly dancing World Noble, but Law knows very well what rage looks when it boils so close to the surface. Four steps away from the gun-waving Saint, the squirrel on Strawhat's shoulder leaps off and transforms. She's a lioness before she hits the ground, roaring as Strawhat spits in the World Government's face with one punch.
Late bloomer, Law realizes in the back of his mind. Most dæmons settle by fifteen, sixteen at the latest. Maybe reports got Strawhat's age wrong? In any case, this makes judging him a bit more difficult. If Strawhat's dæmon is still shifting, then he's even more of a wild card than Law would have guessed by looking at him. It's comparitively easy to judge Eustass Kid by his wolverine, or Silvers Rayleigh by his osprey, and Law's fairly sure that anyone with half a brain can get the gist of his own character from Sirona's snow leopard form as well.
Perhaps that's why Strawhat keeps slipping through the World Government's fingers – they're used to hunting hardened pirates and bandits and revolutionaries, but they're at a loss when the enemy is a child. (Case in point, they never did catch Nico Robin.)
Strawhat's dæmon changes a few more times after that – to a hawk when Rayleigh addresses him, and then a fox when it comes time to leave the Human Shop. Sirona and Kid's dæmon eye each other from a distance, sizing each other up coolly as if trying to decide where to bite first, but Strawhat's bounces and romps along between them as if they're going on a picnic. She pokes her nose into the wolverine's face for a curious sniff, and Kid's dæmon jumps.
Law glances at Strawhat's dæmon from time to time when they make it outside to hold off the Marines. She flips from form to form – a yipping terrier one moment, a hummingbird the next – but Law doesn't see her become anything large or dangerous. Kid's wolverine goes for the throats of any Marine dæmons she can reach, and Sirona snarls and lashes her tail and looks fierce.
But even as Marines fire on him and charge repeatedly, Strawhat isn't taking this fight seriously. Law sort of wants to laugh.
(At Marineford, Strawhat's dæmon is a rabbit, limp and silent and curled up against the burned, bloody mess of Strawhat's chest. She rolls off when Strawhat and the fishman Jinbe hit the deck of the submarine, and Sirona picks her up in careful jaws and carries her alongside the gurney.
When they see him awake, bursting from the submarine and screaming for his dead brother, Law doesn't remember what she was. All he remembers are bloodshot eyes and foam-flecked jaws and a scream that chills him to the marrow.)
Vice Admiral Smoker's heart beats in his hand the next time he hears Strawhat's voice.
It's impossible not to hear it. If death can't muffle Strawhat Luffy, then falling snow certainly can't. He's focused on the next step of his plan (A third heart in the mix, best not give it to Caesar, a Vice Admiral's heart is a useful thing to hold on to-) when Strawhat hails him from across the snow. Law turns his head to see the (second) biggest smile he's ever seen on anyone, and it's pointed right at him.
There's a hound standing next to Strawhat, a scruffy-looking dark gray-brown creature of no discernible breed. With the distance, it takes a moment for Law to realize that it's Strawhat's dæmon he's looking at. It's been two years – surely she's settled by now.
Before he can take a moment to decide on his response, the hound lunges forward and barrels toward them, sending snow flying every which way. Sirona has time to tense and bare her teeth before Strawhat's dæmon cannons into her. Snow leopards are big and sturdy enough, but this hound dæmon is as large and heavy as Strawhat isn't, and easily bowls Sirona over. Law grips his sword and readies himself for a fight, but eases off when he realizes he can't feel any pain or alarm through his and Sirona's bond.
The force of the hound's pounce sends her tumbling off of Sirona, and she pops back up, tail a-wag as she shakes powdery ice from her fur. Her tongue lolls in a grin, and she lowers herself toward the snow. But she's not crouching to attack, Law realizes incredulously. She's bowing like she wants to play.
Sirona shoots him a look of helpless confusion. She'd probably be less bewildered if Strawhat's dæmon had attacked her.
But no, the dog's tail wags and Strawhat is all smiles and raucous laughter as he catches up to his dæmon, and Law can't remember the last time he was approached with this level of undisguised good will. Strawhat doesn't even seem too put out when Law dismisses him and Sirona carefully sidles away from his dæmon.
He rescues them from one of the Yeti Brothers later – Strawhat and the cyborg, though it's really the navigator in the cyborg's body. Strawhat's hound is still a hound, and that confirms it – his dæmon has settled as a dog. A very large, very powerful-looking dog, but a dog nonetheless.
(Another surprise, in Law's opinion. Fire Fist's dæmon had been a hawk of some sort, and he would have thought it likely that Strawhat's would take a similar form. Sirona had settled in her spotted, feline shape not two days after Corazon's ocelot vanished in a burst of Dust.)
She's certainly not the sort of dæmon Law might have expected for a man who claims to be the next Pirate King. Dogs are the dæmons of servants, of people who follow orders and look to others to lead.
That's useful, Law realizes. His plan has long been in motion, but it never hurts to have a few extra hands. Strawhat may be a wild card, but a dog dæmon speaks volumes more. It means that if Law is careful, if he is smart about it, then Strawhat can be nudged and guided to suit his intentions. Strawhat is strong and unpredictable for someone with such a tame dæmon, but he is trusting to the point of being absurd, and Law can work with that.
Thankfully, Strawhat's dæmon doesn't tackle Sirona again after that. But she does trot up to her and sniff and – is she prancing? Why is she prancing? Much to his chagrin, Sirona actually seems to tolerate the bizarrely friendly attention, even before Law puts forth the idea of an alliance.
When he does, he almost regrets it instantly when Strawhat's dæmon voices her approval by shoving her snout right into Sirona's face.
That ought to have been his first warning.
“So what do you think?” Law asks when Sirona joins him on the deck of the Thousand Sunny. It's been a few hours since she wandered off to have a look around the ship – longer than he would have expected, and Sirona looks and feels tired. It's a small relief to see her; her absence has been drawing curious stares from Strawhat's crew, and Law would rather avoid attention.
“It's a good ship,” Sirona tells him quietly. “Very modern. A lot of... features.” She pauses. “Did you know that his shipwright was a personal apprentice to the creator of the Oro Jackson?”
“Gold Roger's ship?” Law blinks. No, he had not.
“The shipwright got his hands on Treasure Wood,” Sirona continues. “The entire keel is made of it, as well as most of the frame. Apparently, said shipwright obtained Treasure Wood by stealing Strawhat's money and beating up his sniper.”
“How did you find out about all of this?” Law asks. Their knowledge of ships is passable, but he knows that neither of them would know Treasure Wood from any other if they saw it. To say nothing of the accompanying anecdote.
Sirona hesitates, one ear flicking as if bothered by a fly. If Law didn't know better, he would say she looked almost embarrassed. “Tiamat told me,” she says at length.
She sighs. “Strawhat's dæmon. She found me sniffing around the aquarium and dragged me into a tour of the ship. I swear, you'd think she had a story for every floorboard, the way she goes on-”
“I would think they'd be easy to avoid,” Law points out. “She can't have been with you the whole time – Strawhat's shown his face on deck a few times just over the past hour.”
She gives him a tired glance. “Law,” she says flatly. “They're separated.”
That, at least, warrants a raise of the eyebrow. “Really?” he asks, as if there's any way she could be mistaken about that.
“I had a hunch when we first met them on Punk Hazard,” Sirona tells him. “I thought she ran a little too far from Strawhat when she... er... said hello. In any case, she told me herself once she saw me and realized we were the same. I tried avoiding her, but she has free rein from Strawhat and knows every inch of the ship, so... there wasn't much hope.” She looks sidelong at him. “It's not just Strawhat, either. The skeleton's the same way. Something about traveling to and from the Underworld, according to Tiamat.”
Law hums in response.
“Proves Strawhat's tough, and not just in a fight,” Sirona adds, lowering her voice. “They must have done it the old-fashioned way.”
Not like us, she doesn't say. Separation is one of the many applications of his power, as he'd discovered years ago. It made sense; he could cut through flesh and bone and arteries and veins without doing any harm. Why shouldn't it be the same with dæmon bonds?
He'd tried it on enemies before he'd considered doing it to himself, of course. One could never be too careful.
A fight breaks out between the cook's swan dæmon and the swordsman's panther. There's a lot of growling, hissing, and posturing, and the navigator's magpie dæmon curses the two of them.
“Still can't tell what kind of dog she is,” Sirona adds as an afterthought.
“Not important,” Law says as Strawhat's dæmon – Tiamat – comes out to bay encouragement and laugh at them. “A dog is a dog.”
There's a deafening explosion as Strawhat bursts up through the roof of the palace.
“Oh dear,” Sirona says dryly. “Better get back up there while they're distracted.” He nods and reaches for her, but she steps away with a shake of her head. “Leave me behind. It won't hurt us to be apart, and it'll help you look dead. I'm too big to hide – I'll come up the slow way and meet you.”
“Good luck.” An effort of will puts him back on the roof and leaves the dead footsoldier where he found him. He hopes fervently that Sirona won't meet any resistance on her way up through the palace. If anyone can buy her enough time, it's Strawhat. Eyes shut, lying facedown and motionless in someone else's blood, Law listens and waits.
The ground shakes as punches and kicks land and Strawhat fills the air with his shrill, raucous rage. Has he seen Law's body yet, or is he still running on fury over Doflamingo's treatment of Bellamy? It's difficult to tell when all Law can do is lie still and listen, but either way it's going to get the idiot killed if he isn't careful. Which he isn't. Ever.
And then, inevitably, it happens. In the midst of Strawhat's barrage of attacks and inarticulate yelling, Tiamat yelps like she's been kicked. For a split second Law thinks she's been injured, but then her voice rings out high and clear.
“Luffy! Over here, hurry!”
Law hears Strawhat grunt as he lands close by, and then the wet smack of sandals in a shallow pool of blood. He braces himself.
In the split second of silence that follows, Tiamat lets out a high-pitched whine. It takes effort to stay still and motionless as Strawhat calls to him, shakes him like you can wake a corpse the way you'd wake someone up from a nap. Ever patient, Law stays limp even as Strawhat rolls him over, even as the motion jostles his stump of an arm.
“Where's Sirona?” Tiamat's voice is high and desperate. “I-I can't smell her, but... they're separated, right? She could just be hiding.”
Shut up, shut up, not so loud, Law pleads silently. Doflamingo thinks he's emptied a pistol into Law's body, so he's probably convinced, but that's no reason to put ideas in his head.
Doflamingo's oily voice curls in the air like smoke, and Law fights to hold his tongue. He's taunting Strawhat, reaching for every emotional pressure point he can find and digging his claws deep. Strawhat's never been one for self-control – Law is helpless to hold him back even with all four limbs intact, so there's nothing he can do to stop Strawhat when he's missing an arm and forced to feign death.
Even with his eyes shut, though, he can feel it when Strawhat loses his temper. He waits for some kind of response from Tiamat – a snarl, or an angry bark. He hears nothing.
Law holds back a sigh of relief when Strawhat steps away from his side and resumes the fight. The attention is off of him again, and the beginnings of a plan take form in his head. He still has Gamma Knife – if he can just get close enough, then maybe-
From inches away, a soft, high-pitched whine reaches his ears.
He almost twitches in surprise. Tiamat hasn't left yet. Why hasn't she left? Doflamingo's bearded vulture Calixta is still fresh and fierce even after fighting Sirona, to say nothing of Trebol's slavering hound. There's plenty of fighting for her to do, and Law's never seen Strawhat or his dæmon back down from a fight before.
The whine becomes a quiet, steady whimper, and Law doesn't hear her move.
Law clenches his jaw, ever so slightly. He can improvise well enough when things happen that he doesn't expect, and quite a lot of unexpected things have happened since he first set his plan in motion on Punk Hazard. But right now, while Luffy vents his rage on Doflamingo, his dæmon – his soul – is staying right where she is, standing over Law and whimpering pathetically, and Law isn't quite sure what he's supposed to do with that.
A gentle nudge at his uninjured shoulder almost makes him twitch again and blow his cover. It comes again, harder this time, and Law feels his heart drop. His coat covers the shoulder – it's not a touch, not a direct one at least. He could never have kept pretending if it had been.
Tiamat nudges his shoulder with her nose once more, and her voice barely reaches his ear. “I'm sorry,” she whispers. “I'm so, so sorry. We didn't mean to leave you alone. We should've been faster, we should never have-” Her voice trails off, and Law considers talking to her. It's a risk – humans (who aren't Luffy) can hide their emotions well enough, but dæmons act on emotions whether they're hidden or not. If his plan is to succeed, then Doflamingo can't know he's alive just yet.
“That's... not yours.” Tiamat's hushed voice reaches him again, clouded with confusion. “It doesn't smell like – no, that's someone else's blood. Traf?” She doesn't nudge him again. “Traf, can you hear me?”
“Hush.” His lips barely move. “And don't you dare give me away.”
He hears her sigh with relief. “Oh. I thought – that is, I mean... we thought you...”
“And you were very helpful,” Law whispers back. “If you'd like to keep being helpful, then listen. I have a plan.”
Doflamingo is poised to kill him, and Strawhat Luffy stops him cold.
In the midst of pain and weariness, Law can't help but notice that Tiamat looks different from how she usually does. Her head is lowered, eyes bright and intent with a strange light that makes it hard to believe that she wags her tail and romps like a puppy. She isn't growling, but her lips are pulled back just enough to show the tips of her fangs. There's something to her now that's cold and wild and reminds him that he's never been able to figure out what sort of dog she is.
Whatever it is, Sirona feels it too. It gives her the strength to struggle to her feet, fur bloodstained from Calixta's talons. The vulture dæmon spreads her bristling wings and hisses, and Sirona lunges before Law can find enough voice to warn her to stop. Snarling, Sirona deals Calixta a smack that sends her flapping back, but her charge brings her too close to Doflamingo.
She realizes her mistake the moment she's made it, and it's too late by then. Law scrapes up the dregs of his strength and tries to sit up, tries to stop it.
“Don't,” he rasps. Strawhat looks at him with a flash of confusion and of course he's confused, of course he has no idea how far Doflamingo is willing to go, he doesn't know him like Law does.
Sirona bares her teeth with a warning growl, but Doflamingo moves faster than he has any right to. His hand shoots out, and he grabs Sirona's ear and twists, like she's a dog he has to discipline.
Law remembers Vergo's crushing fingers around his heart. He remembers how he screamed until his throat was raw. He doesn't scream now. Doflamingo touching his dæmon goes beyond pain, beyond fear – Law has never known anything with such a sickening feeling of wrongness. It feels worse than death, worse than grief, so much worse than something so trivial as pain. Pain makes him alert, drives him to lash out and think and defend himself. But there's no defense from this. He can't think, much less stop it. And so he doesn't scream. All he can manage is a pathetic choked noise, somewhere between a gasp and a sob, as he curls up and Sirona writhes in Doflamingo's grasp.
“Don't get cocky just because you have allies, brat.” Doflamingo sounds disinterested, almost bored, as if he isn't casually violating one of the greatest taboos known to man.
“Stop it!” Strawhat's voice sounds far away to Law, which it shouldn't, because he's four feet away and shouting. Law wonders if he's ever seen someone touch another person's dæmon like this. “Let go of them! Stop it!”
And then Law hears it.
There's no warning. It doesn't start soft and build to a roar. The noise rips through the air, shredding the fog of horror and revulsion that surrounds him – a deep, guttural snarl, the sound a wild animal makes when it's ready to rip someone's throat out.
Strawhat's demon lunges in a blur of dark gray and brown, and for one wild moment Law half expects to see her tear a wing off of Calixta. But she isn't aiming for anyone's dæmon.
She snarls, she springs, and her crushing jaws close around Doflamingo's arm. He lets go with a choked cry of pain, leaving Sirona to scramble out of his reach. Law stares, speechless, as Tiamat's muscles bunch and she wrenches her head in a vicious shake that would have broken a rabbit's neck. At the last second, Doflamingo tears his arm free just in time to avoid a dislocated shoulder. Strawhat's dæmon lunges at him again, snapping, and it's not an empty threat – she means it. Doflamingo's wise enough to stumble back; if he wasn't, she'd take his arm off completely.
Sharp pain alerts him to Calixta – the vulture's swooping at Sirona, digging her talons deep, and Tiamat leaves off menacing Doflamingo to charge. A swipe of Tiamat's paw sends feathers flying, and Calixta leaves Sirona alone and flaps clumsily out of her reach. When it's over, Tiamat is standing over Sirona with her head lowered and her tail and hackles raised, baring her teeth to the gums as another vicious snarl rips from her throat, and Law realizes then that he's made a mistake.
Her manner had fooled him in the same way Strawhat's manner has fooled everyone stupid enough not to look past the laziness and the grin and those wide, trusting eyes. He'd written her off as a dog, but she's not a dog any more than Sirona is a house cat.
Doflamingo takes a step backward, gaping openly as he looks from Strawhat to his dæmon and back again, and Calixta hides behind his leg and flares her feathers until she looks twice her size. Eventually, when she's felt she's made her point, Tiamat shifts to the side and leaves Sirona enough room to belly-crawl to Law's side. She's shaking as he wraps his arm around her and cards his fingers through her thick fur, and he rubs at her ear as if he can wipe away the sickening horror of Doflamingo's touch.
“Tia.” Strawhat's voice is cold and quiet. His dæmon pricks her ears forward. “I'm gonna beat the shit out of him. Keep an eye on the bird. If she tries anything – tear her to shreds.”
Tiamat's lip curls, showing her teeth in a nightmare of a smile. “Kick his ass, Luffy.”
Conqueror's Haki clashes over him, and Tiamat throws back her head and howls. It's all Law can do to cradle his dæmon and stare speechlessly, in the realization that he's misjudged them greatly for some time now. Because Strawhat's dæmon is a wolf. More to the point, she's a wolf that just took a chunk out of Donquixote Doflamingo's arm, and Law has never been so relieved to be someone's friend rather than their enemy.