The licks of flame were sudden, criss-crossing over the pane of the window and somehow burning through despite the thick of the glass. There was a pulse of brighter light, and with not a sound the glass disappeared completely, leaving the empty frame to continue smoking.
Danny jolted in his bed, shocked out of his sleep, and scrambled back to press against the headboard. He grasped at it for some kind of security, as no protection would be offered by his lack of shirt and thin pyjama bottoms. Wide-eyed, he stared at the smoking space where his window had been not two seconds before.
The man appeared with another curl of smoke, his form more a silhouette in the darkness than anything else. With the light of the moon shining in behind him, Danny couldn't really make out his face. At the foot of his long legs, fire burned in a disc around him, tongues of flame curling around his ankles and calves with serpentine movements and the occasional hiss.
With a snap of the man's fingers - Hell, he must have been at least six feet tall - the candles on Danny's bedside table and on his chest of drawers sparked to life. New light was offered, and Danny's mouth dropped open.
The man wore black, dress trousers over well-shined shoes. He seemed dressed formally, ready for a party, with his waistcoat neatly buttoned over a white shirt. There was something off about that vest. It seemed to absorb the light around him, lined with reds and silvers on the grey fabric. A garment had ever made Danny feel such unease before.
The garment was a sunny day in the park compared to the man's face. Though his hands were human, tanned and mottled with scars on their backs, his face was far from. Danny's first thought was that it was like a fox, but it was too big. Then a wolf, but it was too small.
"It's a jackal's head." The man's accent was thick, but familiar. An old teacher had subbed a chemistry class, and for some reason that man's accent, a Bostonion one, had always stuck in Danny's mind. "I stole it."
For some reason Danny wondered whether he meant the accent or the head, but the man answered as though he'd spoken those words aloud. "I steal everything. You'll learn that."
"What are you?" Danny was struck by an obscene calm. This could be a dream. And if it wasn't, then Hell, it was absurd enough that maybe life had been a dream all along. The man laughed.
"Diego?" Danny repeated. "What sort of name is that?"
"The sorta name that ain't easily stolen."
"But you did. Steal it. How do you steal a name?"
"Same way ya steal someone's soul." The jackal was smirking. It was strange and foreign with its show of teeth, but Danny could tell it was a smirk.
"Should I be scared of you?"
"Yes." The jackal gave a manic little giggle. "No."
"Who are you?"
"Now, that's the right question." Diego grinned. Suddenly the head faded, leaving the man beneath with a human face. Somehow he still looked wolfish in the curl of his lips and the way he smirked. There was a scar on his left cheek that pulled at his upper lip, making his smile seem strange and obscene. "I'm Diego, like I said."
Danny gave a slow nod, shifting back as Diego took two confident steps toward the bed. As he noticed the smaller man's movements, he gave an annoyed grunt and went still. Danny noticed the disc of flame that had surrounded his feet had now disappeared, the snakes of fire faded into the air.
"I own you." Diego said in a simple purr, arms crossed over his chest.
"What, you stole me too?" Diego must have liked that, because his grin went wide and somehow seemed more honest.
"No, I didn't, but I like the way you think." Diego threw himself onto the foot of the bed, lounging with overdramatic comfort. "No, I bought you."
"My parents are dead."
"Mine too." The exchange was fast-paced and rapid - somehow Danny felt like each quick response was a loss if it was given too slow. "That's the thing of it."
"Your parents being dead?"
"Both our sets'a parents being dead." Danny furrowed his brow.
"Look, kid, I'm sorry to tell ya this, I really am, but I've owned you rights to rights since you was born. Your parents sold ya for… Can't quite rememba what it was. Money, maybe."
"Yeah, I know. My doin', I gotta admit." It seemed like his accent was growing ever thicker. "Ya know, demons don't much like givin' ya things. Takin' stuff, sure, easy, but there's a certain satisfaction in knowin' you manipulated a contractual loophole to, uh… Fuck someone up." Danny had gone stiff and uncomfortable, sensing the danger around this man. Or… Demon. That's what he'd said.
"That's me. Not a problem, is it?" Diego gave a nasty little chuckle, showing sharp teeth. "If it is, you might wanna change your tune. I ain't gonna be lettin' ya go."
"What are you gonna do? Steal my soul?" Again, that calm was back. The simple idea of "take it as it comes".
"Of course not." Diego looked at his nails as if to begin filing them. "I already own it." Another tongue of flame shot from beneath his sleeve, twisting between his fingers like some tame snake. "No, I came to take what's mine."
Danny stared, calm lost as his lips parted.
"Ya know, we can do this two ways. I can send your soul to the fiery pits of the eternal inferno..." Diego looked up, fixing Danny with a terrifying smirk. "Or you can be apprenticed. Take your pick."
"Apprenticed to do what?"
"Take. Your. Pick." Diego repeated, teeth seeming sharp and brightly white in the light. Danny gave a slow frown.
"Which do you want me to pick?"
"Isn't it obvious?"
Danny paused for a moment. "Fine. Apprentice me."
Diego smirked. "You make it sound so dirty." Danny choked on air.