Disclaimer: as I imagine you'll easily guess, most of these characters aren't mine. They belong to Joss. But I claim Luc and the Council agent as mine, and would love to keep them.

Author's note: In 'Les Chroniques Parisiennes', I introduced Luc Tarpeau, trapped in a nightmare against his will. In 'The Breton', Luc went from being a young fledgling to someone you probably shouldn't mess with. In this new story, sequel to 'The Breton', I'm continuing Luc's story from a different perspective. I wanted to see how he'd appear to someone else, rather than seeing how the world appears to him, and I also wanted to carry on where I left off. This fic will have a different tone to the last two, but I hope it's equally enjoyable, and that you'll stick with me and with Luc to find out what happens next.

Death Awaits: chapter 1 - The Files

There's a patch of peeling paint facing my bed, and somehow it's a comforting thing to look at when I can't bear to sit reading these files any longer. That patch is reassuringly banal and ordinary, belonging to everyday human existence, and not the shadowy underworld which I straddle.

There are three files on my lap. Two thick ones, and one a little thinner. The thin one is the easiest to read, the sketchiest in detail, and I find myself often returning to that rather than make another attempt on the thick ones. None of them are marked on the outside, that would be against Council regulations - though what would stop anyone opening them up, I don't know. Maybe the contents. Very probably the contents.

I'm digressing. I'm confusing myself. Maybe I should start at the beginning, explain what brought me to this mouldy hot room in California, and why I'm sitting indoors on a glorious day reading through files that turn my insides the wrong way round. Well, then. Five years ago, I was at university, in my final year, drifting through an education I didn't particularly want, craving action of some sort, desperate for a way out; when I was contacted by a terribly English serious type in tweed, who spoke darkly of things in the night but correctly guessed that I wanted something to do. I was bored enough to go along and have an interview, and they offered me a job - including training - that was better paid than I'd hoped for, and I said yes. A few months later, I arrived at the secluded house that is Council Headquarters, and began training.

They'd hired an ex-SAS guy or something similar, along with martial arts experts and people who'd competed for Britain in archery. We (myself and the other six recruits) were suddenly dropped into the most intensive physical combat course you could possibly imagine. At the same time, we learned about things that went snap in the night, monsters humans prefer to deny, and we learned strange demonic languages. At the end of three months, they gave us our first kills - in controlled circumstances, of course. That meant that they released the vamp into a chamber which was fitted out with a sprinkler system containing Holy Water. If anything went wrong, they'd turn on the sprinklers, and we'd get out of there safe. Afterwards, when I was still panting and proudly covered with the choking dust of my first vampire, someone mentioned that they'd specially chosen a newly risen creature, almost incapable of beating us.

I remember that now, and it sends shivers down my spine. Sure, since then I've got a lot more scalps to my name, and even some fairly nasty demons, but they don't get much nastier than those whose names are in my files.

That year at Headquarters, I met people I'd never have dreamed of becoming friends with before. I met one of them in the library as I was trying to learn Latin verbs - he was buried beneath a pile of books on varying subjects, but he offered to help me out. We were polar opposites, me and Wesley, but beneath his stiff exterior the guy meant well, and he knew his stuff. He'd killed his vamp too, in controlled circumstances, though he was a proper Watcher and not an active agent like me. It's partly because of Wesley that I'm here now. I miss him - never thought I would, but I do. And near the beginning of the training I watched Rupert Giles leave Headquarters on his way to this same small Californian town, the envy of half the Council and the laughing-stock of the other half. I think now they respect him, respect what he's done. I've been on the Hellmouth for a week and already I hate the place.

The news about Wesley came a few weeks ago. His father rang the Chairman and left a terse message, and then the Council got on to finding out what had happened. From the stark news that Wesley was dead, they found out he'd been drained, and then they dug a bit more, and bribed people, and that was when we got put on Red Alert. I packed a case and waited, and three days ago they gave me the files and told me to get out here. I didn't open the files until last night. They sat in my case, but I couldn't bear to read them. I thought I had a fair idea of what was in them.

I was wrong.

When, last night, I finally got around to opening the first one, the thin one, I started to doubt myself. I started to realise why Travers had had that look in his eye as he waved me off - the "farewell and adieu" look. The look that means he doesn't expect you to come back.

On the front page of the thinnest file there was a copy of a portrait. Quite a good portrait, I think. It shows a young man - very young, just twenty at a guess, with long dark hair and grey eyes, and high cheekbones. He's smiling at the painter in a kind of knowing way, but it's an attractive smile. It's an attractive face. On the back of the sheet there's a date, 1857, and the name of the painter, and then there's the biography. Name, nickname, lineage. It's the lineage which first brings you up short. Order of Aurelius is always bad news, always, and with . with that sire . Anyway, then there's his dates, and they're pretty bad, because he's already well past 150 years, which means he's no fool. Then the Council reports begin, in clear type, printed from the archives. Unusually, they start before his death - for a while he was on our side. But then the death toll begins. Massacre in Brittany. Nantes. Biarritz. Down through Spain, eastwards across Europe. And they're only the deaths we can definitely attribute to him. The Breton, they called him, partly I think because of that first horrific massacre in Morbihan, and partly because of his origins. As vampires go, he's kept a low profile, until now, though several of those reports made my blood run cold. But I got through his file, and turned to the next.

That one spelt trouble as soon as I flipped over the cover. A female, blonde and beautiful, and of course I knew that face. Everyone knows that face, for Darla has been around longer than almost any other vamp on record. Nearly four centuries now, and she's not looking like giving up just yet - well, to be strictly fair, she did get dusted a few years back, but in an ironic and terrible twist of fate was resurrected. Now, they think she's back to her old killing ways. Sire, Heinrich Nest, a skeletal creature luckily killed by the Slayer. Her true name is unknown - to the Council, she has always been simply Darla. Beautiful, and lethal. Her file was ghastly, reading like a guide to the world written in blood, and I stopped twice reading through it.

I left the last file until this evening. If I'm truthful with myself, I knew who it would be. I hated university, but I'm not stupid, and I can put two and two together and make four. Yet the confirmation, in the form of another portrait, made me slam the cover shut and run for the bathroom.

At the Council, they say that they sent people after him before, and that nobody ever won. That his victims number thousands and thousands. He's the sort of vampire you run from, as far and as fast as you possibly can, and you never, ever, stop running.

I open the file again, steeled against whatever I'm about to read, and gaze for a moment at that angelic face. It's another old portrait, and he's wearing deep red velvet and lace, dark hair tied back, dark eyes gazing right out at you. He wears a charming, lopsided smile and the painter has caught the way the light reflects off his cheekbones and the deep brow. It's the sort of face that would make a movie star these days. I turn the page, and read the details, though I know them already. Angelus, the Scourge of Europe, Order of Aurelius, sired by Darla. 1727 - 1753, and then 1753 to the present. A note adds, "Cursed with a soul by Romani, 1898, curse lost 1997, recursed 1998 (see notes)." Below that, someone has added in blue biro, "Believed uncursed 2001."

Slowly, I begin to read. It's a litany of torture and mayhem and terror. Words leap out at me, images fill my mind. I doubt I'll sleep tonight. And it's not like I wasn't prepared for this, not like I hadn't known what to expect. I stop after thirty years of reports and get a glass of whisky. After one hundred I refill the glass.

It gets better when I reach the twentieth century, and the reports dwindle to vague sightings and vaguer rumours. And it's fine when I read the reports filed from this little town by Rupert Giles, apart from the niggle that's a product of Watcher training, which wonders what a Slayer saw in a vampire. My reading actually slows, as I savour the peace, and then abruptly speeds up again with the list of crimes on the Hellmouth, and the photographs (stolen from police files?) of the scene carefully laid out for the Watcher.

Then I come upon a few, terse pages signed by Wesley, describing nights spent saving lives in the presence of this vampire, speaking of guilt and honour and other words I can imagine him furiously typing, raging against the Watcher's Council that had let him down. My friend shouldn't have been disavowed - I always knew that, and these words make it clear. Poor Wesley, found dead in a Los Angeles alleyway.

At the end of the file there are the few pages gleaned from recent research, linking back to the first file, and the guess that Angel, the vampire-with-a-soul, is once again Angelus; and a brief appendix touching on the current Slayer. I close the file firmly, and down the rest of my whisky as I review in my mind my task.

Travers said it succinctly. "Find them. Dust them. Do not contact the Slayer or Mr Giles. Good luck." That's my brief. I think finding them - Darla, Angelus, Luc - will be easy. I think dusting them will be impossible. I am human, and they are not. I am well trained, and I'm a tall, well-built man, but the stories say so is Angelus, and he knows how to fight with all the advantages of vampiric speed and strength. I know I can't do this alone.

Travers ordered me not to contact the Slayer, but disobeying the Council seems to be my main option. Staring at that patch of peeling paint, there seems to be a large tick in it, supporting my conclusion. Either I run, or I try and dust these three, in which case I'll die. I'm not ready for that, not yet. Option three is my best plan - find the Slayer and enlist her help. Together, we might stand a chance. Apart, and in a little while the Council will be one Slayer and one active agent shorter.

I lock the files into my case and start to arm myself. As soon as it is dark, I'm going to find Buffy Summers, and explain everything.