I returned home with a pep in my step and a huge grin on my face. Yakov told me he will call me as soon as he arranges a coven meeting, and now I just had to wait a couple of days and avoid sticking my fingers into dangerous magic. Easy!
Thanks to the success of my venture, but by the time I arrived to the store's front door, it was still open. With my witch hunt of the last week, I didn't spend as much time in there as usual, but thanks to my hired help business ran smoothly enough.
I walked in to see Panda at the counter. She gave me a short wave.
"Hi yourself," I said in return, coming up to the counter and looking around the store. I took notice of the items that were taken off shelves or moved around. "Sold a lot today?"
Panda shrugged. "Some. A few tourists came earlier and bought a bunch of souvenirs, but that was the biggest deal for today."
I nodded. "Is JJ around?"
At my question, Panda perked up, the eternal glaze of tiredness lifting from her eyes for a moment. "He should be in the office right now. Listen, Diana, I don't think he is well today. He looked awfully pale when I saw him earlier."
I frowned. "Pale?"
"Like a sheet. I asked him if he was fine, but he shrugged it off." Panda looked unsure. "Not my place to give advice, but I think he needs to see a doctor, not to work."
"I will ask him about it," I said, moving away from the counter. "Thanks, Panda."
"I think this isn't new, actually." Panda's voice forced me to pause in my tracks to listen. "Jean-Jacques seemed tired in the last few days."
"Did he?" I must've missed it. Considering that our interactions for the last week mostly circled around the store's balance sheets, it wasn't surprising. "Damn. Well, if you ever get sick, you will tell me, alright, Panda? Don't use macho men as an example."
"Sure, Diana." Panda nodded.
With that reassurance, I went into the office, which became more and more of JJ's room. When I entered, he was staring at the lines of a ledger with a stare that I was entirely too familiar with. A stare of a person who tried to understand something, but couldn't force his brain to form a single thought.
It was a common expression on faces of sleepy students or office workers, but JJ? I never saw him sleeping. I assumed he didn't need sleep, the undead creature he was.
Then there was a fact that it took him almost a second to react to my approach. I gave him a concerned look in return for his greeting smile. He didn't look any paler than normal, but if Panda noticed, then his glamour wasn't doing its job.
"Panda was right. You are totally out of it, JJ."
He blinked and rubbed his eyes tiredly as he turned away from me and back to the ledger. "Yes, I… can imagine, ma chèrie." He let out a momentary burst of self-deprecating laughter. "I never thought to become a victim of my current predicament."
Now I grew really concerned. "Hell, what's wrong with you? I mean, stop talking in riddles and tell me so I could think up a way to help. Do you need a day off? A week off?"
JJ shook his head. "It wouldn't be necessary, though thank you for your kind offer, ma chèrie. I simply need a good sleep."
"Sleep? I thought vampires didn't need to sleep. No? You didn't sleep, and you were fine… until now, at least."
JJ smiled wryly. "Yes, and then my lack of rest finally caught up with me. While vampires don't need as much sleep as humans, we would normally rest for at least three-four times a week. In fact, I never heard about a vampire sleeping less than that—only more. Our bodies don't need it, but sleep allows our minds to rest, and many old vampires use it as an escape from reality."
For a second, I just gaped at him incredulously. "Wait, what? And you didn't sleep a wink for an entire month? Why?"
"I…" JJ looked away from me and paused in reluctance. He let it go with a sigh. "I can't bring myself to, Diana."
I stared at him for a second, putting two and two together. Insomnia of a psychologic kind? I could see how uncomfortable it was for him to talk about it, but a desire to know everything threatened to burn me into ashes if I don't ask. I needed that information if I were to help him, and I just wanted to have it for its own sake.
I pulled a chair to sit next to him, as close as I could without actually touching—Yakov's warnings were fresh in my head. I craned my neck to catch his gaze.
"Can you tell me more? Please. Is it because of the time when you were sealed?"
For a long, long moment JJ just silently looked at me. I could see how his pupils dilated into ovals, I could see every golden eyelash that framed his eyes. I could see the hesitation he fought.
"Yes, ma chèrie," he finally said, not looking away from me. "It seems that even now I can't escape that prison." JJ chuckled mirthlessly.
I waited for him to speak more, but he simply stared into space, lost somewhere in the depths of his mind. I wondered what nightmares were there. How many other traumas did he gather in the span of his long, long life? How many scars his body healed, but his heart could not?
I wrangled my head for ideas about how to help JJ deal with that one. After everything he did for me, I wasn't going to hesitate to help him however I could now. Though there was a question of if I could do it at all. I had no idea what could aid JJ in this situation. A human could buy sleeping pills, but a vampire?
JJ sighed and shook his head. "Though I said that I don't need days off, I'm afraid that I won't deal with my problem soon, I won't be able to keep up my glamour. That would be… problematic."
"You can do it," I said with all the surety I could muster. "And I'm no psychotherapist, but I will help whatever I can. Hey, there must be some good advice on the Internet. Or, or maybe magic can do it. Did I tell you I finally found another actual witch, well, witcher, in this horde of charlatans to teach me? I can ask their coven for advice…"
I was already pushing my chair towards the computer and pressing the power button.
"No, ma chèrie, you didn't mention it," JJ said. He smiled again. The expression was full of everything I was so familiar with in JJ. Humour, temptation, and a pure joy of living. Un-living. Whatever. "Well, now I definitely have to get better. Can't miss the results of your learning for the world."
Oh no. JJ seemed so infallible, but is he? What will it take for him to be alright again?
On unrelated note: if you like this story (and I assume you do if you read this far >;) you might like the story called Hope: The Beast Mistress. It has spicy romance, severe lord MC and strong female lead - everything for you to like.