Comfortably Numb is an all-human story set mostly in New York City. It follows the love story of Eric and Sookie, two individuals incredibly beaten down and emotionally stilted due to the cruelty of their parents. Can they learn to love themselves and each other, even as outside forces try to rip them apart? Will their love survive, or will they be faced with a life in which they succumb–once more–to numbness?
All publicly recognized characters, images, lines of dialogue, song titles, and plot lines are the sole property of their creators. I own only my own ideas and the characters I create; however, even those constructions would be impossible without the characters in True Blood and the Southern Vampire Mystery series. My work is not-for-profit and intended only for the enjoyment of the writer and readers. No copyright infringement is intended.
Chapter 1: Harbinger
January 12, 2013
“I can’t stay in New York,” she whispered desperately, needing him to understand. “I can’t stay with you.”
“I know,” he answered, his tone despondent—accepting.
“I love you,” she said even more quietly, almost just mouthing the words.
“I know,” he said again.
In that moment, Sookie Stackhouse let the negative thoughts that she was feeling about herself stream from her lips. “I don’t blame you for any of this, Eric. I’m a freak, just like your father said. I don’t deserve you.”
“Sookie,” he tried to interrupt.
“No. It’s true.” She gestured down at her dress. “And even in this two thousand dollar dress, I’m plain compared to most of the women in here. Your father is right. I’m defective.”
“No,” he whispered.
She continued relentlessly. “You and I come from two different worlds. Appius is,” she paused, her voice halting, “right; my only place in your world would be as your mistress—your kept woman.”
“Sookie, I don’t think that way,” Eric insisted.
“I know,” she said sadly. “But it’s still the truth.” She sighed. “You are so many things I could never be. You are going to be the head of Northman Publishing one day, and you . . . ,” her voice trailed off before regaining a little strength. “And you need someone who can be what you need when you get there. We’ve been living in a bubble for these last months—a beautiful bubble, but a bubble nonetheless. We both knew going in that this wasn’t going to last.” She sighed resignedly. “It’s time to stop pretending.”
“Sookie,” he started, “I’m not pretending. Not with you. Never.”
She shook her head sadly. “I know that what we had—what we have—is real, Eric. But it’s still all just make-believe. It’s a fairy tale.” She looked down at the floor. “Maybe I don’t deserve to be happy; maybe my mother was right.”
“Sookie,” he said in a strangled whisper. “Don’t you fucking say that! You don’t deserve any of this.”
“I don’t think that I would be hurting this much if I didn’t somehow deserve it,” Sookie returned dejectedly. “My mother always told me that you reap what you sow. She warned me that I was defective—broken. But I couldn’t help myself. I just—I just wanted to be with you.”
“I want to be with you too,” Eric returned, his face contorting a little with stress.
“As Appius just made clear,” Sookie said, looking over Eric’s shoulder at the Patriarch of the Northman family, who was staring back at her, “what you or I want is immaterial.”
Her tone was so matter-of-fact that Eric just stood there looking at her, unable to say a single thing to make the situation better. He should have told her that it was he who wasn’t worthy of her. He should have told her—finally—that he loved her. He should have told her he’d been happier with her during their eight months together than with anyone else in his whole life. But those words wouldn’t take away the sting of the ones she’d just “overheard” from his conversation with his father.
All he could do was to look at her with pleading eyes, but she was no longer meeting his gaze. Her blue eyes were focused on the floor in front of her.
Sookie felt like crying, but she was too numb for the tears to fall. And she was grateful for that—given the public nature of their talk. It hadn’t escaped her notice that they were standing in front of Monet’s Four Trees where Eric had first spoken to her—exactly one year earlier. And she couldn’t ignore the fact that his father’s, his stepmother’s, and Andre’s eyes were trained on them—examining them as if they were animals in a zoo.
Not being able to weep, she almost laughed at the situation.
Neither Eric nor she was normal, but that fact was not going to be enough to keep them together. In fact, it demonstratively indicated just how far apart they were. He was rich and successful and handsome, seemingly on top of the world—the ideal upper-class New York bachelor.
By contrast, she barely made enough money to scrape by in New York, and she toiled as a copy editor for nine hours a day, five days a week just to do that. Coming from a lower middle-class Louisiana family, she certainly had no pedigree. And even her own family had rejected her because of her handicap—because she was a “freak.” What little confidence she had been gaining throughout her time in New York now felt tenuous at best.
To Appius, it didn’t matter that Eric and she had both been empty shells before they’d met. It didn’t matter that they made each other stronger. And it certainly didn’t matter that they’d given each other the two things that they’d always been missing before: happiness, hope.
No. To Appius Northman, none of that mattered in the least. Important to him were his reputation and his money. What he craved most were power and ultimate control, especially when wielded to the detriment of his firstborn son.
Sookie closed her eyes, determined not to fall apart—at least not yet. Not there.
She exhaled a shaky breath. No—her brand of “abnormal” was nothing like Eric Northman’s. He was “abnormal” because society placed him above others; she was “abnormal” because society didn’t really even want her. Because of her little “gift” and her social class, she was the diametrical opposite of him.
She allowed resignation to fill her; it was safer than despair. In truth, she had been expecting this moment ever since Eric and she had started their relationship. After all, they’d both known all along that they were on borrowed time—that the great Appius Northman would never allow their relationship to continue once he found out about them. Sookie closed her eyes tightly to stop the tears. She and Eric had both been naïve when they lost sight of the inevitability of this moment. However, they’d been so happy that they had begun to imagine a future where they could be together.
They’d been fools.
Eric looked at Sookie’s slumping shoulders; it seemed like she would sink into the polished wooden floor at any moment—like that was exactly where she wanted to be.
He wanted to join her there, but—as his father had so eloquently put it—he had a “job to do.” Still, Eric would have refused Appius if it was just he and Sookie to be considered; however, other lives hung in the balance—too many lives.
He loved Sookie—loved her way too much to bring her further into his fucked up world where she would only meet with more pain. He knew how ruthless and empty that world could be—a den of vapid socialites and rabid social climbers.
A world where his father, the great Appius Northman, was a god that seemed to control everything.
There was nothing real in that world, but he couldn’t see a way to escape it now. And tonight, he had proven―with his inability to fight against his father’s orders and threats and requirements of him―that he was complicit in that world, even if he didn’t want to be.
No—he wasn’t simply complicit. He was worse than his father! Eric hated his world—almost as much as he now hated himself. But he was trapped in and by that world. He closed his eyes for a moment.
All he wanted to do was to reach out to Sookie, to raise her chin so that he could see her beautiful eyes, but he couldn’t do it. He didn’t know how to do it without hurting her more. He’d already broken the promises he’d made to her and to himself, but he couldn’t think of a way around that now. Moreover, he didn’t want her to think that he pitied her; if anything, he pitied himself.
Deep down, Eric knew that it was best to let Sookie go. After his talk with his father, how could he not be well aware that the best place for her was away from him? Far away.
Yes. To save Sookie from his father’s plans for her, he had to let her go. In fact, he had to help her to go.
But there was more to it than that. Eric also had to let Sookie go to save her from himself. In the end—he was the one who had cowed to Appius Northman. He was the one who didn’t deserve her. What he did deserve was his own misery, and, without Sookie in his life, that torment stretched out before him like a prison sentence. Like his father, he would have only empty relationships and cut-throat business deals to look forward to.
That fate would be exactly what Appius Northman always wanted for him, but Eric didn’t care about the fact that his father was winning. All he cared about was that which he was losing: the woman standing in front of him. His heart. His hopes. His dreams. All gone.
He had been living in a fantasy with Sookie Stackhouse for the last eight months, a fantasy where Sookie was the sun lighting his bleak existence. But he now realized that her light would be extinguished if she stayed with him. And he wouldn’t have that. He could not! It was better to break her heart now—even as he ripped out his own. He just hoped her heart could mend. He knew that his own would not.
“Should I go now?” she half-asked and half-begged. Her voice was so quiet—quiet and without any kind of pitch or emotion. It was like an echo of something she was saying to herself. She continued, “I understand why you made the choice you made. And I know that you didn’t intend to hurt me—that you are trying to protect me and Pam and your grandmother and everyone else. I also know that if it weren’t for my,” she paused, “disability and my past, then this wouldn’t even be happening. I wish I could be a normal girl, Eric. I wish I could be worthy of your world.”
“You are worth so much more than this world,” Eric said passionately, finding his voice again at last.
She motioned across the room, toward where Appius was standing. He was looking at her with judgment in his eyes. Or was it amusement? She couldn’t tell.
One quick glance at his lips as he spoke to his wife and his lover confirmed their low opinion of her once more. Quickly, Sookie moved her gaze back to the floor for fear that she would “overhear” more from them.
“I know you believe in my worth, Eric,” she said, still without emotion in her voice. “But I can ‘hear’ what’s inside people—the things that they think no one else can hear.” She took a deep breath. “The only worth a man like your father will ever see in me is in how he can use my ‘disability’ to find out other people’s secrets. And I’d comply too; I’d do whatever he said so that he wouldn’t hurt you. That’s why I have to go. I’m afraid that I would fall in line with his plans for me—and for us—if I stayed.”
“Sookie,” Eric said dejectedly.
She finally brought her eyes up to meet his. For Eric, it was a sweet agony to see her love and her pain mixing there.
“Inside of you, I see so many things that I love, Eric. You’re kind; I knew that from your eyes since the first time we were standing together in this very spot.”
Eric followed her gaze to the painting on the wall. “The Four Trees,” he said.
“To answer your question, I do like this painting, even though I’m not generally much of a Monet fan,” she said, responding to the query he’d made the year before, a question she’d been too tongue-tied and nervous to answer at the time. “The trees are so straight and tall, but they still seem so,” her voice trailed off.
“Lonely,” he said, looking at the painting.
“I was going to say sad.”
Sookie looked at Appius and then back at Eric. “Your father thinks that you are ‘securing’ me as an asset even now. What will you tell him when I leave here tonight?”
“That I have secured you—that you’ve complied.”
“And when I leave New York?”
Eric stepped a little closer to her. “That I don’t blame you for going.”
“He’ll suspect you of helping me.”
“But he’ll find no proof.”
“What if he threatens Pam and your grandmother and all the others again?”
“He will threaten them,” Eric said matter-of-factly. “But I’ll claim ignorance about your disappearance nonetheless. And without proof of my involvement, I don’t think he’ll follow through with his threats as long as I do everything else he says.”
Sookie shivered a little. “Do you think he’ll try to find me?”
Eric nodded. “He’ll try. But I’ll make sure you get away without anyone knowing where you’ve gone—not even me. All my money can’t be for nothing. However, it might take a little while for Bobby to get things set up so that you can leave cleanly.”
“Cleanly,” she repeated.
Eric nodded, knowing that their separation would be anything but clean.
“Until Bobby has things ready, you’ll have to keep going into work; otherwise, Appius will suspect something is wrong. You’ll have to keep pretending for just a little while longer, Sookie,” he said penitently.
“He’ll never accept my disappearing like that. He’ll hurt you—punish you,” she said, her voice filling with sudden emotion and her eyes with sudden tears.
“No. He’ll see pain enough in me to satisfy even his appetite for my suffering,” Eric replied softly, even as he caressed a strand of her golden hair behind her ear.
Sookie looked up at him fearfully. “Eric, what about Hunter and Remy?”
“I’ll make sure that they’re okay,” he vowed. “But it’s probably best if you don’t contact them—or anyone else that you know.”
“Then—I truly will be alone,” she said quietly.
“Not alone,” he responded passionately. “Never.” His eyes told her a million things in that moment. And if she’d not known that he loved her before, she would have known it then. He was sacrificing his own freedom for the people he cared for and for her freedom. Because he loved her.
“Just lonely—like the trees?” she asked, looking back at the painting.
“Yes,” Eric said in a low, mournful voice. “Lonely.”
They stood silent for a moment.
“I know you don’t think you have any power over your father, Eric,” Sookie said, still looking at the painting. “But I know you do. I think you have miles and miles of untapped power in you. You’re a good man, Eric Northman. And you’re nothing like Appius. Nothing! And no matter what life he traps you into, you will stay a good man.”
“What if I become just like him one day?” Eric asked with terror in his voice. “Right now, I feel powerless to stop anything that he wants from happening.”
She turned to study him like he was one of the books she edited so carefully, painstakingly reading every word of him. “You won’t.”
“How do you know?” he asked almost frantically.
“I have wanted power over my own fate all my life,” she said, her voice quiet and eerie. “I would do a lot if I thought I could get it. And I know you feel the same way. But there are some things you wouldn’t do.”
“I’m not so sure.”
“I’m sure,” she said, now with only love in her eyes. “You could have asked me to stay. You could have tried to convince me that using my little ‘gift’ for Appius’s benefit was a small price to pay for us being together. You could have asked me to be your mistress, as your father suggested. You could have offered to set me up in an apartment and even to father ‘little defective, freakish bastards’ with me. You could have assumed that I would have accepted those things.”
Eric almost growled at the reminder of the exact words his father had used. “I wanted to kill him, Sookie.”
“Me too,” she admitted. “But—like I said—there are some things that neither one of us would do to gain power over another. We both know—too well—what it feels like when it’s taken away.”
Eric nodded even as Sookie once again looked over his shoulder to see Appius, Sophie-Anne, and Andre. Eric didn’t have to see the expression on her face to know that they were still looking at them. He could only imagine what they were saying.
“I need to go,” she said as she looked back at him. The slight quivering of her lips told him that the poker face that she was usually so good at keeping on in public would soon fall away completely.
Eric understood well the magnitude of her words, and he was in agony. She would soon leave—and not just the museum either. She would leave Northman Publishing. She would leave New York. She would leave him.
Sookie had left her childhood home in Bon Temps because the pain of being there had been too much for her to endure. She’d trusted him with that pain and with her secrets, and now—because of him—she would be forced to leave her home again, this time in order to keep her freedom and her dignity.
But in his too-short time with her, Eric had come to understand something very important about Sookie Stackhouse: She was a survivor, a warrior. She was also stronger than he was.
So much stronger.
He knew that Sookie was going to save herself. Even then, he could tell that she was fighting against her mental demons; he could also tell that she was winning.
“One day, Sookie Stackhouse,” he said in a low, intense voice, “you’ll know that getting away from this place—from me—was the best thing that has ever happened to you. You’ll be happy, Sookie,” he said firmly, as if speaking a prayer into the universe.
He looked at the top of her head, which was once more lowered. He already had every single shade of gold in her hair memorized, but he used the moment to seal that memory into his mind forever, knowing that even a thousand years wouldn’t have been long enough to spend loving her.
“Is there anything I need to do now?” Her eyes moved from the floor to his shoes. “Should I cry? Should I yell at you and make a scene? Do we need to put on a show for our,” she paused, “audience?” She motioned almost imperceptibly toward Appius and his little cohort. “Appius told you to set me straight about my place, but I don’t know exactly what that looks like.”
Her voice was again emotionless, and, once more, Eric couldn’t speak. He was an expert in acting like he was in control, but in this situation, he didn’t have a clue about what to do.
“Do they need to see me hurting? Do they need to see me destroyed? Will that make them happy?” she asked bitterly.
“I don’t know,” he admitted in defeat. “I don’t want to have to pretend—not even for a moment.”
She looked up at him once more and graced him with a meek smile. “I’ll pretend because I love you, Eric. I’ll pretend because I trust you.”
“I don’t know how you can trust me,” he responded, closing his eyes. “Because of my selfishness to have you, Appius found out about your ability. Because of me, you have to leave New York. Because of me,” he trailed off.
“Because of you, I felt acceptance for the first time,” she said softly.
“Sookie, I,” he started, but then stopped.
“What do we do right now, Eric?” she asked softly. “Not tomorrow—but right now?”
“They will want confirmation that I’ve ‘handled’ you.”
“What does that mean?” she asked. “What does that look like?”
“There are two choices,” he said gloomily. “Either you can look like you’re giving into Appius’s rules for our lives and leave here forlorn, or you can look like you’re resisting them and leave here angrily. Both scenarios would satisfy Appius’s thirst for my pain.”
“If I did the first?”
“You could go to our home, and I would follow in a couple of hours—after I have satisfied my father by fulfilling my duty here.”
“What would that duty include?”
Eric sighed. “Talking up clients. Acting like a spoiled millionaire. Flirting with women.”
He shook his head. “Not her. No matter what he fucking says.”
“Would you have to sleep with one of the women to satisfy him?” she asked, her lower lip quivering again.
“No,” he said quickly, his tone indicating the pain inflicted by her question. He looked at her earnestly. “I swore to you that as long as we were together, I would never be with another. And I intend to keep that promise.”
“And after I leave New York?”
“After you leave New York, I will try to make a deal with Isabel so that I can keep my promise to you, Sookie.”
“Would your father agree to that?”
“If it involved marriage and kids, then yes,” Eric said. “The original contract I brokered with Appius allows for the children to be adopted.”
She took a deep breath as she thought about the implications of Eric’s words. “And if I leave the museum angry?” she asked.
“You’d have to go to Brooklyn—to Amelia’s. I’m sure Appius will have you followed, but he won’t hurt you. He’ll just make sure you don’t try to leave town before I have a chance to manipulate you into complying,” he said bitterly.
“Eric, I want all the time I can have with you. So I’m gonna go home.”
“To our home?” he asked tentatively.
“Is that okay?”
“Yes,” he answered quickly, even though he knew that every second with her would only add to his agony later on—once she left New York.
“Okay—then I just need to act like what? Sad and then accepting? I can do that,” she smiled ruefully. “At least, that’s how I really feel.”
His voice cracked, “I wish. . . .”
“No,” she responded immediately, “wishing isn’t a real thing. Don’t do it,” her voice broke but was stronger than she felt.
She chastised her own hypocrisy. In truth, she had wished for so many things regarding Eric and herself. Mostly—right then—she wished that they were both “normal.”
Just Sookie. Just Eric. Just normal. And free.
“Wishing isn’t a real thing,” she repeated more quietly, again like an echo from somewhere deep within her. “Don’t do it.”
“What can I do?” He wanted to reach out for her. The mixture of resignation and strength flowing from her broke his heart. He too felt resigned to the fate that had been dealt for them, but he couldn’t feel any strength.
Two large, hot tears flowed down her left cheek.
“I’ll love you my whole life,” she vowed. “I won’t be able to help myself.”
Eric’s mind was suddenly ablaze with fear that he’d never see her again, and that fear fueled him. “You’ll be waiting for me when I get home? You won’t try to leave New York tonight?”
“I’ll be waiting,” she said in an angst-ridden tone. “But I will have to go soon. If I stay, then none of what we feel right now will survive.”
His relief was immediate. “I know. But tonight and tomorrow, Sookie. I’m living for those right now.”
Sookie closed her eyes and squared her shoulders a little, “So am I. But for the first time in my life, I want to fight for me too. I need to fight for me. You taught me that. You taught me that I deserve to be happy. That’s why I have to go,” she looked at him almost pleadingly.
“I know,” he said.
“How long will it take Bobby?” she asked, knowing that Eric would task his trusted friend with figuring out a way to help her escape from Appius’s clutches.
“One week?” he requested with begging eyes.
“Okay,” she responded. “One week.”
His voice straining, he whispered, “I wish I could leave New York with you.”
“Me too,” she responded.
“But my father would hunt for us relentlessly if I did. And he’d destroy Pam and my grandmother and the others too—just to punish me.”
They stood there for a moment, silent and trying not to wish for things that could never be.
“I love you, Sookie,” he whispered, finally saying out loud what he’d felt for a year.
The gravity of his words was immediate and immeasurable. From the time that Eric was five years old, Appius had been a master at taking away everything that he loved, so—out of fear—Eric had long ago stopped saying that he loved anything out loud.
Now that he was saying the words, it meant that he knew that she was already lost to him.
She could see the tears brimming in his eyes, though they refused to fall.
Sookie had imagined Eric telling her that he loved her a thousand times even though she had always known that those three little words—thrown around so cavalierly in the world—would be the harbinger of “good-bye.”
Still—the words were the most beautiful she’d ever heard.
“I love you so goddamned much,” he reiterated.
She smiled a little. “That’s a very good thing.” Her lips dipped into a frown. “I just wish love were enough to beat back the devil.”
“I know,” he said. “But for just one more week, I want to pretend that it is. At least it will be a real pretense.”
“One more week in our bubble?” she asked, her slight smile returning.
“One more,” he said, glancing back at the painting next to them. He felt the distance between the trees profoundly.
Two more thick tears fell from Sookie’s eyes.
“I’ll see you at home, Eric” she said as she turned and walked away, not bothering to hide her tears anymore. They would help to create the ‘right’ effect anyway.
Sookie made herself keep walking. Her heart was breaking, but she was determined to play the part she had to play if she was to maintain her freedom.
As she passed out of the gallery door, she passed Pam and Nora walking into it. Nora simply glared at Sookie, but Pam’s eyes held questions and sympathy. Neither of them tried to speak to Sookie, and she was glad about that as she walked all the way down the long hallway to the elevators, her borrowed $3,200.00 heels clacking on the floor. She pushed the button for the elevator that Eric and she had first gotten into a year before. It seemed appropriate that she would use that one.
She kept her eyes on her shoes as the elevator descended. She’d have to make sure Pam got them back before she left New York. As she’d done the year before, she walked alone to the coat-stand, but this year, Ben already had her coat and purse ready for her. She slipped on the cranberry coat, which had been a gift from Eric.”
“Would you like for me to call your driver for you?” Ben asked softly.
“No thanks,” she responded, a fake smile in place. “The driver will be waiting for Mr. Northman.”
Ben nodded. He had known that something wasn’t right when Sookie had left the control center of the MET earlier, but he hadn’t wanted to ask for an explanation from the clearly upset woman.
“Milos will drive you then,” Ben urged gently.
Sookie squeezed Ben’s hand and gave him a little smile. “Thanks, Ben, but there’s a reason why I need to take the subway tonight.” Without letting him say another word, she quickly made her way to one of the front doors of the massive museum, glad that she didn’t recognize either of the two guards at it.
The January air was cold, but Sookie didn’t feel it. Thankful that she always carried her MetroCard since she didn’t have enough cash for a taxi, she turned and headed toward the nearest subway station, which was only three blocks away.
About half a block from the museum, she subtly glanced over her shoulder. As expected, she was being followed by a large man that she’d seen before—Sigebert. Knowing that he was trailing her to make sure that she didn’t try to escape Appius’s clutches, she kept walking in the night, wishing that her new shadow would have at least had the decency to spring for cab fare.
Author’s Note: I hope that you liked chapter 1!
In this story, the characters are “all human” and have no supernatural gifts. Sookie’s “disability” is not telepathy. What it is exactly will be revealed soon; meanwhile, feel free to speculate (there are clues in the chapter).
I generally classify my stories under the True Blood category of fanfiction; however, to me it all comes down to who Eric’s father/maker is as far as a determination of classification. Since Appius is his father in this story, I’m classifying it under Southern Vampire Mysteries. However, you may see characters from both the novels and the television show.
Again—I hope that you enjoy this story as much as I enjoyed the writing of it! And—if you have time—I love getting feedback.