For in my heart I carry such a heavy load

Disclaimer: I do not own the characters from "The Phantom of the opera". They belong to Gaston Leroux / Andrew Lloyd Webber. The title of the story comes from the song "Man´s Road" by America, which I also not own.

Author´s notes:

1) I have not written this story because I hate Raoul and want to make him look ridiculous. If you don´t like Raoul, just stop reading here!

2) The story is mostly musical-based. Some fact concerning the end, however, (e.g. Christine keeping Erik´s ring) come from Leroux. So if you have not read this book, it could be a bit difficult to understand sometimes.

Warning: The story contains the quite detailed death of a main character.

Part one

Images: my feet, barely touching the ground – my clothes, sticking to my body, soaked with water from the ice- cold lake – my hands, desperately clutching the noose around my neck – and her, standing next to him

Sounds: my racing heart – water dripping from my hair onto the stone floor – and her, begging him to let me go

I was feeling cold, but not because of my physical state. It came from my very heart and spread through my body. How could she do this to me, to us? My stomach contracted painfully at the sight of them kissing. She had to do it! She only tried to save us! But why did it look as if she actually felt something?

And why couldn´t I just run to her, pull her out of his embrace and leave? Why did I have to be so helpless?

I opened my eyes, panting from the rush of emotions. For a moment I hardly knew where I was or what I had been doing. Then I looked at Christine, who watched me closely. There was something in her eyes, something like … pity. With a start I realised what had happened. "I´m sorry.", I muttered, rolling off her quickly. My cheeks flushed with shame.

"Don´t worry, Raoul! Doesn´t this happen to every man occasionally?" The sympathy in her voice glided smoothly through my flesh and stabbed my heart like a dagger. "But not to me!", I replied. I couldn´t understand it: Never, neither alone nor when I had been with other woman before Christine had I had problems with maintaining an erection. And now, when I finally had the possibility to make her happy it didn´t work anymore.

I dug my fingers deep into the soft mattress in an attempt to keep myself from shedding tears of frustration. For weeks, maybe even months I had been looking forward to our first time. This evening had started so well. Christine had been more relaxed than I had seen her since we had returned from the opera in that fateful night three weeks ago. I had really hoped I could make her forget everything that had happened between her and him, if only for seconds. But apparently it wasn´t that easy.

"… try again later." Great, now I didn´t even manage to listen to her properly! "Or would you like me to help you?" Her hands wandered down my body, but before they reached their destination I jumped out of the bed. "No!" It was almost a shout. "I don´t need your help! I…" My voice cracked. Hastily I went to the wardrobe, pulled out some clothes and dressed. "I´ll go for a walk." "Of course, love.", she said softly. Her pitying gaze seemed to follow me, even as I had already left the house.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

Part two

I wandered down the deserted streets, which were usually so crowded. That late at night only my head was crowded with thoughts. Why was all this happening to me? I had always tried to live up to everybody´s expectations: the perfect son, the perfect brother, the perfect businessman. And now I failed in the one category I had longed to be good at more than anything else lately: the perfect lover.

I loved Christine, more than I had ever loved someone, and it was exactly this fact which made me frustrated. If she had been another woman, it would have been easier to shrug about my failure and not to think of it again. But Christine was different. That was the reason why I wanted to marry her, why I wanted to be with her forever.

However, I knew that we both needed to forget, to forget him. A certain smell or a word was enough to cause memories so strong that I could hardly stand them. It happened anytime and anywhere, though up to now it had never had more physical consequences than a painfully quickly beating heart, sweaty palms and an expression of utmost horror on my face. I had always been able to disguise them as symptoms of stress, and people seemed to believe my story.

Except Christine… Sometimes I could see in her eyes that she was haunted by the same demons. We had tried talking, but I had had to block her nosy questions before long because she would never be able to understand me. What did she know about the feeling of being entirely at mercy of the man I hated? Of having to watch her buying our freedom with her innocent kisses? She had no idea that I was anxiouslywaiting for her reaction every time we kissed. Was I better than he, was I worse?

I had been desperate to please her, to be her only companion on this part of the journey of out relationship. But I had not been able to do it. ´Just as you couldn´t rescue her from him!´, a little voice in my head reminded me. "Stop!", I muttered under my breath, yet the voice continued mercilessly: ´What do you think you are, Raoul? A man? A man would have saved Christine. He would not have stood there and let her do the work alone. Oh, you think she loves you?´.

"Please stop!", I moaned for I had heard this over and over and knew what was coming. ´If she loves you that much, why did she keep his ring? Why does she wear it on her finger, for everyone to see, while yours is still on the necklace? She doesn´t love you, Raoul. She loves him. You hoped you could win her by and by, but let´s face it: You cannot even satisfy her needs.´

Disgusted with myself I made my way back home, the words echoing in my head. I went straight into my study and grabbed the first bottle of alcohol I spotted on the shelves. Not bothering with making any light or getting a glass I slumped down on a chair in front of the desk and lifted the bottle to my lips. Usually I only drank in company and never more than one or two glasses, but now I just needed something to make me stop pondering.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………...

Part three

"Raoul?" I felt a hand on my shoulder. Then I heard Christine´s voice again: "Have you been here all night? Why didn´t you return to me?". She had to stand right behind me, but I couldn´t find enough strength to turn around. My head was aching, and the sunlight which came through the window seemed to be much brighter than normal, hurting my eyes. I lifted my head one or two inches from the desk and saw that she had walked around it and was in front of it now.

"Why are you waking me up?", I mumbled. "I was worried.", she replied. "I´ve searched you all over the house and…" She leant closer and examined me suspiciously. "Have you been drinking?" "Well, maybe a little…" Christine sighed. "Raoul, you know that your … problem won´t dissolve that way.", she said softly. Did she really have to remind me? I only muttered something which she could interpret as approval if it was that important to her.

Apparently she had noticed that I was not in a good mood because she didn´t comment on the topic anymore. Instead she said in her most cheerful voice: "Anyway, breakfast is waiting on the table. You don´t have to eat something if you don´t feel like it, but I could do with some company. Please!". To a casual observer it would have been a normal request, but even in my current state of mind I didn´t fail to notice the slight trace of panic. Ever since that night Christine had had difficulties in being alone. I could only guess that, in contrast to me, her memories came when no one was around.

I felt the knot of guilt tightening in my stomach as I realised that I had left her alone for several hours last night without even thinking about it. So I nodded. "Just give me some minutes to freshen up…" "Of course!", she said. "I´ll see you in the dining room." After lightly brushing over my untidy hair she left.

A few handfuls of water and some fresh clothes later I felt considerably more sober, though I didn´t necessarily looked better. Christine´s half amused, half worried expression made me come to the conclusion that I shouldn´t have tried shaving. Not even on my first-ever attempt had I cut myself that often. Somehow I didn´t have enough control over my hands today.

I took my usual seat opposite her and poured myself a glass of water, relieved that she didn´t force a conversation on me. Her face was hidden behind a copy of Epoque. Probably she expected me to start talking, maybe with an apology for last night. But I felt very comfortable simply sitting here, trying to ignore the dull throbbing in my head and watching the birds outside the window and Christine´s hand grabbing her cup of coffee.

Suddenly she made an odd choking sound and knocked down her cup. Lukewarm coffee trickled down onto her lap, but she didn´t seem to notice. When she lowered the paper I saw that her face was terribly pale and her eyes shone with tears. "Oh Erik!", she whispered. Trembling she came to her feet. Only now did she notice me. "I must go to him at once, Raoul. You have to understand…" Without further explanation Christine ran out of the room. In the corridor I heard her talking to our coach man, instructing him to take her to the opera.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………...

Part four

"Can I clear the table now, monsieur?" Hearing a voice so suddenly right next to me made me jump. A second later I recognised Mme.Rénard, the housekeeper. "What … I … Christine?", I muttered, feeling strangely disorientated. "Mlle.Daaé left the house about twenty minutes ago. Didn´t you know that?", she said disapprovingly, reaching for the plates. "Of course I knew that. It just slipped my mind.", I snapped at her. The clattering was annoying me. "I´ll be in my study all day.", I announced, standing up. "No one is to disturb me. Do you understand?" "Yes, M. le Vicomte." I had almost reached the door when Mme.Rénard called: "Will Mlle.Daaé be back for lunch?". "I don´t have the slightest idea.", I said through gritted teeth.

I managed to maintain my composure till I was in my study, where I collapsed on a chair immediately. Mlle.Daaé would not be back for lunch. Mlle.Daaé would not be back at all. She was gone. I didn´t know what had happened in her mind at the breakfast table, but I suspected that she had had another of the daydreams she had told me about. She had probably seen him, begging her to return to him. And this time she had actually done it.

´Because you left her alone.´ The voice in my head was back, more pronounced than ever before. Obviously alcohol could only stifle it for some hours. ´You left her, although she only wanted to help you, just because you couldn´t bear being reminded what a pathetic failure you are. He would never let her down like that. They´ll have much fun together. Perhaps in this very moment …´ I closed my eyes, but the images couldn´t be locked out that easily. They found their way into my head – he, making love to my Christine, touching her more intimately than I had ever been allowed to, and her, looking up at him in admiration, moaning his name.

"But I love her.", I whispered, burying my face in my hands. ´And you thinks that makes a difference? He loves her as well and, unlike you, he´s able to show it. All these three weeks she only waited for a chance to leave you. Heaven knows why she went with you in the first place. She probably pitied you – a rich boy who wanted to play with adults and didn´t realise the dangers. She might have kissed you, but in her heart she only laughed.´

I couldn´t bear all this any longer. What did it matter now why she had been with me? Christine had been the one thing which had made my life worth living. Without her I had nothing left except dreadful memories and nagging self-doubts. What kind of life was that? No, it would be best to end it right here and now. My mind was perfectly clear as I went into the bathroom and fetched my razor. I almost had to laugh as I saw the dried stains of blood on it. If I had known what the day would bring, I hadn´t bothered to shave at all.

Somewhere I had heard that many people in my situation wrote a farewell letter, but as I came back into the study and sat down on the same chair as before I noticed how absurd this would be in my case. Christine wouldn´t return to read it anyway. Of course I could send it to the opera, but I didn´t want to expose her to my whining, not even in the form of a letter. She shouldn´t feel guilty. She had made her choice, and I had to make mine.

My hand shook only slightly as I pulled up the sleeves of my shirt and pressed the razor against my left forearm, quickly pushing it deeper and cutting through the soft flesh. For a moment I watched in amazement the blood which began dripping down my arm. It was almost beautiful: dark red rivers and large pale shores. But as soon as the pain started I couldn´t look at it anymore. I bit my lip to prevent me from screaming and had to force myself to carry out the same action on my right arm. Afterwards the razor fell out of my hand, which was feeling very cold, and landed on the floor with a clattering sound.

´Running away, are we? That´s the only solution you can think of. You ran away last night, and you´re doing it now.´ I slid sideways of the chair and fell to the ground, but this only insignificantely added to my pain. Blood splattered the floor and soaked my shirt and trousers. At least I would never have to hear the voice again.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

Part five

"Raoul? Oh my God!" I heard Christine´s voice. How nice of my poor mind to make me listen to it again! I almost believed she was actually with me. Moreover, I could have sworn I felt a hand on my cheek. It had never cost me so much energy to open my eyes, and still I did it. I blinked a few times, trying to bring the picture into focus. She was here. Though my eyes didn´t seem to work too well, I was absolutely sure.

"Chr … Christine?", I mumbled. "Yes, Raoul, it´s me.", she said quietly. "How could you do this to you? Please don´t leave me! I love you." She loved me? Was this a sick joke or did she try to comfort me? I moaned. "Go … to him." "To whom?" She sounded puzzled. "To Erik? Oh Raoul! You did this because you thought I still loved him. But that´s not true!" By now my body was feeling wonderfully weightless and I had to summon all my strength to keep listening and not just let myself float away.

"Erik is dead, Raoul.", she continued. "I´ve read it in the paper this morning. He … he made me promise that once he was dead I would go back and … bury him." She pushed a strand of hair out of my cold face, and for a split-second I noticed that the ring on her finger didn´t look like the one I had seen for the last three weeks. Finally she wore the ring I had given her. "He will no longer stand between us, Raoul. We´re free." What did she mean by these words? I was already free. Everything was gone, the fear, the doubts, everything.

"Raoul, I love you." By now she had started sobbing, although I didn´t understand the reason. I was fine. I wanted to tell her this and embrace her, but I could neither speak nor lift my arms. Instead I closed my eyes; it was too exhausting to keep them open all the time. The darkness bid me welcome lovingly. In the distance I heard Christine: "Raoul, please don´t – "