It was cold.

Yes, that was one thing that Raoul could be perfectly sure of.

It was very, very cold.

This was cruel, he reflected deliriously. Even for this monster, this phantom; this form of torture was harsh even for him. Raoul began to list off things he would give for the murderer to tighten the noose just a tug, enough to kill him, or at least render him blissfully unconscious.

A slit of the throat. A bullet to the chest. Hell, at this point, Raoul would beg for the guillotine. Anything that would bring about a quick end.

"And separate our beautiful head from your equally immaculate body? I think not, Vicomte," the voice sneered from the shadows. "Besides, how common! How horribly mundane."

Raoul frowned. Had he been speaking aloud? He supposed anything was possible; he wasn't sure of anything anymore. Except, of course, that it was cold. "Christine," he gasped out hoarsely, groaning despite himself as the ropes rubbed against his raw skin.

"Safe, monsieur, at her own liberty, to do with her life as she wishes. Quite the opposite of yourself, come to think of it."

Unable to do much else, Raoul found himself struggling futilely against the bonds that held him. "Please, monsieur…"

"Begging already? I must say, Monsieur le Vicomte, I had hoped for a more impressive showing." A humorless, chilling laugh. "Pitiful."

Raoul, for his part, was not insulted. The words were not what hurt, not here, not in this hazy torrent of pain that seemed to continue on forever, grasping, holding tight, dragging him down into an abyss of never ending agony.

Suddenly, he felt the cold touch of fingers beneath his chin, pulling his head up. He found his blurring vision focused on the face that haunted nightmares, that horrified grown men, that hid apparent genius beneath its gruesome exterior. Raoul couldn't even grimace at his nearness; perhaps it was the cold, or even simple apathy.

The hands pulled at the ropes, surprisingly gentle as they pulled the noose from around his neck. That was where the mercy ended, however; the hands stood by as the Vicomte fell gasping to the ground, sucking in precious air through his bruised throat, savoring the sweet feeling of full lungs which came at so high a price to his damaged trachea.

"I admit that I did not expect to have to kill you tonight," the beautiful voice told him. "I would most certainly have been a little more straightforward and merciful about the task; I do not endeavor to be cruel, of course!"

Deciding it was best not to respond, Raoul took the proffered moments to pull himself to some semblance of a sitting position. He wasn't sure what he was hoping for; an escape with his life, or a merciful death?

Whatever the crazed phantom was willing to give. Raoul was simply ready for the suspense to end, for his fate to be revealed.

The deformed man regarded him shrewdly, and Raoul could not help but to tremble again. "I wonder what you think of me right now," the phantom mused softly.

"I think you're insane," Raoul bit out, running a hand through his hair raggedly.

"Hmm," the other man considered. "Truly, you would not be far off." He stalked off to another section of the house, leaving a exhausted Raoul to follow him with his eyes. "Well, Monsieur le Vicomte…Raoul, do you mind if I call you Raoul? I so prefer to be on a first name basis with those that I kill. I am Erik.

"I'm afraid we only know each other through our mutual acquaintances. A pity, really, we clearly have so much in common!" Erik reemerged, moving once again past his victim. "Well, Raoul, I suppose I shall give you the chance to die with all of that dignity you aristocrats are so fond of. You're ever so good at retaining it at the time of your demise, aren't you?"

Raoul watched with morose fascination as Erik laid three things in front of him. A glass filled with a clear, odorless liquid, a dagger, and a pistol. Raoul stared at the items with a glowing sense of dread.

"Have your choice, Raoul," Erik murmured softly. "How you would like to die. The drink is a slow but painless poison. The pistol would be quick but a bit painful, depending on your aim – I doubt you'd want to mar that beautiful face of yours! If you'd rather not choose, well, then I think you will find I am quite adept with a dagger – and my knowledge of the human anatomy is far more extensive than yours – that option would be both slow and painful!

"So, mon ami, what's more important to you: to avoid pain, or to avoid a few more minutes here with me?" The ease with which Erik managed to speak of death chilled Raoul to the bone even more than the ice cold air.

Raoul stared at the items, flicking his eyes up at Erik's face every few seconds. He knew which he wanted – all that was left was to administer it. His hand shot out, grabbing the glass and downing it in one rather undignified gulp.

When he looked back up, Erik was staring at him with some mixture of pity and respect. Raoul didn't flinch as Erik crouched down and took his arm firmly but gently, pulling the vicomte to his feet. "Come, you'll be much more comfortable on the settee."

Raoul let himself be led like a puppet; his fight was over – it was time to let nature take its course. He shivered; why was it always so damn cold?

The Vicomte gave into the soft cushioning of the settee, and even managed a surprised gasp as Erik laid a warm cloak on top of him.

"Shall I play a requiem for you?" the musician asked. "Yes, I rather think you'd like that."

And, as the sad, beautiful music surrounded him, Raoul reflected that this was not such a bad way to die.

At least it was warm, he mused dizzily. He wondered if he actually managed to murmur the thank you on his lips, or whether his nonsensical musings about the temperature were what really came through.

His last semiconscious thought was that he would hopefully pass from the hands of a fallen angel to that of a real angel. And then everything was swallowed by the black.

It was nearly dawn when Erik carried the unconscious boy, deep under the influence of powerful sedatives, to the surface. The mob had long since quitted the opera house, giving up the monster and its victim for dead. Erik laid Raoul's inert form on the doorstep of the de Chagny estate, and slipped away into the night.