A/N: So we're at the half way point and I just wanted to thank the readers who have left reviews, LadyLuly and newbornphanatic. For everyone else who is reading I hope your enjoying the story and I would love to hear from you.
One Month Later
"We are therefore pleased to announce that the next production at the Opera Populaire will be Mireille." Monsieur Firmin said with a flourish.
A cheer went up across the stage as everyone welcomed the good news. The managers had delayed putting on another production, hoping that the gossip and rumours surrounding the night of Don Juan Triumphant would eventually die down. However that had not occurred and the patrons were fast losing patience funding an opera house that wasn't producing anything. The employees were getting restless and even the laziest of the stagehands was starting to wonder when there was going to be something for them to do again. Madame Giry had been very strict and kept her dancers in practise and classes, however there had been very little for the other performers to do.
"The departures of Carlotta Giudicelli and Ubaldo Piangi mean that we need a new lead soprano and a new lead tenor," Monsieur Andre explained. Once Piangi had sufficiently recovered from the Phantom's attempt to strangle him, the couple decided that they had tired of Paris and moved to Italy where they had both found employment in a small, less prestigious opera house. "Therefore our new leading lady will be Adele Pinard and our leading tenor will be Gregory Despres."
There was a genuine round of applause as Monsieur Andre announced the names of two popular and hard working members of the chorus. Meg frown slightly at the managers' failure to mention Christine, who surely would have been the next lead soprano had events not unfolded the way that they had. But she knew that the managers were attempting to put anything to do with the Phantom behind them, and she considered Adele a friend, so she tried to push the thought from her mind.
"As you may be aware, many of our patrons are very eager to see the Opera Populaire put on a successful production and we know that Mireille has been popular when other theatres have produced it, " Monsieur Firmin said, becoming more serious. "You are all dependent on our patrons for your continuing livelihoods so we need you all to work your hardest to make sure that we put on the best production of Mireille that Paris has ever seen."
"Which we are sure that you will all do," Monsieur Andre added, trying to be encouraging. "Naturally Adele will be playing Mireille and Gregory will take the role of Vincent, however casting for the remaining roles has not been determined yet and will take place tomorrow morning, when auditions and rehearsals will start precisely at seven thirty."
"We suggest that you enjoy the rest of today, for it will be the last free day any of you have for the foreseeable future." His partner said rather ominously. Still he wasn't able to break the high spirits of everyone as they dismissed themselves from the meeting, wandering off to enjoy their day as he suggested and to talk about the new production.
Meg, who had been sitting with the other dancers, rushed off to find her mother, who had been standing with Monsieur Reyer and the managers for the announcement. The managers had already left the stage and Monsieur Reyer was excusing himself when she arrived.
"Did you know about this Maman?" she asked, her words coming out more accusatory then she intended.
"The managers have been talking about it for a few weeks now, but they only decided for certain late last night," Madame Giry replied smoothly. "This is a good thing my dear. A theatre that doesn't produce anything will not last long. If the Opera Populaire had to close then where would we be? We would all have to find new employment and you know that there would not be enough work for everyone. If Messieurs Andre and Firmin had waited much longer they would have had to start letting people go. The patrons have been very insistent that the theatre start working again, some were even threatening to withdraw their support." She explained in a hushed tone.
"I know. And I'm looking forward to a new production, I am. I just thought they would have made some mention of Christine, seeing as they said that Carlotta and Piangi left." Meg sighed.
"They should have," Madame Giry agreed, "Christine was just as much a part of this theatre as they were. But the managers are trying to pretend that what happened with Christine did not occur and so they do not mention her."
"Does Raoul know?" Meg asked wearily. At her mother's raised eyebrow she defended herself, "What? We are friends. Friends call each other by their given names."
"The Vicomte has not been told. At least not by the managers." Madame Giry admitted.
"Why not? What do you mean not by the managers?" Meg asked, sensing that her mother had something more to say.
"Amongst the patrons pressuring the managers to put on another production was the Comte de Chagny." She explained.
"Raoul's brother? Raoul is the one who represents the de Chagny family patronage, why would his brother be talking to the managers?" Meg knew that Raoul was at the theatre constantly, surely he had spoken to the managers about the family patronage as some point.
"The Vicomte has not spoken to the managers about the theatre in weeks, his brother had to step in to ensure that the family's investment was secure. He wanted to withdraw support not long ago because the theatre was losing money but decided to stay because he knew what it meant to the Vicomte." Madame Giry said, glancing around to ensure that nobody was listening in on their conversation.
"So the Comte has told him." Meg tried to confirm.
"Meg, it is likely that the Vicomte will not care what is happening here." She said sadly.
"Of course he will care. Why wouldn't he?" Meg said, her defences rearing once more.
"I know that you having been spending much time with him but surely you have not been deaf to the rumours circulating about the Vicomte."
"Well, yes but that's just the silly ballet rats, they'll believe anything." Meg tried to discredit the rumours. Madame Giry was correct, it was impossible to avoid the rumours about the Vicomte. That he was obsessed with Christine and was slowly losing his mind as he searched for her. Some rumours said that he had killed her in a jealous rage and believed that she was still alive, whilst others said that he couldn't accept that she had left him for another man. There were even rumours that he was to renounce his title so he could devote his full energies to searching for her. Although the rumours were varied, none of them were flattering and Meg knew that none of them were true. Still, watching him search for Christine and knowing his dedication to finding her, Meg could see where some of the rumours had come from and she had to admit that she was becoming more and more concerned about his sanity.
"It's not just the ballet rats, the other patrons and the nobility have noticed as well. He is turning down all of their invitations and will speak of nothing but Christine and the Opera Ghost. He is ignoring all of his duties. It is why the Comte took over his brother's duties as patron, because the Vicomte was ignoring it and people were starting to notice. If he had of allowed it to continue much longer the Vicomte would have become a laughingstock. I'm afraid his reputation is precarious at the moment." Madame Giry explained.
Meg tipped her head back and sighed. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed two of the older dancers waiting to speak with her mother. "You should go." She said, tilting her head in the girls' direction.
"Will you be alright?" Madame Giry asked, concerned that her daughter was taking this news harder than she might realise.
"Of course." Meg forced a smile. She watched as her mother greeted the girls, before wandering off the stage and heading towards the dormitories.
Although she knew that the rumours about Raoul were not true, she was aware that his desire to find and rescue Christine was obsessive; there was no other way to describe it. She had hoped that the search of the lake would make him realise that it was time to scale back the search but instead it had the opposite effect and he had started looking even harder than before. Every time that she saw him he would only talk about Christine and what he was doing to try and find her. She knew that the search allowed him very little time at home but until her mother had told her she hadn't realised that he was ignoring all of his responsibilities. She kicked a nearby bed frame as she conceded that this couldn't continue and that she needed to show Raoul that it was time to start moving on.
Meg knew that in the weeks since the search of the lake Raoul would always come to the theatre just after lunch. She waited on the front steps of the building wanting to catch him before he entered and learned of what was happening through overheard conversations, for she knew that nobody would be likely to stop and tell him properly.
She ignored the strange looks that the doorman gave her as she sat on the front steps waiting for Raoul to arrive. Seeing him approaching the theatre she called out, "Raoul."
"Meg," he greeted, giving her a confused smile, "What are you doing out here?"
"Walk with me." She requested, standing up and walking by him, away from the theatre.
"What's happened? Is something wrong?" he asked, concern evident in his voice as he caught up to her.
"I don't know." Meg replied honestly, "I think most people believe it to be good news."
"What is it?" he pressed.
Meg didn't immediately response, smiling politely at a young family as they walked passed. "Has your brother spoken to you about the theatre lately?"
"Not really. He left for Switzerland last week on business." Raoul said, suddenly realising that he couldn't remember the last time he had a proper conversation with Philippe.
"Many of the Opera's patrons were becoming concerned that we hadn't staged a production since...that night," she said, cringing slightly at her awkward words, "They have been pressuring the managers about their investments so they announced this morning that we will be performing Mireille. Rehearsals are to start tomorrow morning."
"But I still haven't found Christine. And that madman is still on the loose. How can they possibly think of staging a production now? Who knows what could happen? And how am I to continue to looking for Christine or any clues as to her whereabouts if there are rehearsals occurring and patrons constantly at the theatre?" he protested. He got progressively louder as he spoke and people turn back to see what the commotion was as they walked passed.
"Raoul please." Meg begged quietly, glancing around. She didn't know which part of his speech to address, so she continued to explain the situation, painful as she knew that it was going to be for him, "The managers made no mention of Christine, or the Phantom. I believe that they are choosing to believe that it never occurred," Raoul looked like he was going to interrupt and she held up her hand to stall him, "It may be foolish, but nonetheless that is the path they have taken. Christine's disappearance has not had the same impact on people at the theatre that it has on you or I. Everyone is getting restless and they need to continue to live their lives. Some of the patrons were threatening to withdraw their investments if the managers didn't do something and if that occurred people would start to lose their jobs."
"But surely there is another way. I can't continue to search for her in the theatre if there is a production underway. Evidence could be destroyed, anything could happened. Perhaps I can talk to Philippe about increasing our investment, to make up for anyone who withdraws." He suggested impulsively.
Meg didn't have the heart to tell Raoul that his brother was one of the patrons pushing for the theatre to stage another production. "Raoul, Christine is not in the theatre. Nor is there a clue anywhere as to where she has gone, where the Phantom has gone or even if they are together. We have searched every inch of the building, and every inch below it, so many times that I've lost count. There's nothing there." She said, more forcefully than she intended.
"You can't be suggesting that we give up?" Raoul asked, horrified.
"No..." Meg replied slowly, "I'm not saying that we should give up on Christine. But it is pointless to continue searching the theatre. And perhaps we should allow the Sûreté to continue the search."
"You do want to give up! You would leave Christine with that thing." he said accusingly.
"No, that's not what I meant," Meg protested.
"The Sûreté are useless, you know that. If we allow them to continue the search for Christine she will never be found. We might as well tell them not to bother." He was starting to shout again.
"I love Christine like a sister," Meg said quietly, "Don't ever imply that I don't care about her. If I could do anything to get her back I would. But searching over the same areas again and again is not going to bring her back. The people at the theatre are not the only ones who need to live their lives." Raoul shot her a disbelieving look, "Don't look at me like that. You know Christine. She would not want us to stop living because of her."
"We can't just abandon Christine to that monster." He shouted. They had stopped in a small park, and were standing beneath a large tree, away from prying eyes.
"That's not what I'm saying," she cried in frustration, burying her fists in the folds of her skirt and blinking back tears. She stopped and took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. "When was the last time you read a book? Or had a meal with Philippe? Or did anything that wasn't related to searching for Christine? You more than anyone else need to start living your life again. People are starting to see how...obsessive you have become."
"Do you think I care what these people think of me? They don't care that Christine is missing. Why should I care what they think of me?" he argued.
"Perhaps you shouldn't. But people who barely know you and rarely see you can see what this is doing to you. Doesn't that tell you something?" Meg asked.
Her words seemed to finally have an effect and she watched as Raoul fell silent.
In his mind he tried to answer Meg's questions. He knew that he was currently reading a book about famous French naval captains but he couldn't remember the last time he had picked it up or even where he had left it. Philippe was rarely at home for dinner, usually dining with friends or business associates. He had invited Raoul to join him at a dinner not long after Christine had disappeared but he had only accepted because one of the men in attendance owned tracking hounds that he had hoped to borrow. Beyond that he wasn't able to recall another meal with his brother. All he knew was that his days were dedicated to searching for Christine. It was the right thing to do, he insisted. But how long could he keep it up? He knew he was neglecting his family duties and a part of him recognised that eventually he would have to stop searching for Christine and resume them, but was that time now? His heart still insisted that he shouldn't be giving up on Christine but his mind told him that perhaps Meg was right.
"You're right." He accepted wearily. "I can't continue to go on like this. I wish I could, but I can't. And yet I don't know if I can. Christine's not here and I don't know if I can not look for her. I won't stop searching for her, not completely, but I will try to start living my life again."
"Good." Meg said with a gentle smile, "I know how you feel. I don't want to stop looking for Christine either. But I can't afford not to live my life. I still want to help you search for her. But I think that as a start we need to agree that there is nothing at the theatre and stop our searches there."
"Alright," Raoul agreed. He wanted to search the theatre one last time, just in case, but knew that he shouldn't. Instead he glanced at his timepiece, "Speaking of the theatre, should you be returning for your mother's lessons?"
"No," Meg said, stepping out from under the tree, "Rehearsals start tomorrow, so they managers have given everyone the rest of day off. Still I shouldn't be away for too long. Maman doesn't know that I left."
As they strolled slowly through the streets, taking the long way back to the theatre, Raoul tried to push thoughts of Christine from his mind and focus on what the woman by his side was saying, but did fail on a number of occasions. Still he was pleased that neither the Phantom or Christine came up in their conversation and he was glad of the opportunity to spend time with Meg, getting to know her more, outside of the theatre. It felt like it was the first step towards starting to live his life again.