Sort Of

Context note: Occurs during the Winterfest festivities in the "Dead of Winter" episode.

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"May I have this dance?"

Peter Alcott's voice came as a surprise, the man having quietly snuck up behind a distracted Vincent and Catherine. It was not a difficult endeavor at the moment, here amidst the boisterous Winterfest activities. Peter had been watching Vincent; Vincent had been watching ... well ... Catherine of course; and Catherine had been watching the musicians as they struck up a lovely tune.

The couple turned, a fleeting look on Vincent's face suggesting that he'd just been caught in a secret. He recovered as quickly as he could, offering a most polite smile instead. It had been many months since the last time he'd spoken in any depth with this particular helper ... one of the community's most long-standing advocates, not to mention an old schoolmate of Father's. But, as Vincent had recently discovered, Peter Alcott was also a friend of Catherine's family. Her token godfather even. That, suddenly, made the man far more daunting.

Catherine gave her leonine escort a glance ... also caught and noted by Peter's most piqued attention ... then politely extended her hand. "I'd love to."

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Peter had come to love Winterfest as a unique, family holiday. Upon the death of his wife, and his daughter Susan's move to New Mexico, Christmas had become more stressful than not -- -- a cross-country round trip in the middle of the holiday season. Down here though ... this was like coming home.

Encountering Catherine as they'd gathered hours earlier in the upper tunnels, was no significant surprise. Anyone who'd go running headlong into a plague-filled underground maze clearly had a significant devotion to the people that lived therein. If anything, it only confirmed Peter's long-held opinion -- -- he always knew she had a good heart, even when she was still primping and posing for her father's law firm.

No, the day's *true* surprise had come as they'd prepared to enter the Great Hall. The most remarkable wave of reaction had passed through the crowd when Jacob's youngest gave Catherine an unusually intense look. Jacob's eyes had lowered modestly; Mouse had almost tittered in delight; some others had smiled in secret knowledge. And as for Catherine -- -- Peter had been unable to discern her visual response, but the tone of her voice was quite unmistakable. For the first time, it occurred to him that Catherine ... the newest helper ... was doing more down here than merely "helping".

After that it had become literally impossible to keep his eyes off these two. In fact, he'd almost cursed his position of honor at the head table ... how was he supposed to keep an eye on his goddaughter's new-found interest if he had Jacob sitting squarely in the way? The meal was over though now, and the entertainment begun. Getting Catherine alone on the dance floor ... perhaps to congratulate, perhaps to tease ... was an irresistible temptation.

And if all this wasn't already amusing enough, there was that expression on Vincent's face as Peter made his request. Such an enigmatic look. Somewhere between shyness, poorly feigned disinterest, and relief that it was Peter -- as opposed to someone else -- who had braved the invitation in the first place.

Catherine's hand reached to squeeze Vincent's elbow -- another clue Peter might have missed had he not been half expecting it -- then accompanied her old family friend onto the dance floor.

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"So, Catherine," Peter smiled as they took their first swaying steps to the music. "What do you think of Winterfest so far?"

"It's wonderful," she answered in admiration. Her eyes surveyed the room as Peter politely turned her. "Everyone's so happy just to be together. You'd never know the city inhabitants above are getting all snippy and panicked over just a foot of snow. It seems so far away."

"It's another world down below," Peter agreed. "Sometimes, I suspect, a much better one. I can't tell you how pleased I am that you've found your way to their doorstep."

"They've been lifesavers. Literally. I don't think I would have survived my attack if it weren't for these people. And I don't only mean physically." Her voice lowered, as it did whenever she spoke of that night her life had taken such a dramatic turn. Terrifying at the time. ... A price to be paid, but a price worthwhile, given all she'd found below. "A place like this ... it can restore even the most shattered faith in humanity."

Peter nodded, agreeing wholeheartedly.

He chose that moment to give her a polite twirl, circling her beneath his arm, then guiding her out to briefly stretch away from him. And how unsurprised he was when she paused at the end of the step, her eyes catching those of the leonine man who stood at a distance. Vincent was watching the dance. Smiling. Focused, of course, on this woman in white.

Peter could restrain his curiosity no longer. "Anything you want to tell me?" he questioned with the most bemused tone of implication. Godfathers were allowed to play the role of 'all-knowing paternal figure' once in a while, weren't they?

She maintained the facade amazingly well, replying with the most innocent, "Like what?", then twirling yet again beneath his expert arm. -- -- A move inspired not by the music, Peter suspected, but rather to extend her eye-contact with Jacob's son.

"Like why you're staring at Vincent?" Peter replied confidently, unable to suppress his grin. "Like why such a new helper was seated so closely beside him at the head table? Like why most of his behavior seems to be directed first and foremost toward you? Like why I'm probably one of the few men in this room allowed to escort you on a dance such as this?"

"Oh, I think there are quite a few men I could be out here dancing with," she replied playfully, avoiding most of the questions with unparalleled talent.

"But only one you'd actually *prefer*," Peter corrected in implication, his eyebrow rising. "And it's not me."

For the briefest moment, Catherine's eyes met her godfather's -- admitting that he was right, then jumping right over that revelation as if it were so un-noteworthy as to require absolutely no discussion. "I just haven't asked him yet," she replied obtusely.

Peter steered her in a new direction ... a test, as he led her behind one of the Great Hall's vertical support pillars. As expected, she danced them both right back out the other side, then cast another smile at Vincent.

"Come on, Cathy. Fess up. What's going on? Are you two ..." ... ... his eyes widened and his head bobbed from side to side in the most old-fashioned style of euphemism.

Her grin was that of the cat who'd caught the canary. -- -- Or perhaps in this case, the canary that was *trying* to catch the cat. "Sort of." she acquiesced coyly.

"Sort of?" Peter laughed. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means," she replied thoughtfully, "that I think we've finally found something that frightens him."

Peter was silent for a moment, considering his best advice as he turned her again and angled for his own view of the leonine man. Vincent was standing quietly, having not moved from the spot where he'd handed over his 'date'. Almost as if his own personal time frame had stopped, and would only restart upon her return.

"Give him time, Cathy," Peter advised with the utmost sincerity. "He's had a difficult life -- I've known all but the first few days of it. Have faith in him, because once he finds his faith in *you*, it's never-ending."

... ... It was, perhaps, the best, most encouraging, most useful advice she'd ever received. "Thank you, Peter. I think that's exactly what I needed to hear."

His head bowed modestly, pleased to finally be fulfilling some of the role Charles Chandler had entrusted him with. "And Jacob?" he next asked. "How's he doing with this?"

"Progressing. He's gone from horrified, to grouchily disapproving, to smugly bemused. If I'm lucky and the trend continues, I expect him to skip right over 'happiness', and jump straight to pretending it was he who coaxed us together all along."

That earned Peter's laugh, loud enough to attract more than a few glances. "Now that sounds like Jacob," he assessed. "He hasn't said anything to me though, which I would take as a sign in your favor. He tends to complain over what he dislikes, far sooner than ruminate over what he at least abides."

"Well that's hopeful," she chuckled sarcastically.

They turned and made for one more lap around the room. And this time when Catherine glanced over at her beloved, she didn't even try to hide it. There was no one left to hide it *from*.

"And your father?" Peter asked cautiously. "I don't mean to jump the gun, but has he been told?"

Catherine blinked sadly for a moment, then shook her head in the negative. "Not yet. I'm ashamed to say it, but he doesn't even know I have such a friend, let alone a ... ..."

Peter nodded in understanding. "Have you ever met Stan? Susan's new husband?"

"No," she answered apologetically. "I was hoping to at the wedding, but then something came up and I couldn't make it to New Mexico." The flit of her eyes toward her beau was a significant hint as to the subject of whatever had canceled her trip.

"Has she told you what he does?" was Peter's next, curiously provocative question.

"Anthropologist? At Berkeley, right?"

"Yeeessss. Whose research expeditions are to the not-so-civilized, not-even-so-well-explored, steaming jungles of Borneo and the Papua Islands. And he's started taking Susan along."

Catherine tried to infuse some excitement into her nod, but could only achieve a mildly surprised, "Oh!"

"Exactly," Peter agreed. "But my point is that we fathers have an amazing ability to adapt, when it's for our little girls. I've known Charles since we were boys. ... He'll adapt too. ... ... And if he doesn't, I'll tell him stories of head-hunters, charging elephants, and foot-long leeches, that will make anything you throw at him pale in comparison."

They both laughed, again attracting numerous glances. In this environment of revelers, laughter was instantly contagious. Even Vincent was smiling -- -- although that may have had more to do with the dancing couple's approach.

"Cathy," Peter prompted, his voice softening and hushing as he leaned a little closer. "May I offer one last piece of advice? Ask the man to dance. ... ... No matter what Jacob thinks; no matter what your father may or may not think; no matter what I even think ... ask him to dance. You might be pleasantly surprised."

Catherine's eyes widened at the encouragement. She certainly didn't need permission to do exactly as she wanted, but it was most definitely nice to hear -- especially from such a long-trusted family friend.

And then, instinctually, her attention was drawn back to the leonine man awaiting her return. He stood there with his hands clasped behind his back, as thoughtful and pensive as always. Why couldn't she escape the delightful notion that it was simply done in self-restraint? That in his anxiousness for her return, he was merely preventing himself from offering too eager a touch, lest he reveal more than he wanted. Maybe, just maybe, he really did want to be the one in whose arms she danced.

"Heed my words, Cathy," Peter coaxed again, having watched their silent exchange and now thoroughly amused.

"I believe I will," she answered, giving Vincent the smile reserved solely for him as he moved from the circle of her swaying horizon, back into her own personal world. He returned the endearment in kind, sealing her decision "Yes, I do believe I will."