Nikolai did not like to leave the estate for the sake of going to Petersburg, though Natasha often wrote asking him to come visit her. Sonya was uncertain if this had something to do with Pierre and Nikolai not getting on as well lately or if Nikolai was simply loath to leave the estate in general. However, he could hardly deny his own son when Andrei wrote asking them all to come to his first grande parade. Nikolai still admired the army, saw it as a noble pursuit for a young man and was constantly disappointed that Dmitry's poor health and, subsequently, Marya's unwillingness to let him out of her sight prevented him from joining his brother in the First Cadet Corps.
Sonya had only been to Petersburg a handful of times in her life as the Rostovs had never been able to afford to live too extensively in the capital so she welcomed the opportunity to go. Petersburg was beautiful and very lively. Colder than Moscow, in more ways than just the weather, but enchanting in its elegance and glamour. The parade went by in a flurry of uniforms, marching percussions and a great multitude of hopeful young boys, many of whom were showing off their military skills – of the showcase variety at least – to a large audience for the first time in their lives. After, the cadets and their families were invited to a ball given by the Vorontsovs. The old countess did not wish to go as she was tired and, typically, Sonya would have given in to the unspoken expectation that she would attend to her aunt, but the parade had awoken something in Sonya and she made it clear that she was going to the ball. No one felt in their right to tell her otherwise, so at around eight in the evening Sonya took a carriage with Marya, Nikolai and young Andrei to the Vorontsovs.
The dancing had just begun when they arrived. Nikolai, spotting some old army friends, went to say hello, taking Marya with him. Andrei ran off to join his friends – cadets between 10 and 12 years of age – and Sonya made herself comfortable at a corner table. A different girl – Natasha perhaps – might have felt a twinge of sad nostalgia at watching the younger people dance, a longing for her youthful days when her dance card was always full and a long list of young men lined up to dance with her. But Sonya had never attracted much attention, though she had been quite pretty as a girl, so she did not feel much estrangement. It was silly, of course, to expect an invitation to dance now that she was a woman in her thirties – an old maid, to be quite frank. So she contented herself with watching the amusing and charmingly awkward attempts of the younger cadets to dance with some of the young ladies, most of which were nearly twice their age.
"Bonsoir, madame. May I ask for the honor of the next waltz."
Sonya looked up, somewhat startled at being addressed. Part of her expected to see an old family acquaintance of relative, someone who had merely come to say hello and was teasing her. Instead her eyes landed on a man getting on his years though not terribly old - in his forties perhaps - decked out in a prim parade uniform and very familiar in appearance, though she could not instantly put a name to his face.
"Do you not recognize me, Sofia Alexandrovna?" he asked with something between a smile and smirk, blue eyes dancing.
"Oh dear god," Sonya gasped as recognition dawned on her. "M. Dolokhov, forgive me, I did not recognize you all at once." She felt herself to red, suddenly very awkward. They had not seen each other in years and what had been between them ought to have long been forgotten but their brief friendship had ended on such an embarrassing and dramatic note that she could not decide how she ought to carry herself with him now.
"Well, it's been quite some time," he said, not taking his piercing gaze off her, though his tone had been quite light. "You could always make it up to me with that waltz."
"Oh. I…" Sonya recognized the flustered feeling he gave her. His manner had not changed though there were now grey streaks in his fair hair. "Yes, of course." She put her hand in his and allowed him to lead her out on to the dance floor as the first notes of a Viennese hummed in the air.
They fumbled somewhat through their first few steps. Apparently neither of them had been doing much dancing lately. Sonya could not say what Dolokhov had been up to these past few years as they did not get much societal gossip at Bald Hills. Soon enough, however, they found their footing and Sonya felt herself begin to float as they weaved between the other couples on the dance floor. Dolokhov's hand was comfortably firm on her waist and she appreciated, offhandedly, that he was a good dance partner, if without the flare Nikolai used to have in their youth.
"Do you live in Petersburg these days, Sofia Alexandrovna?" Dolokhov asked once they'd made their first pass.
"Oh no. I live up at Bald Hills."
"The Bolkonsky estate?"
"Yes. Though…I suppose it's the Rostov estate since Nikolai married Maria Nikolaevna." Something about this embarrassed her. Sonya was not sure what as she had never felt this way about her situation before. But now she felt compelled to add, "I attend to my Aunt."
"Of course. I have always admired your dedication to your family."
Sonya looked up at him sharply, wondering whether this was a real compliment or if he was mocking her. Dolokhov's expression was unreadable, even his lively, intelligent eyes gave no sign as to his thoughts. That had always disconcerted Sonya about him. As a girl, when she had first met him, she would sometimes lie awake thinking about his eyes and the sharp curve of his mouth, wondering what went on behind the coldly courteous mask of his face. But perhaps he did mean to compliment her. If Nikolai was to be believed, Dolokhov was the sort who would appreciate familial dedication. "Are you still living in Moscow, Captain–forgive me…" she glanced at his epaulets, "Major Dolokhov?"
"No. I came into some money shortly after my mother died and decided to buy myself a small estate, work the land. Make a project out of it, so to speak."
Sonya suppressed a wince. "I'm sorry for your loss."
Dolokhov avoided giving a response by leading her into several out-of-frame figures.
"And how is your project going?" Sonya asked, feeling a need to keep the conversation going. Dolokhov made her feel nervous, fluttery, off-balance. He always had. This excited and terrified her by turns. Keeping up thoughtless conversation meant she would not get lost in his eyes or focus too much on the warmth of his arm around her waist or the firm press of his hand holding hers, and that was at least something.
"Quite well, actually. I've even begun to look into expanding my holdings, but that is not a decided thing yet." There was a short pause as Sonya fumbled for a new topic of conversation but Dolokhov beat her to it. "Do you have a nephew in the Cadet Corps?"
Somya could not help but smile. She loved her nephews and she was so very proud of them, even little Dmitri who seemed to constantly disappoint his parents for no particular reason. "Yes. NIkolai's eldest - Andrei. He is just there, the brunette." She nodded toward a group of boys across the ballroom. They had abandoned the dancing and were now talking of something among themselves, giggling and shoving lightly as boys their age were prone to do.
"Ah, in the younger classes. They looked sharp today."
Sonya nodded. "Yes. Are you…a friend of the Vorontsovs?"
"No, no." Dolokhov gave a small laugh and whipped her through the turn that nearly swept Sonya off her feet. She gasped but found her footing, realizing to her own astonishment that, mostly, it had made her want to laugh in delight. "I've met Mikhail Semyonovich once or twice before," Dolokhov continued. "The late Count Vorontsov knew my uncle briefly and apparently spoke well of my father - something about his loyalty during the 1762 coup, but otherwise, no I would not call myself a friend of the Vorontsovs. I'm here because of my son."
"Your son?" Sonya tried, but failed, to not sound too terribly surprised.
"Yes. He's over there." Dolokhov pointed out to her a handsome cadet who looked to be two or three years older than Andrei, not quite grown up yet but no longer a mere child either. It struck her how little he resembled Dolokhov, though there was something nonetheless familiar in his smile, his figure and the easy fluidity of his movements.
When she looked up at Dolokhov, Sonya realized that for the first time his attention was no longer on her - he was looking at something just over her shoulder, lost in a private thought. She also realized that if Dolokhov's son resembled his mother, then she must be a very beautiful woman. For some reason, that thought made something inside her sink unpleasantly. "You must introduce me to your wife," she forced out, the words oddly difficult to form.
Dolokhov's attention returned to her in an instant. "I'm not married," he said plainly.
Sonya flushed, once again confused. She felt, instinctively, that this was dangerous ground and that she would do best to not speculate. "Oh," she said softly.
Dolokhov watched her carefully, searching for something in her face. "You don't know."
"No, it's nothing." His expression closed again and Sonya felt a chilling wave wash over her. She didn't like it when he distanced himself from her. It should not have mattered either way, but…
"What's his name?"
A half-sad, half-amused look skittered across Dolokhov's face. "Anatole." He sent her out for an underarm turn and when she came back into his arms, the music stopped.
Sonya looked up into his face, their eyes meeting. He named his son Anatole, she thought. That single word uttered softly by Dolokhov in the last measure of their waltz opened up a well inside of her, calling back the past the way simply thinking back on it in her own head never did. Her old life rushed back at her and she stood frozen as Dolokhov released her waist, stepped back and kissed her hand.
"I thank you for the dance, Sofia Alexandrovna." He gave her one last look, long and almost-open. Had he always loved me? she thought, suddenly. Does he love me even now? Even with a son he named after his dead best friend by a woman who must be–have been?–so very beautiful… How strange to think of Dolokhov as sentimental. She never had before. But if he could name his son Anatole then perhaps… And he had recognized her and asked her to dance…
"Wait," she whispered, but it was too late. Dolokhov was already on the other side of the ballroom, joining a group of men engaged in a lively debate. Sonya stood there for a few moments longer, wondering if he would look around to see if she was still watching him. But he never did.
So she let out a long breath, turned and went to find Nikolai and Marya, leaving the past behind her once again