"Penelope…" Napoleon smiled at the memory of a girl he once knew. Illya raised his eyebrows in a questioning manner as he put down his book and yielded to the curiosity provoked by such a wistful tone in his friend's voice.
"And who is Penelope?" He had to ask, if for no other reason to be accommodating to Napoleon's apparent desire to speak of the woman.
"Oh, well… ', he sighed at the image of a young girl dressed in a yellow dress, her dark hair hanging around her shoulders in soft curls.
"She was the Autumn Apple Blossom Queen of 1951. I was getting ready to ship out for Korea and the last thing I did was attend the Apple Festival and ask Miss Penelope Dugan out on a date with a man who might never return." Illya smiled at the obvious ploy, one played out across nations by men waiting to deploy to some foreign war.
"And did she oblige the condemned's last wish?" Napoleon laughed out loud at the memory.
"No, no she did not. Penelope had turned down more than one love struck sailor or soldier. The girl was a class act and she knew it. Her future wasn't with some grunt in the military." It had stung a little at the time, but now Napoleon could see how a young woman of that era had to look out for her future, and that usually meant marrying well.
"So, did Penelope find her man?" Illya couldn't help but be a little curious.
"She did indeed. Penelope married the son of a senator, and today is the wife of one. She did well for herself, and, to his credit, the man she married fulfilled her vision of a bright future."
Napoleon had encountered Penelope on a trip to Washington the previous week, and was surprised when she hailed him from the steps of the Capitol.
"Napoleon Solo? Is that really you?" Napoleon had turned at the sound of his name, and was unable to hide his surprise and pleasure when he recognized Penelope Dugan from fifteen years ago.
"Penelope? What are you doing on the steps of the Nation's Capitol?" It was a bemused tone in his voice, the easy cadence of his natural charm not hindered by the sight of an old, almost flame.
"I'm here with my husband, Senator Lambert. I don't suppose you've kept up with my life.' Her smile made Napoleon tingle just a little; she was still beautiful.
"And what about you? What brings you to Washington, D.C.?" Time for the cover story, something he always regretted when it concerned people from his past.
"I am here on business, just a few meetings. You know how it is." That was simple, not a complete lie at least.
Illya listened to the replay of Napoleon's encounter with Penelope, not daring to ask if anything else had transpired between them. Napoleon knew instinctively that his friend was thinking of the possible scenarios, all of it based on his usual proclivity to seduction and sex.
"She's a married woman, Illya. I do have a few principles you know."
"Sorry. You read my mind, did you?"
"Sometimes it's just a reflection of my own.' Napoleon sighed before continuing.
"She really is a beautiful woman, even more beautiful than when she was nineteen."
Illya considered that little confession, the lapse in a barrier they both often kept in place against the divulging of personal desires, or fears.
"And she is happy? In her marriage, did she seem happy?" Illya needed his partner to be fully present, they were going out on a mission in twenty-four hours. It wouldn't do for Solo to be dreaming of a woman he couldn't have.
"Yes, she seemed… I believe she is very happy. I saw nothing to indicate otherwise."
"Good." That made Napoleon take a closer look at the Russian.
"Why do you ask?"
"Why shouldn't I? If she is happy then you are less likely to try and seduce her. I think that is best. Do you not agree?" The challenge was to make Napoleon aware of any hesitation or emotional hindrance that might be lingering after his encounter with this woman.
"I'm fine Illya. I am just fine and dandy. Penelope is happy and I am… fine."
Illya patted his partner on the back, the only kind of solace he could offer. Napoleon was not fine, and his heart was now officially smitten with a woman from his past whose own future was a barrier to any kind of romance between them.
Napoleon would have twelve hours of flying to get over Penelope. At least that's what he and Illya were hoping would happen. Principles and morals… Napoleon wondered if it was all worth it.