A Perry Mason / Della Street romance

NEVER THE SAME AGAIN

Disclaimer: Characters (Della & Perry, who else?) are not mine. They belong to Erle Stanley Gardner. I'm just having a good time with them.

Timeline: 1977 and then 1985, after "Perry Mason Returns".

Rating: PG-13 to be safe. Warning: Beware the kitsch fest. ;-) The fluff will come smush you.

Summary: How did it come about that Della & Perry got separated? And what did it mean for them to be reunited? What about their eight years apart?

1977

Della sat next to him behind his office desk in her usual chair taking notes. His voice was low while he spoke to her, his eyes rested comfortably on her face. He loved observing her reactions. Her little pout when his voice was hushed or too fast. That little smile when he teased her, crossing her lips. That upward glance to meet his gaze, waiting for him to continue. It made him linger. Even when he saw impatience sparkling in her eyes.

"Are we finished?" Della asked gently and dropped her pen.

"Almost," Perry answered her with gleaming blue eyes. His hand was resting on her knee, slowly caressing her leg. He was subtle about it, never giving sudden intruders the slightest hint of intimacy.

"Paul will be here any minute now," Della whispered in her usual discreet. Her hand touched his behind the desk, never urging him to let go.

"I have to see you tonight," Perry gave back quietly, shooting her a loving smile.

Della nodded, closed her notebook and got up as slowly as she could, indulging in his tender touch. His fingers seemed to stroke her legs by accident - the back of her thighs, viciously covered by a new pair of nylons. His well-rehearsed emergency turn made his knuckles brush against one of her knee bends, tickling her, always evoking a muffled scream. Perry loved to watch her, regret reflected in her eyes. Loved that she walked around him, taking the extra steps to pass him and not his desk, brushing her hands over his shoulders, tenderly caressing his neck.

"Chino's at nine," she offered. Her voice sultry as she bent over to pick up his pile of unanswered mail.

Perry nodded and ceased the moment to snug his arm around her waist. Della turned surprised and leaned her body right next to him against his desk.

"What do you want me to do with these?" She asked her smile professional and steadfast, ignoring his playful mood.

"I added a couple of remarks," he answered her lazily and seductively moved his hand over her thigh.

Della shook her head and looked at him, quietly trying to make him stop. Perry's eyes sparkled mischievously while his hand reached further up to her belly.

"Perry...," Della started huskily. She was interrupted by a resolute knock.

"Come in, Paul," Perry shouted reluctantly, mourning to see her squirm away and go.

Paul Drake peeked his head through the door and entered the lawyer's office. "Hello beautiful," he greeted his friend's secretary with an warm smile.

Della walked past him and pecked his cheek. "I'll get you a cup of coffee."

"Make that two," Perry shouted after her in a gentle voice. "So, what have you got?" He continued right away, now addressing Paul.

The private eye sat on Mason's desk and handed him a file. "You were right about the maid, Perry." His eyes followed his friend's as his secretary delivered two cups of freshly brewed coffee.

"Thank you, Della," Perry said in a neutral voice, checking the investigator's file. Then he raised his hand and made a gesture for her to have a look at Paul's findings.

Della approached him from the side, leaning her elbows on the desk. Perry moved the file towards her, holding it so his hand would brush gently against hers. Della smiled gracefully, ignoring his culpable attempt to get a suggestive reaction from her.

"I'll see what we have in our files on this," she said, smoothly withdrawing from his desk.

Perry looked after her, secretly cursing her for withstanding his flirtations but enjoying her swiveling hips as she walked towards the door.

When Della reached her office, she took a quick elegant turn and gave Perry a telling smile. He smiled back at her with his eyes, pointing his finger to his watch as if to remind her of their evening appointment. Della nodded, reassuring him that she wouldn't forget and quietly closed the door from the outside.

A couple of hours later, Della stood in his office bathroom, checking her reflection in the small mirror over the sink. She retouched her makeup and renewed the color on her lips. Then she moved her fingers through her hair and tousled it, welcoming a set of unruly curls to embellish her face.

"Are you ready?" Perry's voice sounded patiently through the door.

"I am," Della answered calmly and opened the door. She had changed into an evening gown, one she now kept at the office for emergency investigations. She also kept an extra suit and tie for him, had done so for years. The closet in his office was big enough, so she had also begun using it for herself. No need for his approval regarding office management, he had given her plenty of rope years ago.

When Della exited the bathroom, Perry marveled at her in her sleek creamy dress. "You look marvelous," he said, offering her his arm.

Della smiled at him and welcomed the gesture. She always loved an excuse to hold on to him.

"I just canceled our table, I hope you don't mind." Perry led her through the backdoor of his office and switched off the lights.

"Whatever you're up to tonight," Della chuckled. It was like him to make unexpected changes. It was one of those days.

"I feel like cooking," Perry continued, drawing her closer to him as they waited for the elevator.

"Hmmm," Della licked her lips, anticipatory. "I hope you got wine that goes with it."

"Of course," Perry laughed. "No meal without a good wine." He moved his arm around her waist as they entered the lift and placed a lingering kiss onto her head as the doors closed behind them.

An hour later, Perry stood in the middle of his kitchen, chopping vegetables and beef. Della sat across from him, forbidden to do anything but watch and have a glass of full-bodied wine. She had left her heels by the door and loved to give into the urge of making herself at home in his apartment.

"So what's the special occasion?" Della asked after watching him preparing their food with expert hands.

"What makes you think this is a special occasion?" Perry asked back and held out his index finger to her to taste his homemade marinade.

Della licked the marinade off his finger, then sucked. She was very thorough not to leave a drop of delicious behind. "You should've become a chef," Della moaned and leaned in to kiss him.

"I never regretted becoming an attorney." Perry welcomed her initiative. "The job comes with a girl Friday."

"I see your point," Della smiled alluringly and hopped off the kitchen chair. She moved around the counter and gently moved his arms around her waist. Putting away his utensils, Perry pushed her up on the clean side of the counter and pulled her into a lingering kiss.

"Now what made you so imprudent at the office today?" Della asked when they caught their breaths. "Paul almost caught you with the hand in the cookie jar."

"Figuratively speaking," Perry quipped and wiggled his eyebrows.

"I'm serious, Perry," Della tried to reason with him in her secretarial tone of voice. "We agreed to be discreet. Your hand up my thighs is a lot of things, it's not..."

"I could've eaten you up in that skirt of yours," Perry interrupted her with an ardent kiss. He moved his hands over her body, wrinkling her dress to give him access to her legs.

"It must be full moon," Della squeaked as his hands tickled the inside of her before-mentioned thighs.

"I was offered justice-ship in San Francisco," Perry suddenly blurted out, placing a kiss onto her belly.

"What?" Della's voice drifted off as he rested his head in her lap.

"I want you to come with me, Della," Perry indulged in the feeling of her fingers caressing his head.

"To do what?" She asked quietly, her eyes wide in anticipation of his plan.

"Be my wife, Della," He raised his head and looked deeply into her saddening eyes. "Marry me."

"I can't," Della answered dumpishly. "You know I can't."

"No, I don't know," Perry gave back controlling the volume of his voice.

"I'm not a housewife, Perry. And you're not looking for one." Della slid off the kitchen counter and straightened her dress. "Being a judge will absorb you. You won't have time for me in your life outside of work." She tried to argue with him.

"I'll make the time," he objected to her argumentation. "I have time for you now."

"You have time for me as your secretary," Della answered him calmly. She placed her hand reassuringly on his chest and caressed it with her thumb.

"You're not only my secretary, Della," Perry said to her in a hurt voice. "You are much more than that, and you know it."

"You love me, Perry," she leaned into him in a tight embrace. "I know you do."

"Then why won't you marry me?" Perry whispered his frustration onto her curly head, trying to keep his voice from breaking.

"Because I love you too much," Della answered, biting down her feelings from surfacing all at once.

They stood for a while, entangled, afraid to let go. At some point, she escaped his arms, his familiar touch and excused herself. She slipped away from him but he grabbed her hand before she could leave. He pulled her back to him and kissed her hard, not leaving a doubt about his intentions for the night. He maneuvered her into his bedroom, undressed her swiftly. He took his time making love to her. He kissed her, spoiled her, tried to memorize every scar and every like of hers. His eyes, his hands explored her body, learning her by heart. Every inch, her throaty moans. Her chuckles. Deep inside he knew this would be their last time making love. This was goodbye. They would be apart for a long time.

1985

When Perry Mason picked up the phone late one night, he was pulling one of his all-nighters, brooding over an on-going case.

Eight years had passed since he'd last seen Della. Ninety-six months and five days since he had left L.A. He remembered it had been a Monday. His flight scheduled for midday, it had been both too late and too early for her come see him off. She had been the last one at the office, closing shop, taking care of everything he then left behind. Steadfast and loyal even on her last day on the job. He had pictured her sitting in his chair, cleaning out his desk, allowing her hands to move back and forth over the upholstered arm rest. Trying to take everything in, he didn't want her to forget – those tiny details, the scars of his past with her imprinted on his own memory. He remembered that feeling, that agonizing hope that she would reconsider, come running to the airport with her bags packed and ready to go.

His memories returned when he picked up his phone, heard her intimidated voice, found her asking for help. What else could he have done but rush to her side? Too much history. Too many questions. Taking her case was a natural thing.

"So what are your plans now?" Della finally asked, weeks later, sitting across from him at the dinner table in her house. She was relieved that the trial was over, that Perry had worked his tricks for her in the courtroom. It was the kind of relief that didn't come with words. It humbled her and had made her sit in silence through most of their celebration dinner.

Perry had welcomed the silence and taken the liberty to observe her somewhat clouded yes.

"I haven't decided yet." Perry smiled at her, topping up her glass of wine. He still felt her arms embracing him in court, still heard the rich sound of her assuaged sigh. He had been tempted to sweep her right up into his arms. Her reaction demure, warm though in that way of hers. He loved how she never took him for granted, his presence, his company. In the remand center, it had taken him less than a minute to realize he'd missed her so much. Sitting in her home now, surrounded by her scent, her style, he knew he had to ask her to stick around.

"That's very unlike you," Della teased him. "Not to have a master plan." She moved her plate to the side and clasped her hands in front of her, obviously easing into their conversation.

"I do have a plan. At least for tonight." He broadened his smile. "Good food, splendid company. Some wine. That should do for a while." He set down the bottle of French red and moved one of his hand to rest on hers.

"We both know it's not for you to settle down," Della's voice had dropped a level, adding sincerity to her usual low. "So what's next?" She gazed deeply into his eyes, the weight of the question evident in her pair of vivid brown.

"I want to set up shop with you again, Ms Street." His thumb caressed her skin. "It was good getting back into the habit with you there in court."

"I could've done without the excitement on my part," Della appreciated his offer, deeply grateful for his commitment on her behalf. She returned his smile, less radiant. She felt vulnerable since the trial.

"I'm happy you trusted me with your defense," Perry moved his hand on her wrist and sneaked his fingers inside her sleeves.

"I didn't expect you to resign from justice-ship," Della drowned in his appreciative warm eyes as they lingered on hers.

"Everything for you, don't you know?" He was flirting openly with her now. His blue eyes sparkled, his fingers lingered softly on her skin.

"My, counselor. I'd be careful with that offer. It may get you into trouble," Della returned, her voice sultry, her smile playful and coy. She remembered all too many banters with him like this.

"I'm counting on that," Perry answered her quietly. His smile was boyish now, his eyes glistened. But he wasn't able to hide a glimpse of reserve.

"What exactly are you counting on?" Della asked reluctantly, her mind wickeder than her heart.

Perry didn't answer her but resumed fondling her skin. After a while, Della touched the napkin to her lips in an elegant move and carefully removed his hand from hers. Her smile was warm yet hesitant, obviously unsure about his intentions and her own. She moved her chair back and got up, holding her hand out to his to move them over to the couch for another glass of wine. Perry gladly followed her. He was all for making himself comfortable with her by his side.

"Where are you going?" Perry asked skeptically when Della let go of his hand and didn't rest next to him.

"I won't be long," Della placed a soft kiss onto his cheek and disappeared into the kitchen to get another bottle of wine.

Upon her return, she observed Perry who had gotten up to restart the music in the living room.

"Find anything you like?" Della shouted out to him, wiggling the full bottle of wine in the air and refilled their glasses.

Perry pressed the play button and returned to Della who had already settled comfortably on the couch. As soon as he sat, she closed the gap between them and rested her head on his broad shoulders. She closed her eyes and inhaled the scent of his aftershave on his neck. Perry moved his arm around her waist only to drop his hand, caressing her hip.

"I could get used to this," Della whispered, moving further into him.

Perry tilted his head and urged Della to lift hers for a moment. She inched her mouth towards his and met him halfway for a tentative kiss.

"I cannot lose you again, Della," Perry said softly, nuzzling her jaw. "Life doesn't become me without you."

"You wanted to make a difference. Accepting justice-ship was the chance you'd been looking for." Della raised her head a little to give him easy access to her neck. " I had to let you go."

"I missed you the moment you left after our last dinner." Perry nudged her with his lips, his nose. His beard ticklish on her skin, Della moaned a giggle. She climbed onto his lap, welcoming his hands caressing and assisting her.

"You needed a change," Della said sadly, recalling the day of his breaking the news. "I didn't fit in."

"And that's where you are wrong," Perry replied gently, lifting her shortly to push up her skirt to dangle around her waist. "I was looking for a challenge. That never excluded you."

Della searched for his eyes and tried to avert his gaze from her thighs. She was startled by the intensity of his set of blue when he looked at her.

"I asked you to come with me," Perry said huskily. He didn't care to hide his arousal for her in his arms. "I asked you to marry me."

Della closed her eyes for a second, only to face his again. She nodded. "You did." She said softly, beginning to unbutton his shirt with trembling fingers.

Perry brought one if his hands up to hers to calm her down. His other hand moved her closer to him for another kiss. He brought his mouth to hers, less timid now, and parted her lips gently with his tongue. Della moaned and leaned into him, giving in to his growing demand. His arms drew her closer, so close Della felt she nearly melted into him. She didn't mind. Eight years had been a long time.

"Marry me now," Perry gasped as he broke their kiss to catch a breath.

"You are relentless, counselor." Della answered him through a trail of kisses on his neck.

"I have never given up on you," Perry tugged on her blouse and moved his hands onto her skin. "I love you."

Della stopped and moved her arms around his neck. She seemed to try to hide away in him.

"Did you hear me?" Perry repeated in a low whisper, gently biting her earlobe.

Della nodded. "Just hold me close," her voice was breaking. "Don't let me go."

Perry did as he was asked and felt Della sobbing quietly against his skin. "Please let me love you," he added tenderly, his arms safely wrapped around her.

They sat for minutes, holding onto each other, as if afraid be torn apart. When Della finally moved, Perry eased his embrace and gathered her in his lap. One of his arms held her while he moved his hand up to gently wipe away some of her tears. Then he sat and looked at her, waited till she was ready to speak her mind. Della appreciated his patience, fought with words and cursed herself for being so shaky since the trial.

"I can't catch up," she began quietly. Her voice fragile in her usual warm and low. "I have to get used to this again."

Perry looked quizzically into her eyes.

"You, Perry," Della continued. "I have to get used to you again. The things you do to me. The way you spoil me. Lift me up."

"What can I do?" Perry asked tenderly, caressing her face with the back of his hand.

"Be patient with me." Della kissed his thumb as it moved gently over her lips.

"I cannot return to a life without you, Della," his voice was understanding but sincere. "Don't make me."

Della rested her head against his shoulder again and brought her hand up to fondle his chest. "I'm not asking you to leave, Perry," she reassured him tenderly. "I'm asking you to stay."

Perry closed his eyes and released a relieved sigh.

"Please spend the night," Della added shyly. "I don't want to be alone."

Perry placed a lingering kiss onto the top of her curly head. "It's been so long."

Della nodded and placed a luscious kiss onto his neck. "I know."

"If that's you being patient I won't mind waiting a little longer," Perry teased her, indulging in her subtly growing sensuality.

Della curled up her lips, flashing a wicked smile. "You know that spoiling me comes with benefits."

"Is that why you refuse to marry me?" Perry asked, amusement sparkling in his eyes. "You don't want me to stop spoiling you? Are afraid I could?"

"You stopped spoiling me for eight years," Della returned sassily, papering over the cracks of their past.

"Plenty to catch up on," Perry answered ruefully, bringing her hand up to his lips to kiss her fingertips.

Della smiled and untangled herself from his embrace. She straightened her skirt and reached out her hand to his. She helped him up and slowly led the way to her bedroom. He followed her, like he used to, watching her hips swaying seductively for him.

Upstairs, Della hesitated for a moment as she opened the door, then turned around. On tiptoes now to meet his lips with hers, she placed her hand flat on his chest.

"This will be different, we're older now," she sounded serious but eased the words with one of her warmest smiles.

Perry returned her smile, detecting a sparkle of uneasiness in her otherwise collected demeanor. He grabbed her hand and squeezed it to melt her doubts. Della stood upright before him, gracefully overriding her uncertainty. But he knew her too well not to detect her disquiet.

"We don't have to rush anything," Perry said calmly, tickled by her steadfastness. She was so genuinely herself around him. She hadn't changed a bit.

Della shook her head, more to herself than to what he'd said. "Despite the upset of being indicted I wanted to return to where we left off before things fell apart. Right then when you first came to see me in that holding room." Della's voice trembled as she continued. "It was like coming home, hearing your voice. Being in your arms."

"Then what are you so nervous about?" Perry looked at her, suddenly unsure if she would welcome his touch.

"I'm not the same woman you left," Della tried to explain. "I have changed."

Perry smiled, moving his arm around her waist. "You haven't really," he sweetly objected to her observation. "You fit right back in, working with me on your case. Taking notes, doing your thing. As if we've never been apart."

"It was comfortable adjusting to your pace again, restoring our system," Della admitted quietly.

"You are attuned to my habits, my likes," Perry added. "Eight years apart and you still remember every move, every question." He started caressing her lower back. "You amaze me."

Della looked at him, her eyes gleaming mischievously. "You always knew how to flatter me," she said matter-of-factly and shot him a playful smile. She duck out of his embrace and gestured him to follow her, taking the lead.

Perry gladly followed her instructions and observed how she disappeared in her bedroom, slowly unbuttoning her blouse. Perry watched her, enchanted by her allure, her grace. He recalled those nights when they had made love at his apartment or her house. Pleasant memories that had both killed and saved him in those past eight years. Shaking off the loneliness that had often haunted him after he had let her slip away, Perry entered her bedroom and leaned in to kiss her. His kiss was gentle at first, but quickly deepened as Della immersed herself in kissing him. Her memories of him revived, she wanted what they used to have.

She moved towards her bed, careful to tug him along without breaking their passionate dance. She sat on the bed and pulled him down with her in one smooth move. Della maneuvered him on top of her, eager to feel the full length of his body pressed against hers. Perry tried not to crush her and moved himself over to the side. His fingers caressed her legs and finally moved up to finish undressing her - her skirt and blouse already creased from their little stopover on the couch.

When Della lay bare with him, scarcely covered by her sheets, he marveled at her beauty, intoxicated by her scent, her curves. Time had left its mark on her like it had on him. But he loved every little imperfection, every wrinkle, every proof of experience she had once already shared with him.

Perry moved his hands over every scar, kissed her stomach and her neck, his fingers tousling her curly hair. When his naked skin touched hers, he closed his eyes to feel her voice vibrating against him. He had always loved to hear her purr his name.

"I made up my mind," Della gasped as he continued spoiling her with his affection. His hands rousing sensual memories of him.

"D'you want me to stop?" Perry teased her with his fingertips.

Della shook her head and groaned under his touch. "I will marry you."

Perry laughed. "This is all it took?" He kept teasing her. "Well, all right."

Perry lowered his voice and placed soft kisses up and down her neck. "I take you, Della Street, to be my beloved wife." His voice filled up with emotion, matching the touched expression on Della's face. "I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love and honor you for the rest of my life."

Della glared at him leaning over her. His hand brushed away a stubborn strand of hair. She swallowed, looking for some volume in her voice.

"I take you, Perry Mason, to be my beloved husband." Della looked for her footing and found it in his love for her reflected in his eyes. "I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love and honor you for the rest of my life."

Della's voice trailed off and she found herself urging him to kiss the bride. When Perry gathered her into his arms to seal their vows, Della moved her arms around his neck and back. The depth of her kiss assured him she was done waiting. Had been so long. It was about time.

"We should've done that a long time ago," Della mumbled some time later, her voice spent and sultry. Her body exhausted yet relaxed.

Perry chuckled and enjoyed her lying entangled in his arms. "We did." His fingers drew circles on her skin, his eyes contented and wide.

Della placed a lazy kiss onto his chest and closed her eyes, drifting off to sleep. "I mean, get married."

"I told you so," he gave back with a smitten smile.

"Only you and me," Della mumbled blissfully.

"Unconventional solutions for an unconventional girl." He buried his face in the softness of her curls and kissed her head. He felt her breathing change, steady now, slowing down. She was falling asleep.

Watching her for a while, he nestled closer to Della and closed his eyes to follow her to sleep. "I love you, Della." Perry felt her hand responding to his words, too worn out to muster a caress.

He remembered her hesitation about making their love official many years ago. Maybe this was all they had needed, a private vow that meant more than any wedding. Perry smiled while he was drifting off to sleep. He finally understood what she had always wanted from him: commitment over tradition. A life together at work. That was their home. Benefits included. She was back in his arms. At last.

THE END