Disclaimer:I do not own these characters. Sad but true. :)

This story is a continuation of TCOT SHAPELY SHADOW, an episode I love to dislike with abandon. :) Especially since it's the first episode that gave me Della back after almost an entire half season of invisibility. The episode always excites me until Janice thanks Perry for her acquittal with a kiss. In front of Della. And Paul for that matter. I don't know why, but that scene always makes my blood boil. LoL.


BOUNDARIES

"Hello, Mae," Perry said in his usual gruff voice, weakened by Della's absence since the completion of the Wainwright trial. He stood on the front porch, his arms deeply buried in the pockets of his jacket. His face was pale, his eyes seemed tired. His posture was a strange mix of stiff and caved.

"Well, Perry. Hello," Mae smiled at him as she opened the door and studied his face with curiosity. The tall, broad-shouldered man looked small to her today, insomnia evident in the deep circles around his eyes.

"I expected you earlier," Mae said quietly, unwilling to add to whatever was troubling him to drive all the way out to see her niece.

Perry glared at her but didn't reply. He was too exhausted to muster up one of his mastermind white lies.

"Sit with me for a moment, will you?" Mae gestured towards the porch swing to her right and led the way for the attorney to follow.

When Perry sat, the elderly woman watched his grayish face. His eyes vividly blue as usual looked restless, uncertain about the situation he had gotten himself into.

"What happened?" Mae asked and looked at the lawyer with tender eyes.

"Della hasn't told you?" Perry Mason shifted uncomfortably by her side. Mae always reminded him of his mother. Not so much by attitude but by the understanding smile she shot his way.

"She hasn't said much of anything since her arrival last Friday," Mae replied with a worried sigh. "She only mentioned that her overtime has been piling up."

Perry nodded. She was right. Della's extra hours probably exceeded her annual vacation entitlement. Although she rarely used the full four weeks he had upgraded her to soon after her first year with him. And he was glad. Coping with her occasional absence left nasty scars on his heart. It made him feel abandoned and lonely, to say the least.

"She deserves a break," the attorney admitted, more to himself than to Mae.

"If she does, then why are you here?" Mae asked, her forehead wrinkled in mild confusion met by amusement.

"I need to talk to her," Perry offered reluctantly.

Mae nodded. "All right," she sighed audibly. "I'll go get her." She understood that she wouldn't learn from him either why Della had come to see her so early in the new year.

When Mae disappeared into the house, Perry propped his arms up on his knees and buried his face in his rugged hands. He tried to rub away the headache that had haunted him all the way from L.A. He closed his eyes and saw Della's face, demure and mirthless, heard the saddened quality of her voice after Janice Wainwright had left. After her case had been closed. A case that, for more than a moment, had threatened to affect his secretary and almost driven him into the arms of another woman.

He exhaled his frustration into his hands and dropped them as soon as he heard the familiar rhythm of her footsteps hesitantly approaching. He got up and saw her swaying closer on bare feet, an apron tucked seductively around her tiny waist embellishing her casual dress in a homey way. He loved to see her feet flat on the ground, shrinking her in size but still leaving her tall enough. Her hair perfected her appearance, windblown and curly. Her face rejuvenated sans makeup, her cheeks delicious with a trace of flour on top.

"Perry," Della greeted him surprised and wiped her hands clean on the apron he so secretly admired. "What are you doing here?"

Her eyes studied him with tender concern. "Is something wrong?"

Perry glared at her, unsure what to say. To any innocent bystander her greeting would have appeared genuinely darling. But to him it only added to his misgivings.

They stood in silence for a while, exchanging looks, had a conversation – like so often – reduced to an absence of words. After a while, Della lowered her head, her eyes finally betraying her feelings as Perry closed the gap between them and took her hand.

"Please come back to L.A. with me," her whispered, almost pleaded.

It was the sound of his voice that made her raise her eyes again to meet his. Like so many times before, she almost drowned when his sparkling blue met her pair of loyal brown. He was sincere with an apology he didn't have to voice but did. After all, she wasn't his wife. But the touch of his hand on her cheeks assured her he understood her pain. His caress tender as he repented for a kiss he hadn't initiated but endorsed in front of the woman he loved.

"I need another day or two," Della answered carefully, her voice vulnerable and low. The image of him behind his desk, welcoming Janice Wainwright's lips had hurt her more than she was able to admit.

"I'm sorry," Perry finally offered as if he was reading her mind.

Della nodded, believing him or desperately trying to believe – she wasn't sure. It was the mix of shy and determined that threw her when he suddenly leaned in to kiss her mouth. Soft at first and tender, gently asking for permission to part her lips. It was his tongue so eagerly begging for forgiveness as he caressed hers. Her lips trembling at first, then throbbing and finally swollen when he broke away.

Della's eyes were closed. A stubborn tear willed itself down her cheeks. His hand cupped her face, his thumb reaching up to wipe it away.

"I never meant to hurt you, Della." His voice broke as he watched her smile so sadly it nearly busted his heart.

"I know," Della answered quietly, her words almost lost. Then she brought her arms around his torso and exhaled as he offered her one of his embraces, soothing and uplifting her at the same time.

"I need you," Perry confessed and placed loving kisses on the top of her curly head.

Della nestled her head against his chest and slit her hands into his jacket to fondle his back.

"I need you, too," she admitted, the memories of his slip-up still fresh.

They stood entangled for a while, holding each other, oblivious to the day fading away around them. Secretly, Perry hoped she would ask him to stay, would invite him to spend the night in her arms, far away from the office and the mess his cases brought into their lives. It was one of those moments he wished to bottle, one of those days he wished to take her away from it all. But their silence was too comforting and familiar to break.

When Perry mustered up the strength to leave, Mae watched her niece seeing him off. It was the intimacy of their kiss that told her enough to know there was more between them than just innocent flirtation, the torn expression in Della's eyes wrenching her heart.

"One day he will leave you, honey," Mae said quietly. She had no intention of hurting Della with her remark.

"I know," Della whispered, surprising herself with the depth of her conviction.

"For his job or another woman, I couldn't say. But I don't want him to bruise your heart any more than he already has." Mae stood behind her niece and wrapped her arms around her in a motherly embrace.

"It's too late, aunt Mae," Della whispered, allowing her tears to fall in silence. "I've fallen in love with him."

"I know, honey," Mae sighed and placed a reassuring kiss on he back of Della's head. "I know."

Then they stood and watched the back lights of Perry's car getting blurry in the darkness.


Author's note: Although this story can stand on its own, it is also a prologue to another story I've promised you: "Something Borrowed" which will follow up on one of my favorite episodes later in season five, TCOT BORROWED BABY. So stay tuned for more soon. :) More upbeat then, I promise!