Disclaimer: As always I don't own the characters or anything else that belongs to the PM universe. A big thank you goes to my beta. The lady rocks :-)

Modus vivendi - A way of life

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow." ~ Albert Einstein

Sacramento, 1966

Della's reflection in the mirror told her to stay calm. Like so often before her outer appearance gave nothing away of her inner turmoil. A part of her had known this would happen, the other part had hoped to avoid it, against her better knowledge.

In the end there was no way to avoid the inevitable, there was no way to run away from fate. One could try a short cut, decide to make a detour, but it was impossible to rewrite the big book called destiny.

"Are you sure, you want this, Darling?" Mae asked, as she watched her niece with sorrow filled eyes.

"I know what I'm doing," Della replied and it felt, as if she was talking to her own reflection instead of her aunt. "I can do this," she thought and straightened her shoulders.

"And what will Richard think, if he learns about this?"

"He will understand," Della said, knowing this was the truth.

"So, I'll go and tell him you wait for him?" Mae asked, still hesitating.

"Yes, please." Della nodded and watched Mae, as she finally slipped out of the door. The silence that followed after the sound of the shutting door threatened to suffocate her, but she knew she had to face him. She had had it coming from the day she had accepted Richard's proposal.

Perry was here, in her aunt's house. Downstairs, waiting to see her. After all those years of separation, without letters or phone calls, he wanted a meeting. The reason was obvious, yet it would leave a bitter taste in her mouth to name it. So that was what it took to make him face her.

He was here, because she was going to get married tomorrow. In less than 12 hours she would become Mrs. Richard Carlisle.

Once she had dreamed about becoming Mrs. Perry Mason, but had given up on it quickly, as soon as she had realized, that the lawyer wasn't the one to get married – until he had to get married to someone else. A field day for the cynics of this world; a milestone for the gossip writers, a wound to her heart that never really stopped bothering her.

The scar that held her heart together still ached at the thought of him and Laura, but she had overcome the worst. She had learned to survive and had realized she could hang her heart onto someone who would never truly be hers or to move on with slow steps.

Della had walked into Richard Carlisle the day after the night she had cried over her lost love for the last time and she had understood the message from above. Today, three years later, she had finally reached the end of the crossroads and obviously she had one last task to overcome before she could call herself free.

The knock at her door was determined, yet gentle. Obviously, Perry had managed to convince Mae to stay downstairs, instead of playing watchdog. He hadn't lost his touch with the older woman who used to adore him until the day, Della walked out on him, because she wanted to spare him the pain of making a choice he would regret.

Now her heart started racing in her chest and her cheeks flushed. "Come in," she called and turned on her chair, facing him as he stepped inside. He was older now, his hair was dappled with gray spots and he looked a bit tired – as if he had lost a trial or his best friend.

"Good evening, Miss Street," he greeted her gently, as he remained somewhere near the now closed door.

"Counselor," she smiled a little, her one hand clinging to rest of the chair.

"You look wonderful," he complimented. "The perfect bride," Perry added, as his eyes wandered from her to the white dress that hung at the closet. She followed his gaze and felt a little guilty when she noticed how sadness filled the room like gas. A wave of memories, mixed with the shadows of lost opportunities, crashed over her.

"Thank you."

"I sent a note to Richard's office today," he explained. "I left Laura's and my congratulations and my apologies. The present will follow."

"So, you won't be there tomorrow?" she asked, perfectly knowing he had never even considered to attend.

"No. Laura's mother will celebrate her birthday tomorrow."

"I see." She knew Laura's mother had died over five years ago in England. Della sighed and lowered her gaze to her shoes.

"Are you happy?"

"Right now?" she asked back.

"With Richard."

"I am happy. He's a good man."

"He better is. I lost a case against him last year," he said, almost amused now.

"He later told me it was nothing but bad luck on your part. How's Laura?" she asked, working on moving the next big elephant out of the room.

"She's fine. Busy..." he shrugged.

Della nodded. She wasn't very interested in Laura, but part of Perry's happiness depended on her, and her moods. Della had heard rumors about them and their marriage, but gossip was always something she tried not to rely on. And what did it matter anyway? Perry would never leave Laura just as she would never leave him. Perry felt responsible for her and Laura used to cling to what she had conquered.

"So what brings you here, if you've already left a message at the office?" she asked lowly.

"I wanted to see you."

"And what for? We haven't seen each other in years..." she lifted her head and looked directly at him. "Why today? Tonight?"

"What about 'I couldn't stay away anymore'?" he returned the question. "I thought I owe you that much."

"You owe me nothing," she said and rose from her chair. "But it's good to see you." She closed the distance between them and cupped his cheek with her hand. "You need to take a little more care of yourself though," she said worried. "You look tired."

"Let's say I haven't got much sleep lately and my work wasn't the reason for it," he admitted throatily, his eyes piercing hers.

A tender smile appeared on her face, as her thumb caressed his cheek. "I know the feeling, but if it helps... It changes. It won't leave, but it alters."

"You aren't angry, because I won't be there tomorrow, are you?"

"Of course not," she answered. She had been missing out on his wedding as well and she had never regretted it.

"I couldn't bear watching you while you marry somebody else... Double standards, I know."

"Granted, Counselor," she replied and removed her hand. "You should go now. And don't come back."

"If that's your wish, I'll respect it."

"Yes, I think I deserve that much."

With a gentle move, he took the hand that had just caressed his face into his and placed a kiss on it.

"You deserve a lot more than respect. I have no right to say this, but tell Richard, if he disappoints you, he'll answer directly to me."

"I think he knows it. He mentioned something like that, when he asked me to marry him."

"I wish there..."

"You wish what?" she asked, as he hesitated to continue.

"I wish there was more to say," he cleared his throat. "But I have no right to tell you what I really want to tell you. So I can only wish you good luck."

"They say 'luck favors the brave', Della mused, as she withdrew her hand. "Let's hope I didn't push it."

"You deserve to be happy. More than anyone else I know."

"Thank you," she whispered and leaned in to kiss his cheek. His hand touched her elbow and the familiar, much missed gesture caused her to shiver.

"Goodbye, Counselor," she said and for a moment he held her close to him.

It was the persistent knock at the door that destroyed the intimate silence that shrouded them and Della sighed wearily.

"Your time is up, Counselor."

"And your time is now."

He squeezed her arm and after one last smile, he turned and opened the door.

He left and with him left the last string to her old life. He left and yet she knew he would never really leave her.