Tuesday, September 7, 1993, Los Angeles

Della was exhausted. Usually she tried to hide that fact around the office but was finding it next to impossible these days. This trip was necessary for their next case but she sure could have done without it.

Sitting on the edge of the bed in a hotel room in Santa Barbara, she was still wearing her coat, with her purse on her lap. All of the information Perry asked for and then some was tucked safely in her briefcase, requiring but a few hours of her time to procure. Over 40 years of conducting research for their cases—property and financial records, background checks, thousands of hours in town halls and newspaper morgues—had made Della particularly adept at finding what she needed fast.

When Della Street went looking for a new job in 1949, a job that would allow her to do "more" she never would have believed how much more she would be doing; professionally and personally. All alone Della gave a slight sad laugh aloud. Oh how she loved that man; she loved him so very much that it often overwhelmed her.

A woman had to make choices in life, especially her generation, and Della Street had made many difficult ones. But at the age of 71 and after 44 years with him she knew that there wasn't one thing she would have done differently if it meant they could not have been together.

As embarrassed as she was going to be, the idea of being unnecessarily away from him for even a night seemed suddenly ludicrous. Ten minutes ago they had granted her request for early check-in and now, hopefully, they wouldn't mind if she took an early check out-a really early check out.

Slinging her overnight and handbags over her shoulder, she carried her briefcase in one hand and hoisted the huge vase filled with three dozen pink roses onto her hip. Shutting the door behind her with her foot she moved briskly to the elevator, pleased with her decision.

Driving home to him, Della lamented this year, a year which could not end soon enough for her. The last few months left her with the distinct, uncomfortable feeling that something was missing in her life. Normally when she had that feeling, the answer was neither immediate nor obvious. Della was never clear what it was, exactly, that she needed.

This time she knew. Della Street knew exactly what she needed.

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Perry sighed. They had a great deal of work to do on two separate cases and he hated having to send Della away; hated the idea of being away from her, which they had decided after this year they would never do again. But their work always made other plans for Perry Mason and Della Street. Neither of them would have had it any other way, their shared dedication had been the thing, next to their grand and epic passion, that had bound them together so closely. Never was so magnificent a creature this integral to anyone's work and not as muse, although she certainly was that, but as the most trusted and dependable colleague he had ever had.

Perry was forced to stay behind because they were in the middle of the prelim for Della's good friend Dr. Sheila Carlin. Oh he knew who did it, he just had to break him and to do so he and Ken had to compile the necessary evidence, a thing that had proved most difficult this far. Perry would have much preferred to be with his girl.

Why did she love him so?

Perry wondered often particularly this year. But she did, he could feel it on her. When she was around he felt himself basking in something he couldn't quite name. When she left the room it went with her, leaving him bereft.

What he was never sure she believed, however, was that he loved her even more. If anything ever happened to Della Street there would be no reason for Perry Mason to go on. He said that once and was quite certain she thought he was being his dramatically inclined self.

He was not.

Quieter than usual, Della had also been looking tired. There was no question that this year had aged her. Perry was well aware of the effect his health problems had on her. That was the primary reason, perhaps the only reason, he had finally agreed to take better care of himself: for her. After all, she had been doing everything she could to help him but as she pointed out, she could only do so much.

As far back as the 1960s his health had been a constant worry for her. In 1977 the only good thing that she thought might come out of his judgeship was that maybe, just maybe, it would allow him to slow down and take better care of himself. Of course the opposite was true.

The separation was an unmitigated disaster. Perry, who had always turned to food and drink when under duress, packed on weight. Unchecked his blood pressure sored impelled by late, lonely nights in restaurants with far too much food in front of him, the plume of cigarette smoke perpetually over his head and the rather steady flow of spirits around him. Even Della found herself drinking too much and smoking more than usual as the separation wore on, like a war that had gotten lost on its way to the end.

By the time Perry finally managed to right himself the damage had been done. Della had never been a woman who nagged; and of course, Perry was wise enough to know that someone encouraging you to do what was best for you was not nagging. Oh, she would spar with him at work, which he encouraged even when it tired him out—no one could keep him sharp the way she could. But in his personal matters she was almost strangely silent—until this year.

This year, when the walls came tumbling down around them with a potentially deadly diagnosis, Della Street started speaking up. While he had done almost nothing to bring this on himself in any way he certainly wasn't helping himself either she pointed out. While he recuperated she said little. But as soon as doctors pronounced him well, she had decided there were going to be rules and they were going to be obeyed.

And that was the word the genteel Miss Street used, "You will obey my directives Perry Mason."

Della Street simply refused to allow their story to end.

After several terrifying months that included major surgery, a difficult recuperation and even worse follow up treatment they could relax. Just a few weeks ago, at his six-month check-up, his team of oncologists told them that harsh though it may have been, his treatment was an unqualified success. Perry Mason would likely die a good many years from now and from something else.

Della amazed everyone who knew her. An iron butterfly by nature, when faced with the mortality of the only man she had ever loved she somehow grew even stronger. While running the office, his practice, and their home, her most important duty was overseeing his treatment. This she did with the focus of an MD and the research abilities of… well, Della Street, humor and light touch intact.

Perry Mason was quite certain that this was the third time the love of his life had saved his life, which, if true, she claimed was done purely for selfish reasons.

Not once during his illness had he, or anyone else, seen Della Street shed a single tear; until that is the doctors declared him reservedly cured.

They hadn't even had the chance to sit down when the oncologist, excited by their success, blurted out the results. It took Perry a moment to process but relief flattened Della Street instantly. When those marionette strings were slashed she crumpled, Perry barely catching her. Cradling her in his lap, he was unable to soothe her until well after the shot of Valium, upon which the doctors had insisted, took effect.

Holding her close Perry wondered when she had gotten so thin and why he hadn't noticed. Instantly relief over his health was superseded by worry about what this might have done to Della's.

Now, just weeks later he had to send her on a more than two hour car trip, to work and then stay in a hotel alone. Actually, she could probably use a night to herself, he thought trying to curb his more selfish instincts. Maybe he should call and arrange some champagne and an in-room massage for her…provided they had a female masseuse available. Doing something nice for his girl made a night in their home without her marginally less unbearable; but only marginally.

As he was about to pick up the phone to dial out, it rang.

"Mason!" he all but yelled into the receiver.

"That's why I don't like to let you answer our phone. You scare people," Della laughed.

"Never underestimate the importance of fear. People respect someone who terrifies them."

"You're not so tough."

"Yes but only you know that. I'd like to keep it that way. How's it going up there?"

"Easy-peasy Japanesey."

"Boy, there's an oldie…"

"I like oldies…"

"Fortunately for me."

"I'd say."

"Enjoying yourself? Thought I might get you a massage tonight."

"Oh it's lovely! The weather is gorgeous, the room is wonderful and their restaurant looks great. I could work out in the gym, eat my dinner right in bed then have a long bubble bath and sleep without my ear plugs!" Della chuckled.

"I don't snore."

"Right… you keep telling yourself that, Counselor."

Della sounded light and airy for the first time in a while, he noted with some annoyance and hurt.

"Anyway, it's just perfect up here."

"I'll order the massage."

"I saw a very handsome young man in the elevator looked like a masseur. See if you can get him."

Damn her. "How am I supposed to get that particular person?"

"Mmm…he had a beard, was quite tall, dark hair, extraordinarily handsome. My type." As much fun as she was having, this was probably mean. Probably.

"As you wish," said Perry grimly. "When will you be back at the hotel so I can make the appointment?"

Oh he was angry alright. "Well you should probably just find out when he can accommodate me, so to speak."

"Fine." Perry hung up the phone harder than he had intended.

Perry was on hold for the concierge trying to figure out how to describe this guy without sounding like an idiot.

"Concierge."

"Good afternoon, my secretary is staying with you and I would like to arrange a split of champagne and a massage for her as a gift."

"You secretary's name?"

"Miss Street."

The Concierge was silent a moment. "Miss Della Street?"

"That's correct."

"I'm sorry, sir, but the computer says she checked out."

"What? When?" Perry screamed into the phone.

"Well, I do hope I haven't gotten her into any trouble but the computer has her checked out… mmm …over an hour ago. Actually, about ten minutes after she checked in…. Sir?"

Perry was laughing now. "Sorry to have troubled you young man. Thank you."

With a grin as wide as the horizon, Perry dialed their car phone. As soon as she picked it up he could hear the ring of her sexy laughter.

"Hellllloooo?" Della sang into the receiver.

"Young lady you are a brat, you know that don't you?" He could not keep the delight out of his voice.

The effects of those throaty ha, ha, ha's of hers threatened to show on other parts of his body besides his face.

"The only tall, dark, handsome man with a beard whose hands I want on me—in fact, the only man of any kind whose hands I want on me—is you, my own true… am I going to get my wish tonight?"

"After the way you've whetted my appetite, Miss Street? You might get a lot more than you bargained for, young lady."

Perry's voice was so low she could feel it in places nice girls didn't name.

"Pick you up at 5?" He could hear she was having trouble and it gave him great pleasure.

"Della, come home to me. Be careful and pay attention to the road. I'll be waiting for you downstairs at 5 but baby?"

"Mmm?" Della realized it was not an answer but a moan.

"Come home to me," Perry whispered and hung up the phone a happy man.

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"This is delicious," Perry smiled at Della.

"Ha! Nice try, Counselor. But you have been trying so hard…and doing so well. I'm proud of you!"

Della who had gotten up to clear their plates leaned over and nuzzled in his neck before picking up his plate and heading to the sink.

"I wish there were somewhere to take you out dancing tonight."

Perry was standing behind her now, his arms wrapped around her waist.

"Feeling that good?" said Della joy spreading across her face. It had been a very bad year.

"Della, my six month check-up was even better than they expected. I'm going to be fine," Perry could feel her shake a bit when she took a deep breath. "Let Cassie do the dishes tomorrow and come sit with me so we can pick up where we left off on the phone."

"You know better than that. I cannot sit down with dirty dishes in the sink. How do you think I was raised?" Della laughed her throaty, sexy laugh. "You've known me 44 years…

"Loved you for 44 years," Perry interrupted concentrating on the soft silk of her white shirt his hands running up and down her back.

Della smiled and turned into him, "Yes, my darling loved me for 44 years…"

Della put her head against his chest and heard his even breathing, much less shallow than it had been, heard his heart strong and steady through his turtleneck. Maybe the doctors were right. Maybe they had weathered the worst. Running her hands up and down his back she suddenly wanted to stay in that exact position…forever.

Perry knew his girl and just as he knew that those dishes would have to get done, he knew that she was reliving the last year of their lives; and a replay of one 30 years ago almost to the day.