Chapter One

AN: Okay, admittedly, this one is way off the rails in terms of AU storytelling, at least, with respect to certain aspects of Karen and Carlton's character backgrounds. However, while this one may require a bit of eye-squinting and handwavium, at the same time I believe there's enough evidence within the show as it stands, to support this little bit of storytelling.

And well, you know, the whole, "fan-fiction" bit.

Also, we all know the drill, right? Standard disclaimers, when it comes to psych, I've got bubkes outside of the plot bunnies, blah, blah, blah. So without further ado…

Las Vegas

"Your turn, Juliet."

"No… really, it's not anything…"

"Which means it's totally something. Come on, give it up."

Karen laughed as O'Hara turned pinker by the second. "Marlowe's right, Juliet. Judging by your reaction, it's definitely something good."

"Okay, fine." Juliet tossed back her the remains of whatever cocktail the bartender had kept flowing in a never ending stream and straightened her shoulders. "One night in college, I… fooled around with my roommate. My, um… female roommate." Fanning herself, she reached for the fresh drink that had already appeared and tossed back a healthy slug.

Karen grinned as she and Marlowe lifted their glasses and toasted the furiously blushing O'Hara. "And is Shawn aware of this little peccadillo?"

"Are you kidding?" Juliet's brows rose over the rim of her upraised glass. "He'd probably demand a reenactment. He wanted that sort of wish fulfillment, he should have taken his ass off to college like I did."

The three women collapsed in helpless fits of laughter that lasted through another round of drinks. With yet another fresh round before them, Marlowe and Juliet leveled identical gazes in Karen's direction, making it clear neither of them had forgotten she'd yet to offer her own contribution to their little bachelorette party game.

"Oh, Karen…" Marlowe sing-songed as Juliet lifted a brow.

"Sorry, girls, I've got nothin'."

And meant it, too. She'd been married and a parent and a cop and a chief and… and… responsible for so damned long, even an unpaid parking ticket could have qualified as scandalous. Sadly, she couldn't even lay claim to that.Even her divorce fell under the banner of "doing the right thing," for a host of reasons . Evidence of just how boring she'd become, this overnighter to Vegas to celebrate the end of Marlowe's single days was the most impetuous she'd been since…

Well, since...

"Come on, Karen," Juliet protested. "You've got to have at least one indiscretion somewhere in your history."

"I…" she started to defer once more, but instead heard a long-held secret emerging. "Vick wasn't my first married name."

She giggled and gulped more of her drink, suddenly feeling as if a weight had lifted from her shoulders. Only her parents and her ex—well, both of them—had been aware of her first marriage. Her first, disastrous, what on earth could she have been thinking, marriage.

Hell, she knew what she'd been thinking. She'd been flush with lust and love—she thought—and had been thinking forever.

Too bad she'd been the only one.

"Oh, come on—" Juliet leaned forward, her eyes somewhat glazed, but still sharp. "You can't leave it there. You were married?"

"Yeah." Karen smiled, still floating on a cloud of relief and the euphoria of maybe more liquor than was wise. "For six weeks. It was all very impetuous and romantic in a way that things can only be when you're nineteen and madly in love."

"You almost sound as if you've still got some unrequited feelings going on," Marlowe observed as she sipped from her drink.

Karen sighed and leaned back against the velvet banquette cushions. "For the boy he was… maybe. You know what they say about never really forgetting your first love." Although Lord knows she'd done her damnedest. And for the most part, she'd succeeded beyond anyone's expectations. Or at least her own. Back then, the thought of forgetting him—of tucking him into a dark, hidden corner of her heart and trying to pretend he'd never happened—that they'd never happened—had seemed nigh on impossible.

"What was he like?" Juliet asked as she distributed yet another fresh round and good God, how many did that make? Too many probably, but Karen was beyond caring at this point. She hadn't felt this free and easy—so much like the girl she'd once been—in far, far too long.

"Lovely." Another smile—a secret one—as her heart and mind wandered down a path on which she'd so long kept the door firmly closed. "So smart and almost unbearably sweet—quiet and shy and kind of awkward around other people, but if you got him going on a topic he was interested in or managed to get him alone…" She sighed. "So, so lovely."

"Something tells me the lovely wasn't just about the smart and sweet," Juliet observed with another raised eyebrow glance.

Heat that had nothing to do with the amount of alcohol she'd consumed bloomed deep in Karen's midsection and spread outward, leaving her limp and boneless.

So tall and rangy… the wavy coal black hair and thick brows and inky lashes setting off wide cheekbones dusted with freckles and a cheeky smile and the largest, bluest eyes I'd ever seen in my entire life.

I spent so many hours just draped over him doing nothing more than gazing into those eyes, attempting to decipher all the mysteries hidden behind the myriad shades of blue and gray.

Thought I had my whole life in front of me to spend on those mysteries.

The throbbing bass of the music echoed the heavy beating of her heart as she remembered far more than she'd allowed herself in years. As a matter of fact, if anyone had actually been aware and had asked, she would have sworn she'd forgotten most of it. She'd had to make herself forget, if only to get over the devastating hurt when it had ended. Then after, when the rest of her life had begun, there'd been no room to remember.

It had all been about self-preservation.

"Wow. That's amazing."

Blinking, Karen emerged from the fuzzy cloud of her memories, except they hadn't seemed all that fuzzy. They'd seemed as crisp and sharp and achingly real as if each beautiful moment had only occurred the day before.

Taking another restorative sip of her drink, Karen replied with a idle, "What is?" to Marlowe's slightly awed statement.

"I mean, it's crazy, but if I didn't know better, I'd swear you were describing Carlton."

Karen realized then she must have been ruminating out loud, although for the life of her, she couldn't quite recall exactly what she'd said. At the very least, enough to have Juliet nodding in wide-eyed agreement with Marlowe's assessment.

Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe it was the loosening of the tight bands of responsibility against which she'd been chafing more and more of late and who knew, maybe it was even the residual jealousy she could only now admit to herself she'd been experiencing ever since Carlton had announced that he and Marlowe were getting married and she'd offered up what she would have sworn were sincere congratulations, but once again, Karen found herself confessing a secret she'd held close for far too long.

"I am."