Disclaimer: I don't own any CSI character. This is the sequel to Mad World and reading that is vital to understanding Inner Peace. This is rated M for language, violence, and sexual content.

Chapter 1

I'm driving back from school, doing my best to not get into an accident. Mom and Catherine wanted me to do my best to get back in time to go to some school function that Lindsey is somehow a part of. Catherine wasn't too up on the giving of details to what it was exactly that I was supposed to be going to. She just told me that Nikki was supposed to meet us there and that they would reserve me a chair. Often times, I still wonder if they all somehow got fired from their jobs and have just discovered a crafty way of hiding it from me. It seems like they've got a lot of time on their hands.

Me? I don't quite have it as easy. Being a full time student and working a part-time job just isn't as easy as my parents led me to believe that it would be. They were all smiling faces and happy words when they encouraged me to do all this, but they seemed to leave out the parts about lack of sleep and lack of time. It's been almost a week since I've gotten a chance to see Nik. I've been so busy at work that I just decided to sleep in the spare room there. I can barely even remember the last time I saw Catherine, Mom and Lindsey in the same room all at the same time. Usually when I get a chance to hang out with any of them, it's individually and for short bursts of time.

So this thing that Lindsey is involved in at school better be worth the hassle of getting out of class early and out of work completely. Don't get me wrong, I care deeply about my younger sister, but at this point sleep is starting to mean more to me, not that I would ever mention that to Lindsey's face.

I make it to Lindsey's school and as promised my family is waiting in front of the building for me. Catherine levels a glare at me that lets me know she's not happy that I'm late. I put a big smile on my face anyway and kiss and hug both my parents then turn to Nikki and wrap my arms around her. We walk into the school building and Catherine leads us to the school's cafeteria where a bunch of art is on display. In the very front of the room is a painting that seems to be some kind of rendition of, well me. It has a big blue ribbon on it proclaiming that it's won first place in the regional competition.

Okay, so I take back even thinking that I would want sleep over anything involving Lindsey at all. I walk up to the painting and bend over to get a close look at it. It's like looking through a window that is broken into four sections. In the upper left-hand section there's me standing against a wall with some of my hair covering my face. My body looks strong but the one eye that is exposed from between my hair is glistening and there's a tear running down the curve of my cheek.

In the upper right hand pane I'm standing outside on the roof of some house overlooking an ocean and am screaming up at the sky. Rain falls down on my face and the wind is blowing my hair wildly in all directions. There are cuts on my wrists and hands and blood is flowing down the open wounds. I'm wearing nothing but a white tank top and boxer shorts that are so wet they are clinging to my body like a second skin.

That image brings back some memories that I can't clearly remember these days. The girl in this image is in pain. I remember that pain. I won't ever be able to forget it, nor do I really want to.

My eyes move down to the lower left-hand image and there I am on the roof of a building that is clearly labeled hospital. I'm in a wheelchair and my arms and hands are bandaged. I'm in a hospital gown that has spots of blood on it, but the big difference about this image and the others is that I'm not alone. Nikki is standing behind me with each of her hands on the back handles of the wheelchair. Catherine is bending down on my right and her hand is covering my own. Lindsey is sitting on my left and her head is on my shoulder. Mom is in front of me. Both of her hands rest on my knees and she's leaning down and placing a kiss on top of my forehead. All of our eyes are closed and there are tears running down all of our faces.

The last image, the lower right-hand image, is bright and colorful. I'm lying down in a park with a big smile on my face. The scars on my arms and hands are exposed but don't look angry and menacing. Somehow, Lindsey has made them look as if they were just a part of my skin as if I was born with them. Nikki is lying next to me, except this time she's in her police uniform. Catherine and Mom are off to the side with their hands joined smiling at me and Nikki. Lindsey is behind Nikki and me holding what looks like a water balloon and is about to throw it directly at my face. We're all happy and we're all together.

The title of Lindsey's piece of work is "Towards Family".

I never even knew she was working on anything like it. No one ever said anything to me and they all must have known about it. Lindsey isn't very good a keeping secrets, even though there are some secrets of hers that I wish she didn't feel the need to tell me. I swear that when Lindsey told me she lost her virginity I couldn't look Catherine in the face for almost a whole month. I thought that if Catherine got a clear look in my eyes then she would somehow guess what it was I was trying to not tell her.

"Is it okay?" Lindsey asks tentatively from behind me. "Do you like it? Are you angry?"

"Are you selling it?" I ask, not taking my eyes off of the painting.

"We had the option to auction it, but I don't want to. I want to give it to you."

I nod.

"Are you angry?" She asks me again. "Is it okay? Mom and Sara said you wouldn't be angry, but I didn't really believe them. They said that since you loved me then you would love it, but now that I think about it that's not really true. You could hate it and still love me."

Finally, I turn away from the painting and reach out towards Lindsey. I wrap my arm around her shoulders and whisper into her ear, "It's the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. This deserves much more than a ribbon, Linds." I pull away and place a soft kiss on her cheek.

When we pull apart we're each smiling and I can tell that Lindsey is more than happy to win my seal of approval. She runs away from us to seek out some person in the crowd and tells me to stay exactly where I am. Once she's far enough away, Mom leans over to me. "Are you really okay with this?"

"There's nothing in that painting except the truth, Mom."

When we all decided that it was time for me to go away for school and get out on my own, we all sat down and talked about what that would mean. My parents weren't too willing to let me go at the time, but they knew that it was ultimately my decision. They may have started to push me towards normalizing my life, but I'm the one that put it into hyper-drive. Once I decided to get on with school and everything I just sort of told them that I had to accept everything that happened and not try to hide away from anything. That ultimately meant that I had to face the truth of what I…what we all had been through and not try to hide from any of it. I couldn't hide from what my grandparents had put me through. I couldn't hide from what my mother had done and I couldn't hide from what I had done from myself.

Like the scars that Lindsey drew onto my body, I had to accept them as part of me. Everything had to be exposed instead of covered up. That was the only way I could become someone else than the person my past had made me.

Lindsey comes running back over to me pulling along a woman I can't remember ever seeing before. "This is my art teacher Ms. Carla," Lindsey tells me then turns to Ms. Carla, "Ms. Carla, this is my sister Melinda. She's a real person."

I hold out my hand for Ms. Carla to take. She smiles at me and softly takes my hand then quickly pulls away. She looks nervous for some reason. I didn't know I was that intimidating. "I've heard a lot about you." She tells me, her eyes shifting over to the painting then quickly back to me.

"I'll take that as a compliment." I smile then turn to Catherine, Mom and Nikki who have been standing silently behind me. "I'm not sure if you've met the rest of the clan," I move back a bit. "These are our parents Catherine and Sara and my girlfriend Nikki."

Ms. Carla pushes her glasses up then nods at each of them. "Yes, I've met them. They were at the school's first open house for the art students." She smiles at me. "I was told you were out of town."

Before I can respond someone calls out for Ms. Carla and she's hurrying across the cafeteria to probably do more meet and greets. Lindsey runs off as well and tells me that I need to, again, stay where I am and wait. She brings a few of her friends over who bring some of their parents. For an hour Lindsey has me meeting people that I'll probably never see again.

When we finally get out of there, Lindsey has talked me into going out with her and a few (hundred) of her friends. Nikki and I meet up with them at some restaurant that I didn't even know existed. It is also a pool hall and teenage club type place. Mom and Catherine gave their pre-approval of the place so I didn't think it would be too bad. They failed to mention that Nikki and I would be surrounded by a bunch of teenagers that fail to realize that fun can consist of speaking at decibels below ear drum bursting levels.

Lindsey may have wanted me to come with her, but I have hardly seen her since we walked in the door. She ran away with some of her friends. She's come to see me every once in a while, though, to get some more money from me. Nikki and I are playing pool. "You really suck at this game." Nikki tells me as she drops the eight ball into another corner pocket winning yet another game.

"Sucking is all relative." I say as I take a seat in front of her on top of the pool table. "Anyway, you get more chance to practice since you go out with all of your cop buddies all the time to bars and…wait do you guys anywhere else besides bars?" I wait for a moment before I continue. "Oh I remember you go to strip clubs too."

Nikki's body sags against mine. "Are we seriously going to talk about this again?"

"No," I sigh, "we're not." I jump down from the table and wrap my arms around her body. "You already know I don't like some of the people you hang around."

Nikki's arms go around me and she pulls me closer to her. "And you should know that I didn't like how 'Ms. Carla' was checking you out all night."

"She was?" I didn't notice that at all. She seemed nervous and shy the few times she came over to talk to me or so, but I didn't know what any of that was about. I assumed she was just nervous about meeting the real life model that Lindsey was using as her inspiration.

"She was all over you, Mel."

"Oh." A smile sneaks onto my face. "That's probably because I'm really attractive."

Nikki laughs. "I can't argue with that."

"And you shouldn't."

Nikki leans forward and kisses me. When she pulls away she asks, "Tell me again why we're in some teen club when we haven't seen each other at all for a week."

"Lindsey wanted to spend some time with me."

"And where is she?"

"I have no idea."

"We should leave."

Lindsey runs up to us and immediately Nikki and I pull apart. Nikki is reaching in her back pocket to pull out her wallet. Lindsey has already managed to take all the cash I was carrying on me and I refuse to let her loose with my debit card. I'm not as rich as Lindsey might think I am. It's amazing how hospital bills, school bills and therapist bills can add up over the years. Most of my inheritance went towards making me well. There's a certain kind of poetic justice if one were to really think about it. My grandparents' money went to making me well. That's something they probably never thought would end up happening to the money. They probably thought I would waste it all on…well on something else.

"Mandy wants me to stay the night with her," Lindsey tells me as she absently accepts the ten dollar bill Nikki holds out to her. "Mom said she wanted me at home tonight."

"Then you better tell Mandy you can't stay with her." I say making sure to keep my voice firm. Honestly, I'd rather let Mandy take Lindsey with her so that I don't have to drop Lindsey off back home. I rather just let Nikki take me back to our apartment so that we can have a real conversation without a few hundred onlookers.

"Mom's just being overprotective and hostile since she found out about Zach."

I turn to Nikki. "Catherine found out about Zach?" Nikki nods. "Does she know that I knew before she did?"

Nikki runs her hands through her hair. "About that, you might not want to be alone in a room with her for a while. She does carry a gun."

"Well did she know that you knew before she knew?" I can't be the only one that is in trouble. "Wait. How did she even find out about it?"

"Nikki forced me to tell her because she thought it was time I get on birth control." Lindsey shoots Nikki a menacing glare that leaves Nikki completely unaffected. "She's lucky that killing her would be considered a capital offense."

"Wait." I don't have the brain power right now to handle the kind of confusion I'm going through right now. "I thought you went to Planned Parenthood right after you told me. You said you were going to, Lindsey, and I believed you. That was the deal we made so that I would let you tell Sara and Catherine about you sleeping with Zach on your own."

Lindsey looks away from me and starts staring at her shoes. I cross my arms in front of me and Lindsey at least has the decency to look somewhat ashamed. "Go tell Mandy that there is no way in Hell that you're staying with her tonight because there is no way in Hell that your sister is going to convince your mother that you're responsible enough to handle being unsupervised." Lindsey opens her mouth and I'm sure she's about to say something that will make me a lot angrier than I already am, so I hold up my hand to forestall her words. "Just leave. We'll meet you outside."

She stomps away from us and as soon as she's lost in the crowd Nikki puts her arms back around me. "How was it that I missed all this?" I ask more upset at myself now than I actually am at Lindsey. There's so much stuff I'm missing now. If I had been around more than there would have been no way that Lindsey could have hid that painting from me or anything else for that matter. I'd actually know what was going on in this family.

It's been three years since I started to piece my life back together and entered college. Perhaps I've gotten a little carried away with the living thing and have forgotten a little about the loving thing. It's been hard enough just trying to maintain my relationship with Nikki. The other day when I was talking with Mom on the phone I actually called her Sara. I think it kind of freaked us both out a little since the last time I used her first name was when we weren't really on the best of terms. She asked me if I was upset with her and then followed that question up with asking me if I was still taking my medication. That just led to us fighting about her trusting me to handle my own life.

"You've been busy, Mel." Nikki eventually responds. Somehow, I get the feeling that she really wants to tell me something else but is too busy trying to be supportive and leaves out the part about how she really feels.

I lean more of my weight against her. "Don't you really mean that I've been a self-absorbed ass too busy to pay attention to the people I love the most in the world?"

Nikki chuckles softly. "Remember those are your words, besides I think you're beating yourself up enough without my help right now."

"Okay." I kiss Nikki then pull away from her and grab onto her hand. "First we drop Lindsey off at home and then we go back home and figure out how I'm going to fix all this."

Nikki lets me pull her to the exit but once we're outside in the cool night air she lets go of my hand and wraps her arms back around my body. "Baby," she squeezes me to her, "we'll fix this."

"I know." I rub at my eyes because I don't want to start crying. "I'm just curious how I managed to get everything so fucked in a span of three years."

"It wasn't just you," Nikki whispers softly into my ear. "We all let things get a little fucked."

Lindsey comes storming out of the teen club, brushes past us and then walks ahead of us to the car. We follow her and she remains intentionally silent throughout the ride back to our parents' house. She gets out of the car and slams her door shut. I'm still feeling enough guilt to let her get away with her attitude. She stomps up to the house and opens the front door then slams it shut too.

Nikki and I wait in the driveway for a few moments then my cell phone rings and I answer it without even looking at who's calling because I already have really good idea who it is. "What happened?" Mom asks from the other end of my phone.

"Lindsey wanted to stay at Mandy's and I told her 'no'." I explain not really feeling the need to talk about my own issues about the night as well.

Mom makes some kind of grunting noise then asks, "So are you and Nikki going to stay in the driveway or are you coming inside?"

I look over at Nikki. "We're going to go back to the apartment."

"Okay. How long are you going to be sticking around this time?" If I didn't know better, and I'm starting to think that I don't, Mom sounds a little bitter. Perhaps her tone really isn't about me. I did just send an angry teenager into her house to deal with.

"I'm supposed to be back to work tomorrow." I reply softly. Nikki reaches out and puts her hand on my thigh after putting the car in reverse.

"Call us before you leave." Mom sounds a little angrier. Perhaps her anger is directed at me.

"Is something wrong?"

"We'll talk tomorrow." She sighs into the phone.

"Did you and Catherine get into another fight?" I've at least been around enough and have spent enough time talking to Lindsey and Nikki on the phone to know that Mom and Cath aren't on the best of terms right now. The way everyone tells it, they kind of think that it's Mom's fault though I'm inclined to think that a demise of their relationship could only be blamed on a cruel trick by some higher power.

"Tomorrow, Mel." Mom says then hangs up the phone as I hear Lindsey screaming something angrily in the background.

I shut my flip phone and tuck it back into my pocket. Nikki drives us back to our apartment and as soon as we get inside we collapse onto our bed. Nikki leans over me and slowly undresses me. If I were in the mood I'd be more than interested in undressing her too, but tonight isn't about sex and isn't about me wanting her. She kisses my face then my neck then finally hovers over my lips. We stare at each other for a moment then our lips meet and I finally release my self to her. I'll let her make me feel better about tonight and all the previous nights that I've noticed something going wrong with our family but turned a blind eye to it. I'll let us have tonight and perhaps tomorrow I'll let her know that I'm aware of the fact that the problems between us are just as bad as everything else. Maybe tomorrow, I'll let her know that her unfaithfulness isn't the big secret that she thought it was, and perhaps as I'm admitting all that I can admit that my faithfulness hasn't been so stellar either.

If I wasn't there every time I did it, I'd be asking myself too if I had remembered to take my medicine. But then again, I know that everything I do can't be blamed on being bi-polar. Some things that I do are simply actions that result from me acting like an idiot and trying to pretend again like I'm someone that I'm not.

"I love you," Nikki says softly as she runs her hand down my body, "more than anything."

I grab onto her and pull her closer to me. "I love you, Nik."

The thing is, I know that she's telling the truth and what's worse is that I know I'm telling the truth too. So that just means that love isn't our problem.