A/N: So today, 18-July marks my fic anniversary. Three years ago today, I hesitantly posted Graduation Day. I think this story will push me close to 900,000 posted words and marks the sixtieth story I've posted. I wanted to do something special for today, and it turned out to be even more special, since these are the first words I have written on anything since my tag to the finale. I hadn't intended to be gone this long—and I have been off and on posting even before then. Real life piled one thing on top of another, but there was more. I have been suffering from severe depression and I kept tumbling further and further into the pit. I know I haven't been posting, or replying to your wonderful reviews, but I am hoping that this time I really am pushing my hands out into the sunlight and crawling out of the pit.

I really don't have words for my gratitude to this fandom. In the last three years I have taken risks I might never have chanced, and met people who have changed my life. Best of all I have made friends who have become family, and can't imagine a life without them anymore. Huge hug to you all. I love you. An extra tight squeeze goes to Trasan, Merisha and Abni.

A/N II: Title and quote lyrics from Iron Maiden's Can I Play with Madness. Disclaimer: I don't own the characters of Kripke's universe. Sigh.

WARNING: Dark. Suicidal thoughts

Can I Play With Madness?

The gun was heavy in his hand, the metal cold, the smell so familiar it was almost a part of him. He'd grown up with this smell, even before he knew, even before he understood what lurked in the world, the smell was there. Surprisingly, it was a comforting smell, the smell of home, the smell of a warm summer day with butterflies flitting through the flowers and his father beside him. His father had carefully explained each part of the weapon, and even handed him the cloth smelling of oil, then put his large hand over Dean's and helped him oil the barrel. He remembered the warm flood of pride as he helped.

As he'd grown older, the heavy weight of the gun had meant he could protect his brother. He'd slept with a shotgun by the bed when his father left them alone in myriad motel rooms. When his hands were big enough, his father had placed the handgun in them, teaching him how to use it—teaching him not to be afraid of the kick when he fired. As they shot, his father had repeated the same lesson over and over.

"Don't carry a gun, Dean, unless you intend to use it, don't use it unless you intend to kill."

Dean sighed, staring at the weapon. "Don't worry, dad. I won't," he said to the empty room.

It was dark, the only light a small pool spilling in from the streetlight outside, intermittently flashing as a semi briefly blocked it on its way past the motel. The sound from the freeway sounded like rushing water, like the one camping trip they'd taken as kids. Their father had been hunting something, Dean couldn't even remember what now, but he did remember playing in the river with Sam, making hotdogs and burning marshmallows over a campfire. Sam's laughter had sparkled like the dappled sunlight on the river. The moment stood out in Dean's memory. Sam had been happy, Dean had been happy, it was one of the moments he'd actually known joy.

Those moments were fleeting then, non-existent now. He was so fucking tired. Tired of the hunt, tired of the road, tired of fighting with Sam and facing their future. Since their father's death, Sam waffled between anger at John and a fierce loyalty he'd rarely showed when they were young. That anger, and Sam's resentment of his upbringing occasionally tasted bitter to Dean. While John had been there, authority figure extraordinaire, Dean had been the day-to-day authority, the one who put Sam to bed, who made breakfast and sent him off to school. Dean had actually done the same thing for his father, making sure he had a lunch when he was working, making sure he was okay when on a hunt. Paying the bills, doing the shopping, it was simply the reality of his life, he had assumed it was that way for everyone. He sighed he'd been old, seen too much, been tired before his voice had changed.

He was so fucking tired. Everything hurt, new wounds, old scars physical and mental, they were all throbbing in time to a heart that had no voice, that had nothing any more. Every decision now cut deeper than the last, taking a little more of his soul with it. Most choices were literally life or death and that made it so much worse. Last night he'd chosen the wrong member of a pack of creatures to watch. Someone had paid for that choice. A girl named Violet with a musical laugh and perfume that smelled like summer had been killed on her way home from a party. His fault.

It all was, wasn't it?

Wrong choices, bad choices, it all came back to him, his actions. The blame too, his father, Sam, sometimes it felt like everyone. His fault. Even things he knew somewhere deep in his objective mind weren't his fault still ached like they were. Every moment of every day now was filled with an odd pressing nausea in his chest and a stifling pressure in his throat.

It had finally gotten to the point when the fight was more than his heart could handle.

He the gun and held it against his temple feeling the metal as it pressed into his skin. Once when they were children they had jokingly played Russian Roulette with a toy gun. It was one of the very few times his father had spanked him. Of course, Dean's thought was as bitter as the taste in his mouth, it was shortly after that Sam had started hating their life with a passion. Their fun was taken away and replaced with drills and real guns and lectures over and over about safety. Dean knew them all by heart and he had wanted to scream at his father that he fucking knew you weren't supposed to play with real guns that way.

He hadn't screamed then, he rarely screamed now. Except for the unceasing shriek that echoed through his head every moment of every day. The shriek that begged people—his father, his brother, their few friends, each victim, each person they left after a hunt—to understand, that begged them to let him just be, let him rest.

No hunting, no responsibility. Just basketball and burgers with his brother and a job at some place completely normal. An auto shop or maybe even own his own garage. Sam could live down the block, open a legal practice or that stupid bookstore he'd talked about off and on since he was five. "Someday, Dean, I am going to own a store like this, and sell cool books and get to read all the comics first."

That would never happen, never could happen now. Their lives had taken a different turn and god, Sammy, he was sorry. He wanted what was best for his brother, and now the best thing he could do was free Sam from the burden. His fault. If he had never gone to get Sam at Stanford... If he had...

The ifs were what would kill him.

That and the sure knowledge of his blame, of the pain that never went away, and the weight of everything he carried.

He moved the gun to his forehead, leaning into it, pushing the barrel tight enough against his flesh that, under other circumstances and a different ending, it would bruise.

There were no bruises when you blew your brains out.

As he leaned into it, he saw the note. Sam deserved a note. He hadn't given his brother any of the things he actually deserved, a home, a life, safety. But he could leave him a note. Dean knew it was a little chicken-shit to do this now, when Sam had given him the great gift of going to the girl's family alone, telling them how sorry they were that she had died. Dean had tried to go, Sam had said no way, and they fought. Sam had stormed off.

It made it easier. Not that Sam was mad, or that they had fought, just easier to do knowing Sam was dong something good while it happened. He was sorry in a way, and had once promised Sam he would never do it before calling.

Yeah, they'd talked about it.

One night when they were both drunk, one night after Dean had stopped Sam from running. He actually suspected he'd stopped Sam from doing a lot worse, but they'd settled on running away and talked about that, both knowing they were talking about something more, and Dean had promised he wouldn't "run away" without calling first.

Did writing a note count? Would it count if he texted?


I'm sorry. There are so many sorrys, so many things... I can't anymore. I won't. You don't need any of this, when I'm gone things will be easier.

Please, Sammy, make them easier.

I... I... Take care, little brother.

God, what if he missed, he'd read about that, laughed about it with Sam once. Someone missing their own head.

He moved the gun to his mouth and closed his lips around it, tasting the metal, feeling it against his teeth.

"Never jerk the trigger, Dean, always squeeze it slow, controlled," his father's voice played in his head.

Dean slowly tightened his finger on the trigger, felt the tension as it increased, felt the movement of the hammer as it prepared to slam down and end this simply, cleanly. He sighed and closed his eyes. How could he do this to Sam, how could he leave his brother to face everything alone? Maybe this was a huge mistake and he should...

"What are you doing?" The voice wasn't angry, wasn't afraid, it was gentle, hesitant. A warm hand closed on his shoulder.

Sam. How long had his brother been standing there? Dean leaned his head against Sam's arm, the gun still in his mouth, his finger still on the trigger. His brother knew how tired he was, knew how much he wanted to...

He pulled the gun out of his mouth and stayed leaning against his brother's arm. "Cleaning my gun," Dean said, his voice tight.

Sam squeezed his shoulder so tight it hurt. "Yeah," Sam said, sitting down in the chair next to him, but not letting go of the grip he had on Dean. "I was too earlier."

Dean met his brother's eyes and saw weariness and pain there, dark circles that marred his face, reflecting the bruises on his soul. "You were?" Dean asked. Sam nodded without words. Swallowing. "What stopped you?"

"I thought you might want a beer."

"You..." Dean let his hand drop, the gun clattering down on the wood table. Sam looked down at it, and Dean saw his brother's eye flick over the note. "Sam..."

"They have pie too, including something called the deep-fried slice," his brother said softly, his eyes still on the table, the note, the gun.

"Deep-fried pie?"

"Yeah. You want to go get some?"

That wasn't what he was really asking, wasn't what he really wanted to know. Weird, even after everything he knew his brother so well that he understood the question and knew what his answer would mean. "Deep-fried pie? Dude, how can I resist? Do you want some?" he asked, because he had to know too, had to have confirmation from Sam that they would, that they could go on and face this.

Sam looked up then, the tears sparkling in his eyes as bright as his laughter had once been. "Deep-fried pie, Dean?" He smiled tremulously "No, I think I'll have a beer and something else."

"You are so going to eat the deep-fried pie." Dean smiled and pushed himself up, when his brother stood he pulled him into a brief, tight hug. Sam returned it, nearly breaking Dean's ribs.

It was over in an instant and they turned as one to the door. They were stronger together, stronger facing it all back to back. It would never be easier for either of them alone. Never. "You think the pie has whipped cream on it?"

"Oh, god." Sam sounded horrified. "I hope not."

They both chuckled as they walked to the car. Dean opened the driver's side and Sam dropped into the passenger seat. When Dean pulled the door closed, Sam's closed in time with his. He grinned. "Double whipped cream and a cherry."


"With chocolate syrup."

"And a water."

"You think we can get ice cream on it, too?"

"Let's go to that yogurt bar instead."

"Hell no." Dean paused for a moment. He hadn't said it in so long it felt almost foreign. "Bitch."

Sam hesitated for just an instant, and then the expected response shot back. "Jerk."

Dean turned on the engine and pulled out, shoving a tape in the player as he did. Iron Maiden blasted through the car, rattling the windows. He started singing and heard his brother's voice join his.

Give me the sense to wonder
To wonder if I'm free
Give me a sense of wonder
To know I can be me
Give me the strength to hold my head up
Spit back in their face
Don't need no key to unlock this door
Gonna break down the walls
Break out of this bad place