Every single one of these places looks the same to Sam.
They’ve criss-crossed the country enough times that random places in the middle of nowhere start to look familiar, but a rest stop is always a rest stop, and they blur together in his head.
The engine cuts off as Dean parks the car, and Sam peels himself away from the window, leaving a smudgy mark on the glass from where the side of his head had been pressed for the past couple of hours. He blinks and stretches, rubbing at his sore neck as he stares at the clock on the dashboard. It’s a little after 8:30, and the sky has turned dark, the parking lot illuminated by buzzing fluorescent lights.
Dean climbs out of the car, calling to Sam, “You coming?”
Sam groans and pushes the passenger door open, stumbling out on numb legs. “Where’re we?” he mumbles.
“Illinois. I-90 outside of Belvidere. You slept all the way through Chicago,” Dean answers. He jerks a thumb back at the highway oasis, the long, rectangular building that stretches over the interstate like a great big fast food bridge. “You coming or what? I’m starving.”
Sam nods, staggering after his brother as he tries to shake some feeling back into his legs. Ahead of him, a herd of high school girls in purple t-shirts pours out of a tour bus, making a lot of noise that his headache really doesn’t appreciate. He shoves his hands in his pockets and concentrates on the ground, putting one foot in front of the other as asphalt changes over to sidewalk and then to tile as he goes through the automatic doors. He’s looking forward to getting some food and eating somewhere besides a moving vehicle. Between finishing up one hunt and researching for the next, he feels like he’s barely had time to eat anything since breakfast. They’re working almost constantly these days, one job bleeding into the next like they’re running out of time.
And, well, for Dean it’s true.
There are only four months left.
Sam shakes his head and takes a deep breath, trying to dismiss the thought as he enters the building. He blinks in the bright light and looks up, taking in the fast food kiosks and convenience stores lining either side of the building. It’s part shopping mall, part airport terminal in design, one of those places that exists completely outside of reality. Like a little bubble of spacetime trapped between one leg of a road trip and the next.
Dean claps a hand on his shoulder, startling him, and Sam looks over at his brother.
“Coffee,” Dean says, pointing at the Starbucks stand halfway down the row. “You get us some grub, okay? I’ll be right back.” He points toward the Panda Express to Sam’s left, and then heads off in search of vast quantities of caffeine, fuel for the other two hundred miles they still need to drive.
Sam turns and heads over to stand in line behind a couple of the teenage girls, blinking blearily up at the illuminated menu and trying to remember what Dean usually orders. His whole brain still feels sluggish and sleepy, and he yawns, pulling a hand out of his pocket to press it against his mouth.
Fried rice looks good.
Staring at the trays of food under the heat lamps behind the counter, he suddenly realizes exactly how hungry he is. His stomach rumbles angrily at him, and he peers past the teenagers to the other three people in line ahead of them, huffing out a frustrated sigh.
He gazes across the room, looking around for his brother until he finds Dean halfway through the Starbucks line, studying the coffee mugs as he waits to place his order. Looks like Dean’s going to take a while, too.
Sam turns back towards the line, and at the sudden movement his headache tightens its grip around his skull, his vision going spotty and purple for a second. He takes a careful breath, holding it in and closing his eyes before he slowly breathes out, trying to shake off the weird, dizzy feeling. His headache must be worse than he realized.
Opening his eyes again, he notices that the line has inched forward, and he moves with it, looking up at the menu again. Maybe he’ll get a really big meal to make up for his practically nonexistent lunch.
And that’s when it happens.
One minute he’s waiting impatiently in line, and the next, his whole body goes cold and clammy. His vision becomes purple and green and hazy, and his limbs start tingling, muscles and nerves protesting. He lets out a soft groan and abandons the line, lurching towards one of the nearby empty tables and only just making it before he collapses into one of the chairs, the legs screeching noisily against the tile.
Sam leans forward, burying his head in his arms and resting against the tabletop, trying to quell the dizzy, sick feeling that’s washing over him in waves. He wants to look up, call for Dean, but he’s afraid that if he moves he might pass out. Instead he tries to concentrate on taking slow, careful breaths, focusing on pushing past the feeling of weakness that’s crawling its way through his body.
You’re okay, you’re okay… you’re okay…
He tries to lift his head, pushing his arms up from the table a little, and while he doesn’t completely pass out, he doesn’t think he can stand, either. He stays motionless at the table, definitely not looking out the vast windows at the headlights of cars zooming past on the highway underneath his feet. Eventually Dean will come back, if he just sits here and waits long enough.
Another wave of dizziness washes over him and he closes his eyes and leans his forehead against the palms of his hands, elbows on the table to keep himself upright. Nobody notices him sitting there, too wrapped up in their own quests for food to pay any attention to the one random guy sitting at a table by himself.
One breath turns into another and after a while Sam loses count, lost in the cold, clammy feeling of helplessness until there are footsteps nearby and he hears the one word he’s been waiting for.
He opens his eyes but doesn’t move, and yeah, those are definitely Dean’s feet beside the table.
And that’s definitely Dean’s voice.
Sam clears his throat carefully, swallowing around the lingering feeling of nausea, and whispers, “Dizzy… hungry…”
Dean’s hand is on the back of his neck, then, warm and familiar. “Jesus, kiddo. Why didn’t you say something sooner?”
“Didn’t know,” Sam whispers guiltily. The speckled pattern of the tile floor swims in his vision, and he’s about to close his eyes again when Dean taps his arm carefully.
“Here, buddy, drink this, okay? Small sips, though,” Dean says, and Sam slowly, carefully lifts his head until he sees Dean sliding a paper Starbucks cup of coffee and a donut across the table towards him. “ And eat. You need to get something in your system.”
Sam reaches out a shaky hand towards the glazed donut, his forehead still resting against the other palm. He breaks off a little piece of the donut and brings it to his lips, taking a careful bite and chewing slowly. It’s too sweet, but it’s food, and he chases it down with a sip of coffee.
“You’re not gonna pass out on me, are you?” Dean asks, leaning towards Sam to try and get a better look at his face.
Sam shakes his head. “…I’ll try not to…”
“If I go get us some real food, you’ll stay right here and still be conscious when I get back?” He sounds worried, but at Sam’s careful nod, he nudges the donut a little closer to his brother and continues, “Okay. I’ll be right back. Keep eating, alright?”
Dean leaves and he’s alone again, but when he turns his head he can still see his brother, getting into the Panda Express line behind a whole new set of people. It’s reassuring, knowing that Dean is nearby this time if he actually does pass out. He turns back to the donut and coffee, trying to keep eating. The more food he gets in his stomach, the better he starts to feel. The nausea fades and the dizziness isn’t quite so disorienting, even if he still can’t quite get rid of that weak, shaky feeling just yet.
He continues to take small bites of the donut, watching the small groups of people as they move through the rest stop. The families stopping for a break from a road trip, their kids making a beeline straight for the candy machines and the ripoff crane games. The tour groups, all gathered together in their matching shirts, making too much noise and taking stupid pictures. The truckers, alone yet at home in this environment, lounging at tables with a hot meal as they take a break from the road.
After the donut is gone, he downs a bit more of the coffee before resting his head in his folded arms, sleepy but no longer feeling quite so sick. He waits, staring at Dean over the sleeves of his jacket, until his brother heads back towards the table carrying a tray full of food. Dean gives him a small grin as he nears the table, setting it down across from Sam.
“Alright, we got fried rice, egg rolls, sesame chicken…” Dean continues naming the dishes as he unloads the tray, setting up the plastic takeout containers in front of Sam before he takes a seat behind his own meal.
Sam pushes himself upright, dragging a container of fried rice closer and accepting the plastic fork that Dean hands over to him. He pops the lid off the fried rice and starts taking slow bites.
Dean glances up at him, asking bluntly. “When was the last time you ate?” He opens up his own container of food and stabs at it, silently waiting for a response. “You were just planning on working until you dropped, is that it?”
Sam scowls at his brother, swallow another bite of food. “No! I just… you wanted to work a new case, I was trying to find us one. I just didn’t pay attention to the time today, that’s all. Wasn’t that hungry when we stopped for lunch, and I didn’t realize how long it had been since then. I’m fine.” To prove it, he sits up a little straighter and takes a big bite of sesame chicken. The shaky feeling is almost gone now, and it’s being replaced by annoyance at getting lectured for something so stupid.
“Yeah, you’re fine now,” Dean shoots back, gesturing with his fork at the plethora of food in front of them. “What if I hadn’t been here, huh? You would have just passed out in the middle of the rest stop with no one around to look out for you?”
“No,” Sam answers, but to be honest, he’s not sure what he would have done.
“Sammy,” Dean sighs, “You gotta be careful. I’m not… what happens when I’m not here to make sure you eat, huh?” He rubs a hand over his mouth and looks away out the wide windows into the darkness of the highway and the fields beyond.
“Dean...” Sam starts, but doesn’t know how to finish. They sit there in awkward silence, the significance of Dean’s words hanging there, a painful reminder of what’s going to happen soon.
They keep eating, neither one quite looking at the other, until Dean clears his throat and says in a voice that’s maybe a little rougher than it should be, “Just promise me you’re not gonna run yourself into the ground, okay?”
“Yeah,” Sam says quietly, swallowing around the tight feeling in his throat that has absolutely nothing to do with his dinner. He pokes at the food on his plate, pushing it around with his fork, trying to think of some way to change the conversation.
There’s not a lot to say.