Diners & Coffee Shops
One Of The Boys is a post-Season 12 canon-divergent series comprised of stand-alone fics, in which after defeating Lucifer, Crowley closed Hell and joined the Winchesters. Diners and Coffee Shops is the second fic in the series, but details the events leading up to the first fic in the series, Pyre. You know, just to make it complicated.
Author's note about for non-native English readers:
I know from experience how much a reader can miss out on in a story due to cultural references and language-specific idioms. If you're not a native-English speaker and come across something in one of my stories you don't understand, always feel comfortable to ask about it in the comments or send me a message!
Four months after closing the Gates of Hell
Another late afternoon, another quaint coffee shop on Main Street, in yet another small town experiencing cultural revival and a touch of the supernatural. The café boasts the aesthetic of brass and wood, the whirl of the grinder and the heady aroma of dark roast – and for Crowley, yet another cup of tepid, tasteless tea. This is what Crowley has come to expect, if not appreciate. The internet connection is decent, at least.
Sam's at the counter, all mop-headed and boyishly charming, chatting with a barista obviously in the first flush of adoration. Likely ordering a mocha latte with extra foam, or something equally fussy, with a bran muffin to off-set the decadence of the coffee. Sam can be as predictable as his brother at times.
Crowley is already set up at a table, laptop open, mug of dispiriting tea set aside. Hard at work moments after walking through the door. It's routine now, all of it. The coffee shop, the hunt through local headlines, the search for that next case that will take them to that next town. Hunting. Hunting for cases, and monsters, and above all, demons.
Life consists now of the bunker, of motel rooms, of diners and coffee shops. Of the long stretches of road in between. In the months since closing the gates, Crowley has become intimately familiar with the backseat of the Impala, the shape of the driver's headrest, the little green army man stuck in the ashtray. He's become accustomed to Dean's near-obsession with diners, with Sam's preference for coffee shops, and Castiel's indulgent neutrality. Crowley is almost certain they've visited every diner and coffee shop in the United States by now, in these months on the road together.
There's the diner where the four of them, Dean and Sam, Castiel and Crowley, gather after the shuttering of the Gates of Hell, aimless and allied in the aftermath of such an unfathomable event. Any demons still adrift in the world will surely attempt to reverse that accomplishment. It falls to them – the four of them – to ensure that doesn't happen.
Coffee shops where Crowley waits in increasing irritation while the boys work on the cases that come their way. Waiting for signs of the demonic, somewhere out there in the world. Assuming the role of reluctant researcher to avoid dying of boredom. Doing the finger-work on cases, as it were.
Diners where they spread out across the linoleum tabletop, books of lore, case file notes, autopsy reports and newspaper clippings mingling with cups of crude oil coffee and burger crumbs. Cafes where Crowley solves cases with a glance, pieces together patterns that stretch across generations and continents, exercises the expertise in cautious calculation and contemplation he's acquired over the centuries.
The specialty tea shops Sam seems to pick just to annoy his brother. The chain restaurant where Castiel is befuddled by the riddles on the paper placemats for children. The buffet where Dean wins an impromptu pie eating contest with the local champion. The train car diner in Texas where the water is so salty, it burns a little.
The late night greasy spoons, the four of them lined up along the counter. Sam and Dean, and Castiel – and Crowley. Sitting in long, companionable silence.
The sandwich shop where Dean inadvertently squirts mustard all over Crowley's suit. The diner where the boys track graveyard dirt across the freshly mopped floor and, somehow, smudge Crowley's oxfords. The biker burger bar, where the Buenos Tiempos biker gang convince Crowley to remove his silk suit jacket, show off his meatsuit's dragon tattoos. Why you hiding ink like that, man? they ask, slapping him on the back, You got to carry yourself with el brío! The trucker dives and home plate diners where he dresses down to avoid attracting suspicion. The café where, unexpectedly and without explanation, Cas shows up in flannel and jeans, his trench coat tucked into his duffle bag in the trunk of the Impala, next to the salt rounds and family keepsakes.
The diners where Crowley hangs up his jacket, takes off his tie, rolls up his sleeves. Gets to work. The little bakery with sidewalk seating he indulges in, the boys hunting down a discerning ghoul. Where Crowley looks across the quaint town square and sees a consignment shop, with a stylish grey jacket in the window that calls to him. That he buys without fanfare and pairs with henleys and twill pants and casual cap-toes boots. And Dean raises a beer and with an approving half-smile, taps it against Crowley's own, as they slouch together on the bar of another grimy honkytonk off some unpaved road.
The farther down this road they travel, the more the past recedes in their rearview mirror.
The burger shack where Dean and Crowley cool their heels halfway through a hunt, letting Sam and Cas take the lead, where Dean unceremoniously shares his fries. The retro drive-in where Song for the Lonely comes on the radio, and since it's just the two of them, without saying a word, Dean reaches down and cranks it up. Taps the steering wheel and mouths the words with him, both of them staring out their respective sides of the car, smiling. The diner parking lot where Dean pauses on the way to the car, hands him the keys, says with a meaningful look, Don't make me regret this.
It's the greatest honor Crowley has ever received.
The red vinyl booths Cas and Crowley squeeze into together, awkwardly at first. The cantina where he convinces Cas to don a tasseled sombrero, and smiles with something other than derision. Something amiable and earnest. The diners where Cas interrogates the waitresses about the nature of angel food cake, never getting a satisfying enough answer. The diners and coffee shops and bistros and bodegas where Cas orders only water, or picks at his food. Leaves entire meals uneaten, disparaged. And something sympathetic stirs in Crowley. The angel's look of cautious anticipation when Crowley presents him with a spell, the wily bit of witchery that gifted Gabriel with his infamous sweet tooth.
The café where it's just Crowley and Sam, researching. And Sam brings over two cups of tea, one for Crowley, just the way he likes it. And muffins.
Thank you, Crowley says, carefully.
Sure thing, Sam replies, guardedly, without looking up from his laptop. But it's a start.
The diner where the boys and Castiel fail to return after a case. Where Crowley sits wiling away the interim, waiting, the minutes ticking into hours. Where they don't show, don't call, don't answer any of their phones. Where Crowley is reminded, with a sudden and unsettling appreciation, that for all the times the Winchesters have stood at the edge of an apocalypse and shook their fists in the face of gods, for all the times they have rushed head-long into danger, or crumpled beneath invincible forces only to stumble back to their feet, they are still only human. And that they aren't dragging their heels to annoy him, or gone off without him. That the case isn't solved. That the boys have been captured, or worse. And Crowley is dashing out of the diner, to run – he doesn't know quite where. And only later will he admit to himself – it's to the rescue.
The chic coffee shop with intentionally poor lighting and plush couches, all around him people typing out shitty screenplays while sipping over-priced macchiatos. Where Crowley isn't needed on a case, where adrenaline drips through the relentless drumming of his fingers, where he's anxious and annoyed and a little too ardent for his own liking. Wondering how the hunt is going. Wondering when he started to care that the hunt went well at all, that they succeed in saving the victim of the week. That a cause he couldn't care less about has come to matter.
The chicken-coop café in upstate New York where they stop to rest after endless hours of driving, and Crowley picks up the tab without even thinking about it. Where he begins to wonder how the boys pay for all this. Where he starts to step it up, contribute financially, because he needs to contribute something.
The fashionable restaurant where Crowley insists the Winchesters and Castiel dress in their best suits, shine their shoes, that they make a night of it. Where Crowley orders bottles of Guigal Cote Rotie La Turque, and platters of oysters, foie gras and pâté, escargot and carpaccio. On the appetizers alone, they dine like kings.
The teashop where Crowley orders tiered trays of pastries and scones, to Sam and Dean's amused scoffs that are soon replaced with contented mumbling. The coffee shop where baristas concoct coffees based on customer's personalities, and Crowley is surprised when Dean hands him a roast so dark it's almost black, but with a strong undercurrent of sweetness at its core. The arcade-themed restaurant where there's a monster in the ball pit, and a food fight breaks out, and Crowley catches himself laughing like he's never laughed before.
The pub where, unable to reach the larder, he opens countless salt shakers to encircle a family as ghosts rage around them.
The diner where the four of them, exhausted after a case, collapse into the booth, bruised and battered and bloody. A case where, without stopping to think, Crowley risked himself to save innocent lives. The diner where Dean tells Crowley he's proud of him.
The coffee shops where Crowley discovers cases, devises counter-spells and cracks curses, protects potential victims, hangs out with local hunters, discusses rehab with a vampire.
The diners where Castiel and Crowley bide the hours while the boys doze in bizarrely decorated motel rooms. Where the angel and the demon read or research or play chess or cards or watch movies or carry on long, ambulatory conversations about pop culture and philosophy and the nature of the universe and Neil Gaimen's most recent publication.
The diner with a menu board advertising the daily special as a "pig and a poke," where Sam hustles them out without anyone getting to order.
The diner where, after wrangling with a rare ring of wraiths, Sam and Dean are wiped and ravenous, where Cas is rattled, where Crowley is energized, engaged. Ready for the next case, the next challenge.
The coffee shop where the barista remembers him, they pass through so often. The taquería where Crowley waits in unaccompanied contentment for a take-out order. Where he wonders what his life has become. But there's no time to give it much thought, because when he arrives back at the motel, plastic sacks bulging with burritos and chile relleno tortas, they're back in the car, racing to the rescue, and Crowley will be damned again if it doesn't feel good.
The rib shack on the side of the road, where seven years ago, he called Dean arrogant and a thug and held Sam's soul in the palm of his hand. Where he's suddenly lost his appetite, says he's got work to do, waits for the boys in the car.
The diner where the boys are clearly keeping something from him, where the three of them exchange looks, speak softly, exclude him. Where Dean and Sam dump him on Castiel and leave, without an explanation, just a command, stay here, dammit, and suddenly Crowley's had enough. Snarls at the angel that he's going to lose it, if he has to sit in one more chromatic anachronism of a diner, with bland food and greasy silverware and seats that stick to you. He's done, Crowley says. With all of it. The countless days in the car and the endless cases, all of it barely making a dent in the surviving demon population, who are all out to kill him, thank you very much. And what the hell are they doing here, sitting in this rank, rat-infested, gastroenteritis-inducing delicatessen reminiscent of Hell's own cafeteria, when they should be out there, having the flannelled backs of those impercipient, asinine Winchesters?!
Cas sits across from him in the booth, calmly. Indifferently, Crowley thinks. Watching the taillights of the Impala disappear down the street. Watching the sun set and the neon lights of the diner's 24-hour sign blink in the spreading haze of a hot summer night.
We're here, Cas says at last, still watching out the window, the angel blade protruding from his coat sleeve catching Crowley's eye for the first time, to keep you safe. Until the boys have exorcised the demon in town.
This diner, where Crowley is unable to form words. Where he reflects on things like sacrifice, and gratitude, and reciprocity. Where he has never been so relieved to watch the Impala roll down the road, for Sam and Dean to saunter in and take their places in the booth, to order huge plates of waffles and beer-battered chicken fingers and all the other disgusting, celebratory diner food.
There are the early mornings on the road, the sky still a dusky hue and mist obscuring the landscape. And nights blackened with pitch, not a glint of moon to see by, the soft roar of the engine carrying them forward into the unknowable hereafter. And on clear nights, they park in the middle of nowhere. Sam and Dean sit on the hood; Cas and Crowley lean against their respective sides of the Impala. And they watch the stars, sometimes for hours.
And Crowley tells himself this is all just temporary. The long car rides, the motel rooms, the diners and coffee shops. The road stretching out from the bunker to the endless assortment of small towns across the country and beyond its borders. That once the remaining demons are extinguished, he will move on to a life of luxury and relaxation. An eternity of tropical locations, fine dining, and trivial pursuits.
But of course, he won't. Because that life seems so empty in comparison with the comradery of the Impala's back seat, the fulfillment of solving cases, and the strange relief of saving souls, rather than damning them.
So Crowley sits in the coffee shop with Sam, searching for their next case, and admits to himself that he's happy. The stool is hardly a throne, and the tea leaves a lot to be desired. But there is nowhere else he'd rather be.
This fic was so incredibly fun to write, and I hope it was just as much fun to read. If readers have their own headcanons for similar stops along the long road these boys are on, please! Share them below in the comments. Similarly, if you have any headcanons for other songs Crowley and Dean might enjoy humming along to together – or belting out – please include the name of the song and the songwriter in a comment. Driver Picks the Music is another fic in this series that's in the works. From the title, I'm sure you can guess where that's headed.
I know some readers might be upset at the idea of Dean letting Crowley drive the Impala, before we've seen him trust Cas with his baby – I'm going to address that in a later fic in this same series.
And if you're curious about how Crowley found the spell used by Gabriel, it's explained a bit more in 'Tis the Season. (Which is not part of this series; this is just me blatantly encouraging you to go read some of my other work.)
Thanks for reading, and thank you in advance to everyone who leaves kudos and especially to those who leave a comment.