The whole stupid thing started when Sam lost Cas on a case. Or rather, it started after the case had wrapped up, and Dean had ducked out for the night for some solo celebratory drinks (and a less than celebratory night of sleeping them off in Baby). Rather than join him, Sam had elected to turn in early because killing the last of the vamps had supposedly tired him out, and Cas wanted to finish some Ancient Aliens episode he’d started on their shitty motel tv. Dean had assumed that his ducking out had been done with the understanding that neither Sam or Cas would do anything stupid until he came back, but apparently Cas hadn’t gotten the memo. He’d instead had the bright idea to leave the motel room before Sam woke up, leaving only a note which read that he’d “be back soon”, and despite wearing an outfit made mostly of pockets, had managed to forget to bring his phone.
The good news, Sam had told Dean, was that Cas had apparently mentioned some farmer’s market in town the night before, so he’d probably gone there. The bad news was that said farmer’s market was apparently going to be open for another five hours, and unless they wanted to make it back to the bunker at one in the morning, they were going to have to locate Cas and drag him away.
All this, of course, led to Dean spending what felt like an hour explaining to a woman selling honey that they were trying to locate a friend and not their lost child, and yes, phones did exist, their dumbass friend didn’t have his on him, and could she please tell him if she’d seen a man in a trench coat wandering around, probably looking vaguely confused? Sam, thankfully, chose that moment to finally contribute to the conversation by turning on his favorite “I’m a trustworthy agent” smile and roughly shoving Dean away from the increasingly pissed off looking beekeeper.
“Sorry for inconveniencing you ma’am, our friend’s kinda… eccentric, and we’d just really appreciate any help locating him.” He paused, probably to check that he’d managed to unruffle any feathers before continuing his spiel. “He has dark hair, blue eyes, is about that,” he gestured vaguely at Dean, “tall, and -”
Dean knew Sam was probably continuing to paint a goddamn picture with his words about Cas here, but his brain had decided to shortcircuit after the “about that tall” line because… what? Cas was definitely a good few inches shorter than him, and misrepresenting his height to this beekeeper was not going to help accomplish their goal of getting the hell out of dodge before noon. Dean was just about to break in and correct Sam, who’d at some point gotten sidetracked and was discussing how to substitute in honey for sugar, when Cas, thank God, decided now would be a good time to wander over and interrupt before Sam could buy the entire stock of clover honey.
As it was, Dean only managed to drag them off after Cas and Sam had bought six jars between them, along with the business card of the now thoroughly amused vender who apparently also took online orders, which meant that Dean was going to spend the rest of his natural life (and probably his unnatural one too, given their track record) organizing a honey hoard in their kitchen.
Cas’s sudden interruption had also prevented Dean from broaching the whole “incorrect Cas height” thing with Sam, and he wasn’t going to bring it up with Cas right there. There was no reason to embarrass the poor guy over something he couldn’t change, especially in public. Besides, as loath as he was to admit it, there was something about Sam’s confident delivery that had placed a tiny sliver of doubt in him. Which was stupid, really. He’d known the guy for years now, and he and Cas had spent half that time just staring at each other. If anyone knew how tall Cas was by now, it was going to be him. Still...
Dean took a moment to locate Cas, who’d wandered off again to inspect the blueberries at one stall with the same intensity he’d approached a heavenly civil war, and felt an inexplicable wave of affection wash over him. Yeah, Dean thought, as he picked up the pace to catch up and prevent Cas being overcharged by a berry vender, Sam has no idea what he’s talking about.
They ended up getting back to the bunker around midnight, which Dean was still counting as a win, even if they’d brought half the goddamn farmer’s market with them,
Dean cornered Sam to correct him in the library the first chance he got, which took about a day given the fact that Sam was a massive nerd that spent most of his time there, and Cas had already ditched him to start binging Netflix. Dean knew that it was a little ridiculous that he was going to these lengths at all but sue him, the whole thing still bothered him a little. It was the mental equivalent of getting a rock stuck in his shoe, except in this case the removal (trying to correct Sam), was going to be about as irritating as just walking around with the damn thing rattling in his skull.
Pulling out the seat opposite Sam, Dean gave him a moment to mark his place in whatever dusty book he was reading and look up before beginning his correction.
“Sammy, you know Cas is shorter than us, right?”
“I know he’s shorter than me? Dean, what's this about?”
“No I meant, both of us specifically. He’s shorter than both of us and you,” Dean gestured emphatically at Sam, “misrepresented his fucking height to that beekeeper yesterday.”
Sam looked at Dean quizzically.
“Dude, you know Cas is like, the same height you are right? You’ve got maybe an inch on him. Also, why do you care how tall a random beekeeper thinks he is? We’re not gonna see her again.”
“It’s not about the beekeeper Sam, it’s about the principle! I know everyone probably looks the same from up there, but speaking as someone on the ground floor with Cas, he’s a little dude, y’know? Sure, maybe he’s not Rowena small, but he’s not reaching the top cabinet anytime this year.”
“Jimmy Novak was 5’ 11” Dean, so unless the vessel shrank somehow, yeah, he’s your height.”
“He’s - wait, pause, how the fuck do you know that? Did you measure the poor guy during the, what, three hours we knew him for?”
“Well, uh, the missing person reports the Novaks filed included height so -”
“Why are you looking at Jimmy’s missing person report? We know where Jimmy is. I can text the guy wearing his face right now, and hell, we could probably summon his actual soul with half the shit in this bunker.”
This was the first point in the conversation where Sam was looking, as Dean considered, properly sheepish, even if it wasn’t in relation to him relenting on this weird Cas-height hill he was trying to die on.
“I… I run a true crime blog? A lot of people wanted me to cover the Novak case so I was digging through police reports so I could summarize what people who weren’t directly involved should know and -”
“You run a true crime blog? Seriously? I mean, I knew you were probably sending Manson fan letters but this is a whole new level of geek.”
“Anyways!” Sam interjected before Dean could really dig into this new information, “I don’t think Jimmy’s wife would lie about the height of her missing husband, and it’s the same body, so Cas has to be around 5’ 11”.”
Dean took a few seconds to really consider this, watching as Sam made one of his little face journeys from thoroughly annoyed and argumentative, to surprised, to incredibly smug, before he chimed in again.
“Nah.” Sam let out a little squawk at that, but Dean soldiered on. “That was Jimmy’s height pre- a couple resurrections, and Cas got totalled the first two times. Couple things are bound to get fucked up in translation during a full rebuild, Cas probably got some inches shaved off then.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Do you know how much time I spend with the guy, Sammy? I’m deadly serious. I think I would know if Cas was a normal height.”
Sam’s left eye twitched. “Alright. You know what? Fine.” He stood up from the table in one smooth motion, marching off into the recesses of the bunker. His footsteps faded away, and before Dean could begin to recover from the shock of having Sammy storm off like when he was still a hotheaded teenager, two sets of steps began to echo back down the halls. Sam re-entered the library unceremoniously, practically dragging Cas behind him before releasing him into the library with a forceful push.
“I fail to see the point of this exercise Sam. If you need to know the height of my vessel, I can give you a far more accurate measurement.” Cas said, looking predictably disgruntled because Sam had dragged him away from whatever reality show he was marathoning.
“I know that Cas, please just humor me here.”
Cas gave one of his head tilts in response, and Dean bit back a smile before turning to Sam.
“The hell you’d drag Cas into this for man? He doesn’t need to be here for this.”
“I’m using empirical evidence, since you apparently won’t settle for anything else. Shoes off.”
“Dean, you’re wearing heeled boots and Cas isn’t, which is probably half the issue here. If we’re going to be scientific about this, both of you need to take your shoes off.”
Cas was already reaching down to take his shoes off, so Dean decided to bite back a retort about Sam’s particular height advantage and not prolong this by removing his own as well. Besides, the novelty of a shoeless Cas was kinda fun - Dean always found it entertaining when some part of the whole trench coat look got fucked up, like he was witnessing an animation error or seeing a boom mic in a movie shot, but before he could actually take it in Sam had spun them both around for the classic back-to-back, pushing them together until there was barely an inch of space between them.
A weird little involuntary shiver ran through Dean at the faint sensation of Cas’s body heat (did all angels run hot, or was Cas being a furnace a personal thing?), before he felt the side of Sam’s hand touch him just an inch or so below the crown of his head. A second passed, then another, as Dean waited for Sam to readjust until it actually settled in place above Cas’s head, but as Sam’s hand remained stubbornly stationary, Dean finally cracked and half turned, ready to open his mouth and ask Sam what the goddamn hold up was until -.
Sam’s hand was, in fact, resting right on top of Cas’s head. Dean felt his face flush as he silently began to beg for the bunker to finally collapse and take them all with it, because Sam was fucking right and he was never going to live this one down, because Cas really, really was essentially his fucking height.
“I’d say you two are around the same size, right Dean?” That unbearably smug look had returned to Sam’s face in full force, and Dean only had the strength to give an embarrassed nod of assent before quickly turning his back on both of them with what Dean hoped was the passable excuse of pulling on his shoes.
“Do you need this information for a case? Apart from that I really don’t see how this will be relevant to us.”
“Believe me Cas, I wish I knew but it’s the principle of the thing, y’know?”
Demons. Dean was trapped in a bunker with two demons. As soon as he figured out how to face either of them again, there was going to be a goddamn reckoning. Dean had no clue what kind of reckoning, but there was going to be one. I could always do the old Nair in the shampoo again for Sam, Dean thought to himself. Cas’ll be harder, but maybe -
“I suppose this provides as good an opportunity as any to say good-bye.”
Dean’s head whipped around, any hesitation forgotten. “Seriously Cas? We just got back, I thought you were sticking around for a bit.”
“That was my intent - there’s been,” Cas paused for a moment, frustration on his face before he reined himself back in, “difficulties with some angels in Colorado I need to look into.”
Sam spoke first, recovering faster from the news than Dean ever could. “You need any help man? I know you’re still not on great terms with most angels.”
“Thank you Sam, but I should be able to handle this alone. If anything comes up I’ll call you both.” Cas gave them a tight smile, his eyes lingering a moment longer on Dean, probably waiting for him to recover and say something. When Dean remained just as mute a moment later, Cas raised his hand in an awkward good-bye, setting off towards the garage, and the sound of his footsteps slowly softening sounded more like nails being hammered into a coffin. What if this is the last time? Dean couldn’t help but think. What if this time Cas doesn’t come back, what if this is the last time I see him, and I couldn’t say a damn thing?
Cas was almost out of sight down the hallway when Dean managed to open his mouth.
“Hey!” he called, and Cas paused, turning slightly. “Be - be safe, alright? I know you’re big on handling angel stuff alone, but seriously, if anything comes up, promise you’ll call me.”
Cas’s lips quirked up, a genuine smile settling across his features for a moment as he nodded his head in acknowledgement and turned back to the garage, his posture a little less tense.
He didn’t promise, Dean thought, and Cas just kept on walking away.
It wasn’t until later that night, when the shock and terror of Cas’s sudden departure had faded - helped more than a little by Cas sending a series of almost incomprehensible emojis whenever he encountered an interesting landmark - that Dean could no longer avoid the question that had popped up and been shoved down with increasing violence all afternoon. Why the hell did I think Cas was so much shorter than me? It didn’t make any sense really, it was just that, well...
Maybe Cas had seemed that tall in the beginning, Dean thought to himself. Back when he was all crackling energy and I can throw you back in, he’d been every inch the size of the Chrysler building even in Jimmy Novak’s 5’ 11” frame. But now… Cas didn’t seem to strain against the confines of the vessel anymore, didn’t try to fill rooms with an ozone smell and huge fuck-off wings. He’d settled in, and looking at him, all Dean could see was… home, for lack of better word. Home and comfort and peace, and someone incredibly… something, something that was so damn important to Dean. He felt seized with the sudden, irrational urge to run after Cas, to chase him down and beg and plead with him to stay in the bunker, stay safe. Dean stamped the thought down. Cas was still an angel, even if he acted like a nerdy little dude half the time. He didn’t need anyone’s protection - he certainly didn’t need Dean’s. Besides, Dean thought to himself, it wasn’t like begging him would do anyone much good. Even on broken wings Cas was in a perpetual state of flying the coop.