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An Unexpected Customer

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Aziraphale swallowed thickly, his hand frozen in mid-reach for the tiny creature. He hadn’t the slightest clue what to do next about this discovery. He couldn’t recall hearing much about tiny people, and he’d lived on earth … well, almost as long as it had been there. And yet, here he was, staring at a miniature man no bigger than a finger. Judging by the tiniest hitch in those frail little shoulders, the tiny man was crying with terror at the sight of him.

Who could blame him? Aziraphale tried to keep out of everyone’s notice, but he would be impossible to miss for someone so small.

He sighed, all the annoyance from before going out of him. Grabbing the little fellow and tossing him outside wouldn’t be the right thing to do at all.

Resisting an uncomfortable shudder, Aziraphale closed the small distance to the tiny man. Regardless of all his misgivings, he didn’t want to navigate this crisis knelt on the floor. He could find his answers without feeling so … giant.

The little fellow flinched and looked up before Aziraphale had even touched him. The tiny look of fear nearly cast doubt in his mind. He grimaced and pushed forward, drawing the little guy into his hand as gently as he could. Hopefully, after some explanation, the little one would understand.

Of course, the tiny man struggled against his palm, only highlighting his frailty. He might as well not weigh a thing.

All creatures Great and Small indeed. Aziraphale truly wished he’d known much sooner about people the size of mice. This coming as such a surprise on an otherwise normal, routine Thursday didn’t seem fair.

As he straightened, the tiny man struggling in his hand, he had no clue what to do next. Looking around him, he surveyed the cluttered, cozy shop, before wandering back to the register counter. The trail of crumbs there told an entirely different story now. The little person trapped in his hand was rather thin, even for his miniature proportions.

Aziraphale ended up at the desk he kept at the back of the shop, out of the way for going through his newest arrivals. This counted, by his reckoning. He lowered his hand to the cluttered surface and opened it at last, only to regret it a moment later. The little fellow flinched and tumbled inelegantly to the desk.

Finding what to say was the next monumental task. Aziraphale’s hands twitched at his sides, and then he clasped them in front of the worn buttons of his waistcoat. He didn’t even think of sitting in the chair, as inviting as it was with its extra cushion leaned against the back and all. He couldn’t help thinking of his first assumption, that the little fellow was a mouse, there to chew on the books and make a mess of things.

Now he’d gotten a proper look at him, he didn’t seem like the type to chew on the books. He certainly didn’t look at all prepared to try to buy one either. In fact, the little fellow mostly seemed frightened, as if he wished to be anywhere in the world other than the bookshop.

Despite his usual protectiveness over his cherished volumes, that last bit did not sit well with Aziraphale at all.

“Dear fellow, it … it seems we’re off to rather a bad start.”

To the small man’s credit, he did seem to pause and consider the words, though the shaking in every limb didn’t wear off. That tiny face, angled up at Aziraphale in fear, changed slowly to mix with new confusion. The wee chest, rising and falling much faster than it should, hitched as the little man swallowed thickly. “Wh-what?”

He was so quiet, the human bookseller that Aziraphale tried so hard to pretend he was might not hear. As it was, he noted the stammer and breathlessness with ease. He’d frightened the little fellow quite badly.

“A bad start,” he repeated, though he guessed the little fellow hadn’t misheard him. “You see, I thought you were a mouse, when I saw you, and mice can be very bad for the books. So I may have been a touch harsh, over in the corner.”

A daze seemed to have fallen over the miniature man. He stared up at Aziraphale with his mouth slightly open and no sound coming out. Drawing his knees closer to his tiny chest, he fidgeted with his own little hands in an unwitting mirror of Aziraphale.

Finally, after a long, stunned silence, the tiny man spoke again. “I-I, um. I’m sorry, sir. I w-was just. I mean. I took some food,” Aziraphale finally noticed the little cloth bag slung over the little fellow’s shoulder, “but I can give it back! I-I’ll put it back and never bother you again, I swear, I thought it was a cozy place to live without very many, um, humans in it, but I can find somewhere else so your books are okay, but please don’t lock me up!”

Aziraphale’s eyebrows climbed his forehead, and he couldn’t quite decide what surprised him the most. The apparent squatter in his bookshop had given him perhaps more information than he meant to, and most of it caught him off guard.

For one, he had come to the bookshop because there weren’t often humans, which ruled out the idea that this was an extreme case of dwarfism. For another, he was awfully afraid of the idea that Aziraphale might lock him up. As if it were a given. The tiny mouse-sized person certainly wouldn’t be able to stop a real human from trapping him, let alone an introverted principality.

What stood out the most, though, was the fact that this small man had needed to wait until no one was around to try to take some food. Discarded food, by most appearances. While it didn’t paint a full picture of his situation, Aziraphale could fill in the gaps well enough.

“I don’t think returning any food will be necessary, dear boy,” he said, as evenly and gently as he could. It wasn’t lost on him that he must seem so loud to those tiny ears.

The tiny man paused for a breath. “Y-you don’t?”

Aziraphale tried to offer a smile, but it only lasted a moment before the uncomfortable concern returned. He finally took the chance to pull out his chair and sink politely into it. Thankfully, the action didn’t scare the little fellow any worse--at most, the little legs drew slightly closer to his chest.

It was marginally better. The little fellow was so small. Even seated, Aziraphale found himself looming quite a bit.

“I don’t,” he echoed. “It’s not as though I have much use for the crumbs myself, after all, and I did take the lion’s share of those biscuits already. And, forgive me for noticing, but it rather seems like you need all you can get.”

A faint shade of pink appeared on the little man’s cheeks. “Oh I, um. Y-yes. I-I try to only take … just what I need and what won’t be missed.”

“Of course, Mr … ?” Aziraphale prompted, glad for the small progress he’d made.

“Oh! I’m Oscar. Just Oscar. I don’t have … more names.”

Aziraphale smiled and this time it lasted for more than an instant. Little Oscar really was quite removed from human rules, despite needing to live among them to get by. It was something they had in common, really, not that Oscar knew anything about that yet. “Charmed, Oscar. I am Aziraphale. I don’t have more names either, not really.”

~~~

Oscar’s brow furrowed. He could have sworn this man’s name was Fell. The name was on a sign somewhere in the shop. As he pondered, he saw an almost expectant look on Aziraphale’s face. “I-I’m sorry. What? I thought all humans … don’t you all have last names?”

Aziraphale smiled, and somehow the expression brought calm with it in the same way a warm breeze brings the smell of the outdoors. “Ah, well, you’re mostly right,” he dithered. “Many humans, perhaps even most of them, do have surnames. But since I’ve rather rudely figured out your secret, Oscar, it seems only fair that you can learn mine.”

A faint sense of realization crept up Oscar’s spine and he straightened, but a part of him resisted the idea. Aziraphale looked very human indeed, though he wasn’t quite as frightening to talk to as Oscar had always imagined a human would be.

He certainly wasn’t a borrower.

“Um. Mr. Aziraphale … you’re not, um. You aren’t human?”

“No need to call me Mr., dear boy. And no, not strictly speaking, though I can’t say as I blame you for thinking so.”

With the information out in the open, Oscar didn’t know what to do with it now. His brow pinched with a mix of confusion and worry. If Aziraphale wasn’t human, what was he? So far he at least didn’t seem to be worse than one, based on everything he’d done. So far, Oscar hadn’t even been hurt. With the back of the desk behind him and a giant in front, Oscar was trapped, but that didn’t seem to be malicious in any way.

His worry must have shown on his face. Aziraphale’s face fell and he looked away for a moment, contemplating one of the many other cluttered, book-flooded surfaces in the back area of the bookshop. One of his hands moved in a vague gesture towards the shelves forming a rough doorway that led to the back room, where Oscar remembered a computer and a counter for making tea could be found.

Then, when Aziraphale glanced back at him, there was a teacup in his hand as if it had always been there. Oscar blinked at it, derailed from his swirling thoughts, as a light steam rose from the cup.

“Bit late for elevenses, I’m afraid, but perhaps this will help?” Aziraphale offered, lowering the teacup to a place on the desk several inches away that was miraculously clear of any books or papers.

Oscar lightly covered his mouth with the fingers of one hand while he uncurled slightly from his defensive hunch. Though his gaze warily followed Aziraphale’s hand until it had left the teacup behind, his curiosity aimed entirely at the drink. The drink that came out of nowhere.

After another awkward silence that Oscar couldn’t help but to draw out, he huffed out a short sigh. A lot of things had gone wrong with his day already. He didn’t need to sabotage this as well with his confusion.

His shaky hands found their way to the flap of his small cloth bag. “Um. Th-thank you, sir--Aziraphale, I mean,” he said, blindly pushing aside the crumbs he’d found earlier. He tried to smile through his nerves. He wasn’t sure how well that worked. “I’ve never had warm tea before, but I can, well, I’ll find my cup …” He could feel the heat rising in his cheeks as he searched.

Right,” Aziraphale sighed with an energy of realization. Oscar flinched and looked up at him almost guiltily. “So sorry, Oscar. That wasn’t very considerate of me.”

Something unfamiliar touched Oscar’s hand at the bottom of his bag and he drew it out hastily. Instead of a bug caught in the act of sneaking under his supplies, he held a teacup. A miniature one, a perfect recreation of the one on the desk with him. “Oh,” he breathed quietly.

“Just a small miracle, really,” Aziraphale explained gently in a tone that suggested he thought that cleared everything up. “You’re welcome to keep it.”

More and more, Oscar wondered if he’d passed out in the bookshop owner’s grasp. A giant being kind and apologetic, then creating teacups out of thin air just because ... that didn’t happen.

The misgivings didn’t stop him from rising to a shaky stand. While Aziraphale patiently watched, Oscar found a path to the waiting teacup that could be a spa to him. He skirted around papers, a worn pocketbook, and a crumpled receipt to avoid walking on any notes. It seemed like the polite thing to do, and soon enough he’d served himself his first cup of warm tea. It warmed his hands.

“Um. Thank you, A-Aziraphale,” he murmured.

“Absolutely no trouble at all, dear boy,” Aziraphale assured him. Once Oscar backed off from the bigger teacup, Aziraphale claimed it for himself. “I can’t help but think about what you said about never having warm tea before.” He absently held his own giant miracle-tea and shifted in his seat with a creak of the chair. “Is that true?”

Oscar paused in the middle of blowing on his tea. Aziraphale seemed uncomfortable in every inch with what he asked, and Oscar couldn’t fathom why. “W-well, I don’t really … I can’t make my own warm tea,” he explained. “And if anyone else saw me taking from their tea like that, they’d, well …”

“ ‘Lock you up’,” Aziraphale finished for him. His eyes, already gentle in their glances, softened.

Oscar’s mouth twisted into a frown. “Yeah. I have to be careful and quiet so I don’t get seen. I really didn’t mean to drop crumbs and make a mess.”

“Oh, oh, don’t worry,” Aziraphale said all in a rush. “Water under the bridge, I should think. Though, if you must get by on what you can find, does that mean … oh, of course it must. You’ve never had a meal made for you, have you?”