"There's Nathan's truck." Audrey nodded through the windshield as Duke drove slowly along the street while he peered at the house numbers. "But I don't see him anywhere."
"And this is number forty eight," Duke confirmed, drawing to a stop behind the Bronco. "But are you sure that's what Nathan said? He's not along the road somewhere else?"
"Nuh-huh." Audrey offered up her phone for long enough for Duke to read Nathan's text message again, before she climbed out of the Landrover and peered around. "Nathan?"
Duke got out as well, moving forward and giving the inside of the Bronco a quick check in case Nathan had left a clue to where he was.
Audrey's phone buzzed: another text message. She snorted as she read it, before she held the phone up in Duke's direction. "He wants me to get rid of you."
Duke lifted his hands and turned full circle, trying to spot Nathan, because Nathan could sure as hell see them. "Dude, that hurts."
Bringing his gaze back to Audrey as he completed his sweep of their surroundings, he saw she was rolling her eyes. She raised her voice and called out, "Duke was just doing me a favor. My car's in the shop and I needed a lift. Now, why don't you tell us where you are and you can tell us about this Trouble in your message."
They waited for a few more seconds. Audrey's phone buzzed again. Whatever Nathan had texted made her eyebrows shoot up. She looked up, turning her head from side to side. "Come on, Nathan. Whatever's happened can't be that bad. I'm not sending Duke away until you come out."
There was silence for a minute and then an exasperated "Oh, all right, then!" that sounded like Nathan had inhaled the contents of a helium balloon. It came from somewhere behind Duke and much closer than he'd expected. Swinging round, he looked about and still didn't see Nathan.
"Down here, you idiot." Again, unmistakably Nathan, but a couple of octaves higher than usual.
Duke looked down and found Nathan at last. A six-inch tall Nathan standing next to a fire hydrant just along the street from the Bronco. He must have been hiding behind it when they arrived.
Duke gaped at him. "What the—?"
Audrey moved up to Duke's shoulder. "A shrinking Trouble?" Duke could hear in her tone that she was trying not to laugh, because this really wasn't a joke. Except—.
Nathan shrugged. "Must be," he squeaked, a tiny frown creasing his forehead at the sound of his own voice.
Audrey knelt down and laid her hands palm up on the sidewalk in front of him. Nathan glared at them. "You have got to be kidding me!"
"It'll be easier to talk," Audrey said softly. "Figure this out and get you back to normal."
With a heavy sigh, Nathan stepped up onto the end of Audrey's fingers and carefully walked along them until he reached her palms. "Happy now?"
"Sit down. It'll be safer."
Nathan sighed again but did as she asked. She carefully lifted him—Duke saw him put his hands out on either side to steady himself as her hands tilted a little—and set him down gently on the hood of the Bronco. He stood up, brushing down his jeans. Flicking a glance in Duke's direction, he muttered, "This is so humiliating."
"Well, the sooner you quit bitching about it and tell us what happened, the sooner Audrey can fix it," Duke shot back.
Audrey put a warning hand on Duke's arm, telling him to shut up. "So what did happen?"
"I was trying to interview the guy who lives there." Nathan gestured at the nearby house. "One of his neighbors reported her husband missing and she said he'd been to talk to this guy earlier in the day. Something about a lawnmower." He rolled his eyes. "I guess the neighbor may not be missing after all."
Audrey nodded. "Just six inches tall. So, you knocked on the door, he answered...?"
"I introduced myself, told him I was looking into a missing person report and... bam!" Nathan spread his hands to indicate himself. "The guy took one look down at me and bolted back inside. On the upside, my phone still works, even though it got shrunk along with everything else, so I could text for help." He shot another black look in Duke's direction, clearly not impressed by the composition of the rescue party.
"Uh-huh." Audrey bit her lip, thinking, before she straightened. "What's the guy's name?"
"OK, you wait here." She turned to Duke and wagged a finger in his direction. "And you, take care of him."
Duke tried to look like he hadn't been thinking it would be fun to gently push Nathan around with his finger once Audrey's back was turned. Maybe even pick Nathan up by the scruff of his jacket and dangle him from a great height. He didn't intend to do him any serious harm, just have a bit of fun....
Audrey headed up the path to the house, pulling her badge from her back pocket. She rapped on the door. "Mr Begley?"
She had to knock again before the door opened. Duke caught a glimpse of a tall, gray-haired man with a slight stoop as Audrey held up her badge. "Officer Parker, Haven PD. I need to—."
That was as far as she got before Duke suddenly felt very dizzy. There was a popping noise and everything went black for a moment. When his sight returned, he found himself with a close up view of the Bronco's tire. Must've passed out. Except the tire seemed awfully large, looming above him, even from where he lay sprawled on the sidewalk....
"Oh, crap." That was Audrey, sounding a long way away.
Duke turned his head and saw Audrey's shoe and her ankle and the bottom of her jeans. She had very pretty ankles. Also very large. He tipped his head back further. And further.
"Oh, crap," he agreed, his voice as squeaky as Nathan's had been.
He eased to his feet, though that brought the top of his head no higher than the bottom of the tire rim on the Bronco. He was aware of Audrey hissing "Not helping, Nathan," though he'd missed whatever Nathan had said to her to provoke it. Then she knelt down in front of Duke, holding out her hands the same way she'd offered them to Nathan.
Duke didn't argue about climbing on to them. The view from ground level was making him nervous, with everything looming over him. A fly landed on the sidewalk a few feet away and, though Duke doubted it posed any real threat to him, it wasn't pleasant to see an insect that, from his perspective, was now the size of a small dog. He very much didn't want to encounter anything larger.
Being lifted by Audrey was also unsettling, though her hands were steady. He was glad when she set him down on the hood of the Bronco next to Nathan.
Nathan smirked at him. "Not so funny now, huh?"
Duke opened his mouth to reply, but Audrey gently slapped her hand down on the Bronco's hood, making both of them jump. "Quit it! Or I swear to God, I'll leave the pair of you stuck like this."
Duke exchanged a worried glance with Nathan, before they both turned contrite looks in Audrey's direction.
"Now, the two of you, stay there and stay out of trouble, while I try to talk to Mr Begley again and fix this." She turned and headed up the path and banged on the front door again. "Mr Begley? I know you're scared and confused, but I can help you if you just let me in."
There was a long silence, during which Audrey glanced back over her shoulder at Duke and Nathan and the two of them stared anxiously at the door. Then it slowly opened. Audrey stepped inside and the door closed behind her.
"Now what?" Duke shoved his hands in his pockets and scuffed his toe against the Bronco's hood.
"We wait while Audrey does her thing. And hey!" Nathan jerked his head in the direction of Duke's foot. "Mind the paint!"
Duke gave him a Really, dude? look, though he didn't say anything. Just set his feet carefully side by side and resisted the urge to pace. At least the two of them had each other to talk to and were relatively safe—assuming a passing cat didn't decide to jump up on the hood and investigate—but Nathan had been on his own on the ground for twenty minutes or more before Audrey and Duke had arrived. That must have been hard.
The minutes still ticked by with agonizing slowness. Duke crossed his arms. "What if she can't fix his Trouble? What if she fixes his Trouble and we're still stuck like this?"
Sighing, Nathan sat down, resting his arms on his bent knees. "Not gonna happen. There is no way I'm gonna go through the rest of my life with you being the only person I can hold an eye-level conversation with."
A part of Duke thought that didn't sound so bad. Maybe he and Nathan could finally settle their differences, get past this stupid animosity Nathan had for him, and be the kind of friends Duke had hoped they could become when he'd first returned to Haven. After all, Nathan wouldn't be a cop any more, while Duke might have a little difficulty pursuing his usual business activities.
An idea struck him. "Hey! We could live in Audrey's apartment. We could be like The Borrowers."
Nathan snorted. "Oh, is that what you're calling it these days? Borrowing?"
Or Nathan could go on being his usual sour self. Didn't the man have any sense of humor? Duke made a face as he looked down at the top of Nathan's head. There were times he really wished he didn't feel the way he did about him. It would be so much easier if—.
He had another moment of dizziness, his vision turning black and his ears popping. He lurched and made a grab for Nathan's shoulder with one hand, while windmilling with the other, trying to keep himself from toppling into the long drop he suddenly sensed right in front of his feet. Then he was falling....
He slowly swam up out of darkness, aware of an arm wrapped around his back and his hand splayed on someone's chest and his face pressed against the neck of someone who smelled really good. The ground beneath them was hard and for a disoriented moment, he wondered if he and the guy he was with had fallen out of bed. Then he lifted his head and saw Nathan's profile and, beyond it, the Bronco, and remembered. A wave of relief washed through him as he realized the Bronco was now back to the size it should be. Or, rather, he and Nathan were back to being the right size for themselves.
Thank you, God, he murmured silently, while he went on lying there, pressed against Nathan, in no hurry to move as he made an inventory of his bumps and bruises. Though he reckoned Nathan had been the one to take the brunt of the fall.
After a moment, Nathan's eyes fluttered open, his gaze meeting Duke's. His expression shifted from confused to something that might have been concern. "You okay?" he muttered, his attention slipping away from Duke's face to take in the way they were tangled up with each other.
"Yeah." Duke cleared his throat. "You got the worst of it, I reckon. Are you okay?"
"I think so." Nathan went on lying there, not moving, except to glance up under his lashes at Duke and then quickly away. A flush of color crept into his face. With an embarrassed cough, he slowly began to extricate himself from Duke's embrace, flexing his hands and arms and legs to check everything was still working as it should as he backed away.
Duke flopped back onto the sidewalk, eyes closed, feeling a mixture of relief and loss. For a moment there, he'd thought he and Nathan—.
He heard Nathan get to his feet. "So I guess Audrey did her thing with Mr Begley."
"Guess so." Opening his eyes, Duke saw Nathan was holding out a hand to help him up. Reaching out to grab his arm, he let Nathan pull him up. Nathan went on gripping his arm.
Before either of them could say anything, an amused voice remarked, "Guess you two are back to normal." Swinging round, Duke saw Audrey coming down the path toward them, a relieved expression on her face. Her gaze dropped to where Nathan still gripped Duke's arm. "Or maybe not...."
Duke and Nathan exchanged a look and both hastily stepped back. Audrey's mouth twisted as she tried to hide her grin, but she didn't comment further. Instead, she swept her hair back from her face and said in a more matter-of-fact tone, "So all we have to do now is find your missing neighbor and hope nothing too bad's happened to him in the past few hours."
Then she took another step closer and pulled the two of them into an awkward, three-way hug. "Good to have you back, guys," she murmured. "This is one time size really does matter."