"You all right?" called Danny, from somewhere on the bridge above him.
Nicholas spat out a mouthful of water. It was green.
"Yes," he replied, curtly.
"What a tosser," said Danny. He leaned on the wall and looked down at Nicholas, who waded a couple of paces towards dry land. "Come down through Cirencester, I 'spect. The Stroud lads'll get him; I'll radio his plate in."
Danny disappeared again. Nicholas ploughed through the reeds and hauled himself sploshily onto the bank. A group of ducks which had been scattered by his abrupt arrival began to reconvene, quacking indignantly, and a cow in the field opposite sauntered over to see what all the fuss was about. It moo-ed thoughtfully at him.
He stuck two fingers up at it.
Danny reappeared. "They said they'll stop him at the roundabout."
"Hrr," growled Nicholas. He discarded his stab vest, releasing gobbets of frogspawn and pondweed onto the path as Danny made a clumsy but surprisingly efficient descent from the bridge to land beside him. A row of hooded faces appeared over the wall.
"Afternoon, Inspector Angel!"
"Good afternoon, Gabriel," replied Nicholas, with as much dignity as he could muster.
"You okay, Inspector?"
"I'm fine, thank you." Even half-drowned, he was still on duty. "Shouldn't you all be in school?"
"Free period," Gabriel answered, too quickly. The others all nodded enthusiastically. Nicholas sighed, but was sidetracked from his lecture about the importance of education by Danny scraping a handful of something indescribable off his shoulder. A flash went off as he batted Danny's hand away.
"Go on, bugger off, you lot," said Danny, bustling him under the arch of the bridge to the sound of wolf-whistles. He produced a cleanish handkerchief and handed it to Nicholas, who used it to scrub the slime off his face. He could hear the hoodies' footsteps fading into the distance and knew that a hilariously captioned picture of him, wet and slimy and apparently holding Danny's hand would be all over Facebook within the next twenty minutes.
"If you had to fall off the bridge, least you landed in the pond," commented Danny, oblivious. "It's deeper than the stream. And the path would've hurt. Here, let's get them boots off."
He scrubbed at his hands with the filthy handkerchief. Oh yes, boots. He wriggled his toes and felt his socks squelch. It was never like this in London, he thought. In London he'd been stabbed and shot at, but he'd never had to jump into a pond to dodge some wide boy doing forty in the twenty zone, and he had most certainly never come in for bovine mockery in the line of duty.
He sat down as grumpily as he could, his back against the brick arch. Danny emptied Nicholas's boots into the stream and peeled his socks off. It occurred belatedly to him that, true to form, he was being a complete wanker, sulking at the man who was wringing his soggy socks out for him.
"That water smells disgusting. Stagnant," he commented, as a peace offering.
"Been a warm spring," agreed Danny, cheerily. "Pond's dried up a bit. It'll be better when we get some rain." He dumped the socks by Nicholas and went to scoop up the drying blobs of frogspawn. Kneeling by the reeds he lowered his handful carefully back into the water before returning to Nicholas's side.
"Your knees are all muddy now."
"Yeah, well. Can't just drop frogspawn in the water, city boy, it'll sink."
"That's not what I meant." He scratched at the muddy patch on Danny's left knee, just for a moment. "It was a nice thing to do."
Danny blushed and wrinkled his nose up depreciatingly. He combed a strand of pondweed from Nicholas's hair with his fingers.
"Couldn't let the tadpoles die, could I?" Danny grabbed a hand and hauled him upright. "Come on, you'll feel better for a shower and a clean uniform. And I got some of that ginger tea you was on about back home, too."
Nicholas was beginning to dry out and Danny's hand was warm in his. Okay, so his uniform was beyond rescuing and he smelt of God-knows-what, but Danny was looking after him and had rescued the tadpoles.
He grinned and slapped Danny on the shoulder. "Let's roll, partner."