"So…Wot were you like in your younger days, then?"
Danny flopped down onto his couch, managing, in his indomitable way, to not spill a drop of the two fresh lagers he'd brought from the kitchen.
The question took Nicholas aback. Only slightly, though, as he was a few drinks in and did have the amazing ability to cast out the somewhat irrelevant questions that connected so well to nothing that they had been discussing before.
"Well," replied Nicholas, accepting the pint and taking a healthy slurp. "Uh…Not too terribly popular, I'm afraid. I was always focused on coursework."
"Aw, come on. You never went off to 'ave a good time?"
Nicholas sort-of grimaced and shook his head. "No. I was…well…was rather afraid of anything messing up my future. As a mater of fact, I helped lead a bust on some recruits who were using some…er…disturbing the...um…having a party." He melted slightly under Danny's amazed, hero-worshipping gaze.
"So you brought 'em down, yeah?"
Nicholas shrugged. "Well, I suppose you could say I ruined a party or two."
"You ever grow your hair long?"
Nicholas glanced at him sideways for a second, just checking if he was serious. "No. Why, did you?"
Danny grinned. "Yeah. When I was seven'een. Dad was starting to make noises about me coming to work wiff 'im and I kinda…rebelled."
"And how did that work out?"
Danny giggled that warm laugh that could never keep Nicholas from smiling along with him. "Not really well. At least as far as 'ee was concerned. 'Ere…"
The larger man leaned opposite to fish in a drawer in the side table next to the couch and came up with a small photo album. He flipped to a page in the middle and held it out.
Nicholas smiled at the picture of a young Danny, slightly thinner, with tangled dark locks that fell to his shoulders, smiling with his mouth open, surrounded by people. It had to have been at a club somewhere, maybe ten years ago.
Danny smiled with the memory and pointed at the photograph. "That's me. That's my old friend Nigel and 'is girlfriend, Lizzie, my cousin Ian and 'is friend Craig."
Nicholas leaned in and squinted at the photo.
"What's wrong with your arm?"
In a minute detail of the photo, the top of Danny's arm was smeared with dark smudges and surrounded in bright pink, seemingly inflamed.
Danny shrugged. "You've seen my tat'oo."
"Oh. Yes. I rather wondered about that a bit. It's a sunburst, isn't it?"
"Yeah. This was the night I got it."
"Does it mean anything special?"
"Well…" Danny pulled up his sleeve to look down at the old ink on his shoulder. "It's supposed to be for new beginnings. Kind of…well, it's gonna sound silly."
"Oh, come on, Danny. You can trust me."
"Well, at the time, I was kinda…confused. Din't wanna always have ta follow in Dad's footsteps, you know wot I mean? I took it as a symbol of not having to do what I din't want to do. Something that meant that the sun comes up every day; a kind of break in the clouds, right? To me it meant that every single day we all have to make a new decision to keep doing wot we're doing, yeah? Does that make any sense at all?"
Nicholas looked once more at the picture of young Danny having fun with his friends and nodded slightly. "It makes perfect sense. You…didn't want to follow in your dad's footsteps?"
Danny shrugged again. "Not always, no. After Mum died, I kinda figured 'ee needed me. But then I decided that I was doing it for my own purposes, you know? Like, the tat'oo was there to remind me that I didn't 'ave to do it just because of 'im but because I decided to go that way."
Nicholas nodded absently and sat back, taking another tug at his beer. Danny noticed that he seemed to be thinking hard for a moment before he grunted, leaned forward and rolled up his right sleeve. He bore his right shoulder to his friend and smiled.
Danny's face beamed brightly in awe.
"Korr! Nich'las! Why din't you tell me you 'ad the same tat'oo?"
Nicholas smiled sort of semi-regretfully. "One night, after I'd gotten the call that my uncle Derrick died-"
Danny remembered the story about the pedal car and the fallen-from-grace-cop uncle who had, in a way, inspired Nicholas to be a police officer.
"-I took a walk. I didn't know or care where I was headed and after I'd walked for a good long while, I found myself in a pub. A few drinks later, I…found myself in a tattoo parlor down the street."
"And you wanted to get something to remind you of your uncle?"
Nicholas shook his head. "No. I was trying to get away from that memory. I wasn't thinking clearly. Anyway, I picked the sunburst because it appealed to me at the time. Later, I looked it up and found that, symbolically, it was supposed to mean the shining forth of light through darkness. That was what I'd wanted - to be a force of goodness and right. I wanted to protect the innocent against the…bad guys, I suppose. I wanted to be everything that I thought Uncle Derrick might not have been. I didn't realize until later that he was trying to help the family with the extra income from selling drugs. Still, I wasn't able to abide him doing that and getting arrested. Uncle Derrick didn't have any tattoos that I know of. Maybe I was just trying to differentiate myself."
Nicholas looked away, probably still trying to reconcile his love of his uncle and his love of the law. "I guess it still fits in some way. I'm not really sure how, though."
Danny was still smiling at him.
"You are a force of goodness, Nicholas. We 'ave the same mark. The same tat'oo."
Nicholas stared at his partner blankly.
"It means the same for us. We both wanted to break through the past and do wot was right."
Nicholas scrubbed a hand through his short hair and thought about what was right and what was wrong…and about his uncle.
Danny smiled at him.
And nothing could feel more right.