Like one of his limbs, the shadow behind him moves so effortlessly, he has to remember it isn’t just him.
It’s not just the closeness, it’s the silence, too.
Chris Partlow didn’t make a god damn sound.
He’d been like that since Marlo had first met him, standing in the shadowy corner of the room so still and silent you probably wouldn’t notice if he were there. Not unless you were Marlo Stanfield.
Marlo couldn’t really say he’d ever needed or wanted to rely on anyone in his life. His old man had seen to that just fine, after all. His mother lacked the ability to grow a spine and Marlo couldn’t grow on his own and find it in himself to forgive her for her choices, he had to choose one or the other.
He’d always choose growth over other people’s individual needs and desires, there was no other way to get to the top in the game without sacrifices.
The old timers could talk about codes and honour as much as they wanted, but the second their egos were bruised and push came to shove, bullets started flying either way. Ain’t no honour in a game where you have to stand on people’s backs to be at the top of the tower, even if you spouting that ‘family’ shit until you get there.
What the fuck was family, anyway?
In Baltimore, family was just like looking in a fucking crystal ball.
Your mom a dope fiend? Good luck. Your dad in the game? You will be too.
The only parenting that your mom and dad did was proving that all relationships were transactional, and that your future was written out long before some player decides to knock up some bitch he’s been beating on and showering in gifts in equal measure.
Marlo didn’t have to speak much to Chris to know he felt the same way.
Like a moth to a flame or a fly to a spider, Chris was drawn to Marlo almost immediately one night on a dark corner, dust barely settling from the dealers who’d just left for the night.
Their eyes had met, Marlo standing relatively tall and unbothered at 17, Chris standing stockier and meaner, both silent.
By that point, Chris had already spent time down in The Cut after being tried as an adult, and Marlo didn’t need to look twice to guess that about him. It was evident in the deliberate raise of his chin, the square of his shoulders.
A silent invitation for Marlo to fight him, like Marlo had even had to use his fists to get what was his in the past few years.
They didn’t need to speak much even back then, even when Chris had been more of a wildcard than a reliable soldier. Marlo wasn’t about to start up his empire with a Second who was unreliable, lacked sense and had too much ambition of his own.
No. Marlo’s ambitions were Chris’s ambitions, and it was as simple as that.
Corners, avenues, towers, the where didn’t matter to him. His name was out on the name of everyone’s lips, equal parts respect and fear, and that’s what counted.
Respect wasn’t given, in Marlo’s opinion, it was always earned.
The respect everyone had for Marlo he’d earned himself, and Chris had earned for him every time someone was unfortunate enough to stare down the barrel of his gun.
That wasn’t to say Chris was mindless, they’d both gotten into it a few times.
Marlo was stubborn, relentless and by all accounts, single-minded. Chris was loyal, shrewd and had the caution a man with Marlo’s reputation lacked. Chris was Marlo’s caution, the questioning stare after a phone call, the nudge of his arm when he was driving Marlo around.
He could live a thousand lifetimes and he’d always recognise the weight of Chris Partlow’s stare on him, like waves crashing on a shore.
When they were starting out, that stare would usually be levelled at him from the corner of a grimy room in one of the terraces they barely glanced at nowadays, two dusty mattresses piled in one room with threadbare blankets strewn in the bitterly cold room.
Marlo didn’t care about the indignity of living like a dope fiend without the comfort of a needle to ignore his surroundings. He’d been hopping place to place since he’d left home at 13, and he hadn’t been back home since.
Chris didn’t seem to care much, until one particularly cold night when he finally moves from his solitary corner to lie on the mattress beside Marlo, his attempts to hide his shivering just making it more apparent.
When Chris flinches under the weight of the blanket dropping over him from under Marlo’s hand, Marlo doesn’t say a word. Shuffles closer, not touching, but close enough for Chris to feel Marlo’s breath fanning across his neck at a steady rhythm.
He knows Chris didn’t sleep a wink that night, but the next night he falls asleep for an hour. The day after, a few hours. Each day, Marlo was inching further under Chris’ skin, until it was hard to tell where one ended and the other one began.
When Marlo reaches his current residence now, the furniture is all standard enough, but the place is spotless. No mattresses on the floor, no cracked windows. He knows how far to step into the house until he hears Chris locking the door behind them.
He’d gone a small amount of time in his adult life without Chris by his side and it made him fucking uncomfortable how much the absence weighed on him, like his eyes were playing tricks on him. Two weeks running surveillance on some East-siders, and Marlo couldn’t wait to just eyeball him the second they were alone.
Chris silently moves up the stairs behind him to Marlo’s room, and even when he’s straining Marlo can’t hear a single footstep. The door shuts in Marlo’s bedroom with a soft click and he doesn’t wait before discarding his shoes and jacket, flopping down onto a soft mattress he still might not be used to.
He is used to the way Chris hangs his coat up, leaves his shoes by the door and leaves his shirt on, though. Marlo liked to sleep relatively unrestricted, but even in summer Chris kept a shirt on, scowling when he had to resort to a tank top on the warmest nights.
Now it’s cold, so Chris can get away with his long-sleeved button up as he lies next to Marlo without so much as a sound.
Didn’t matter how much money they had, the decent furniture and lack of smashed glass and dust didn’t change that they never stayed long enough to pay utilities, so heating was never a-given.
Marlo nearly jumps out of his skin when Chris breaks their unspoken routine to drape an arm over him, solid and heavy. He flinches a little at the way Marlo jolts, but when Marlo settles again, he lets the full weight of his arm fall down.
When he glances over his shoulder at Chris, he can see the uncertainty blooming across his brown eyes, the shadows cast across his face shrouding them in darkness. Marlo splays his fingers across his hand, the roughness of his knuckles as his fingers drag over them, coming to a stop as his hand lies flat on top of Chris’s.
Chris’s face moves into Marlo’s neck like it was meant to belong there, his breathing soft and rhythmic. Marlo allows himself a moment to relax into the Chris’s arm, his back pressed against a solid chest.
“G’night.” Chris’s voice is muffled against Marlo’s neck, making him squirm a bit at the sensation.
Chris smiles against his neck, a soft squeeze of his arm around Marlo.
“’Night.” Marlo closes his eyes, thankful for how far they’ve come and how far they were going to go.
Maybe his future had been carved on some fucking derelict corner a long time ago. There was no way there’d be a Marlo Stanfield without a Chris Partlow, anyway.