It started off with a cough. Tango didn’t think it meant anything and he certainly wasn’t going to make a big deal out of nothing, it would only hinder him from escaping and he was sure the other inmates would take advantage of his weakness. While they did value him as their fence, it was survival of the fittest and such an open display of frailty would land him at the bottom of the food chain.
A shrill ringing blared through the hallways and he groaned. Staring at the ceiling, aches began to make themselves known as they weighed him down. He gathered his strength and pulled himself out of bed, getting ready for the day. Eventually, he slowly meandered behind the other inmates as they made their way towards morning roll call. Feet heavy and eyes drooping closed, he stumbled forward into one of the guards, LeVeque. Goddamnit. LeVeque was one of the harsher guards around the prison, always watching them, waiting for someone to trip up. Well, fuck Tango then because he had literally tripped up right into him.
“Oi, watch where you’re going Tango.”
“Sorry, sir,” Tango muttered, he couldn’t afford to be on LeVeque’s bad side today, he had a lot of jobs he needed to get through to prepare for his impending escape and being under the guard’s keen eyes would make everything significantly harder.
They carried on walking quietly. Tango’s chest tightened. He needed to cough so badly. His eyes watered. His chest was aflame, pain crawling up his throat. He burst into coughs, dry but deep, pain ripping through his lungs.
“You alright?” LeVeque shot a concerned look at him.
He couldn’t let the guard think anything was up with him or he'd be fucked; his plans ripped to shreds (and how pissed would the other inmates be if he fell behind on his jobs? He couldn’t let anyone suspect anything).
“Perfectly fine, sir, just a slight cough,” he smiled faintly, hoping his reassurances would be enough to get rid of the rapidly rising suspicion of the officer.
LeVeque quirked a brow but let it slip. He would be keeping an eye on Tango; he didn’t want the inmate falling sick. He was one of the smaller prisoners and an illness would definitely cause issues to arise. Not to mention that he was sweet, always gifting people things, it would be a shame if he fell ill.
Lagging behind, they walked next to each other until they made it to roll call. Tango fell in place amongst the group, lost in thought. He had scouted out the place the past week, constantly planning how he was going to escape. He had finally decided how it was going to play out but he needed to get the resources for everything. Today he would begin the preparations. First things first, he was going to need a better hiding place for his shit, there had been a lot of rumours going around about someone planning an escape so the officers were increasing security, doing more frequent and thorough searches looking for their “escapist” as they had taken to calling whoever it was.
He couldn’t settle on a place, but perhaps that was for the best. The more places he hid things, the less he would lose if he was caught. He would start with the vents first though, risky but harder to find. Files, duct tape, and paper mache would be the most important items he needed to get a hold of today, but-
“Hey,” a whisper from his side startled him out of his thoughts. Of course. Chase.
“You snitching to your little friend back there?” he should have known they were going to find it suspicious he was talking to LeVeque. Perks of being the “family” fence, the rest of the inmates usually did the talking for him (they couldn’t afford for Tango to be under the guard’s heat). Not that Chase was particularly suspicious, they had each other’s backs and Chase knew him better than that.
Chase was their bruiser; he threw the punches (and god did they hit fucking hard) and he usually doled out the beatings. It was his way of asking if LeVeque needed taking care of.
“Nope. Besides, who would I be snitching on, myself?”
“So wh- “
“Hey! Move it you two, it’s time for breakfast,” one of the officers called out.
Whoops, guess they were a little too wrapped up in their conversation. They began to make their way to the cafeteria but Tango couldn’t help but fall behind as his limbs grew heavier and the aches in his muscles slowed him down.
“Hey, pick up the pace man, the officers are gonna be pissed if we’re late,” Chase called out, eyebrows rising. Right. He needed to get down there to pick up some jobs, he was going to need a lot of money to buy foil if he wanted to smuggle things around the compound.
He nodded and attempted to walk a bit faster, coughing as he went. Chase felt worried, something was wrong with their fence. Was he coming down with something? He decided to find Tango during the work period and ask him what was wrong.
Having reached the cafeteria, Tango was hit with the revolting stench of their food, feeling sick at the thought of eating it. He had never been this averse to it before? Perhaps it was because he didn’t feel hungry. He sat down and began pushing the grub around the plate. A nudge from Chase made him take a few bites, each harder to swallow than the previous bite, tearing through his throat with a burning agony. He winced and carried on swirling the food around, unaware of both LeVeque’s curious worried gaze and of the glances shared around at his table.
“Hey, you up for a job? I need something,” the person opposite from him mumbled cautiously, glancing around at the guards.
“Sure, what do you need?” Tango carefully whispered back, glancing upwards. It was Gil, they didn’t always get along but Tango knew he was good at his job.
Gil often worked as a distraction, but he also worked as a lookout. He had been requesting a lot of items recently, and Tango had a sneaking suspicion that he was the escapist. Maybe he should talk with him and they could come up with a plan together, but Tango wasn’t sure he could place so much trust in Gil, he was prone to bursts of anger and Tango wasn’t sure he’d keep their plans a secret in a fit of rage.
“A file and a glass shiv, I need the good shit so don’t flake out on me with a shitty comb one, you hear me?”
He wasn’t the only one who needed a file, Tango thought, but he wasn’t sure he could risk trying to get a glass shiv. They were hard to get and he’d probably have to get one through Xavier, who always had problems with him. Not to mention it would take up precious time he needed to spend preparing and researching.
“Fine, but that’s gonna be $50,” he rasped out. Wincing, he was wary of his developing sore throat. He had all the time in the world to enact his plans but the faster the better and something like the flu would take him out for a good 2 weeks.
“Are you gonna eat that? ‘Cuz I’m starving over here,” Paul joked with a light tone. Rolling his eyes, Tango passed the tray to him. Paul was always ravenous and would take any chance he could get to get his hands on extra food.
Tango was done there; he had another ten minutes or so to go by undetected and scrounge for the items on his check list and the faster he moved the more time he would have. He got up and swiftly made his way out of the cafeteria, muttering to one of the officers that he was going to the toilet.
The aches were getting worse, sinking into his bones and crawling up to his head, pounding away viciously. He wasn’t going to let that stop him, however. He began sifting through people’s desks, finding some duct tape and glue. He had gathered a lot of toilet paper but couldn’t find any files. He would probably have to buy one. What a pain in the ass.
He sat in his cell behind his desk, stopping every few minutes to confirm what he was doing was correct. He carefully shaped his toilet paper into mache but flinched as a knock rung through his measly cell. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. He turned around sharply and felt his stomach drop at the sight of LeVeque leaning against the cold bars at the front of his cell.
“S-Sir? C-C-Can I help you with s-something?” he stuttered out, cold sweat dripping down his back.
Tango jumped up, attempting to cover the paper mache, but swayed as his vision was swallowed by static and he became light-headed. LeVeque jolted forward, holding him steady as his vision cleared.
“I’ll ignore the paper mache if you tell me what’s wrong,” he spoke, eyes betraying his unease.
“I’m fine, it’s fine. I’m probably just coming down with a cold or something, nothing too bad,” he let out quickly, eager to reassure himself, and LeVeque, that there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with him (because admitting he was sick came with a price (time) that he wasn’t willing to pay).
LeVeque’s face screwed up slightly, clearly not believing a word Tango had said. Suddenly, the bell shrieked out. It was time for lunch. They both stayed inside the cell.
“You should go to the infirmary, even if it’s just a cold,” he said sternly. If he started getting treatment now then maybe it wouldn’t get worse.
“It’s just a slight cough, I’ll be fine.”
“If you say so.”
LeVeque waited outside without a word as Tango hid the paper mache inside his desk. He would have to hide it somewhere else soon, there was only so long LeVeque would turn a blind eye after all, but it would do for now. He coughed quietly, trying to relieve the pressure built up in his lungs. He stepped outside and walked towards the cafeteria with the officer.
He had half of the paper mache he estimated that he would need to make a fake vent cover as well as the materials he would need for the rest of it, it was annoying he couldn’t get it done in his free period this morning but he had been having trouble sleeping at night recently so he could probably just do it during lights out. With that sorted, it was time to think about the vent itself and how he was going to-
“You didn’t eat much this morning,”
“You heard me. You should eat more at lunch, you might get sick if you don’t eat,” he stated firmly.
They reached the hall and Tango parted without a response, unsure how to answer. He would be fine, LeVeque could be awfully dramatic sometimes.
He grabbed a tray and sat at a table. He needed to get some files but his scavenging this morning returned nothing. If he wanted to be efficient with his time, he would probably have to buy it from someone else, but he didn’t want to waste his money when he could probably find some tomorrow. His head was struck with an agonising pain and his eyes burned with exhaustion. He pushed his tray forward and lay his head down on the table, closing his eyes briefly and allowing the cold surface of the table to soothe his pulsing head. He slowly fell into the darkness of sleep until someone nudged him.
“I hate to interrupt your beauty sleep, but I need you to get something for me,” a squeaky voice announced across the table from him. Tango slid up the table, a frown marring his face.
“What is it?” He grumbled.
“I need a guard outfit,” Julian declared.
“A guard outfit? What do you need that for?” He could have sworn the escapist was Gil but what would Julian need a guard outfit for unless he was planning on escaping?
“I thought you didn’t ask questions? Look, between you and me, I’ve been a little stripped for cash recently so I was thinking, if I had a guard outfit then I could sneak out and get some good shit in the middle of the night that I could sell for some money. I’ve saved up $20 just for this,” he explained.
Sneaking out would be harder than getting a job but money was money, who was he to judge. Besides, Guard outfits were incredibly easy to make, it’d be easy money for him.
“Alright then, I’ll get it to you soon.”
Lunch was over, and now he needed to get an inmate outfit. He didn’t have access to the laundry room so he’d have to ask Chase to bruise some people and get their outfits. He’d look for bleach and something to dye the clothes with first though. He had seen some bleach earlier in someone’s desk, it would be easy enough to get.
Having found the bleach and some ink, he strode into his cell and immediately dropped them both on the floor, jumping at the sight of someone sat on his bed.
“What the hell are you doing in here?”
“I want to know what’s going on with you, you’ve been acting weirdly all day, not to mention the bags you have under your eyes! How long has it been since you’ve slept properly? Tell me what’s wrong,” the man demanded, voice seething.
“Nothing’s wrong, I’m just feeling slightly under the weather,” Tango’s voice wavered, tinged with panic – Chase never got aggressive with Tango, but it was certainly intimidating having his ire directed at him.
“Bullshit! I’m not the only person who’s noticed something’s up, so tell me!” Chase had become increasingly uneasy at Tango’s state and it had boiled into frustration as he tried to figure out what was wrong.
“There isn’t anything to tell you, because everything is fine!” Tango shouted back.
As the tension piqued, one of the officers (Bruce, was it? He hadn’t really caught Tango’s attention much) told them to knock it off.
“Look, I’ll talk to you about it later, but I need inmate clothes at the moment, for a job. Do you think you could go rough Chris up? It won’t take long and he’s an easy target,” Tango pleaded.
“Fine.” Chase walked out, paced by his irritation.
By the end of the work period, he had received, bleached, and dyed clothes for Julian. He Washed his hands and rushed to meet the other inmates at the exercise block, pausing frequently as he was overcome with dizziness. Reaching the gym, he discreetly passed the guard outfit to Julian, receiving his money.
He eyed the treadmill he stood next to, wondering if it was a good idea. He was fatigued and he felt considerably worse than he did this morning. He glanced up, weighing the option of going to medical, but found an officer glaring at him.
He climbed onto the treadmill, setting it up. Eventually, he would need some keys for his escape and that guard, officer Levi, would probably be his first target.
While he had staked out the prison previously, he thought about drawing a map as well.
The treadmill beeped to life under him.
It would only benefit him to draw one, and he could thoroughly plan out his route rather than making vague guesses based on his memory.
The treadmill was getting faster.
He still hadn’t gotten any files though and he needed to hide that paper mache first before deciding to make a map.
He started becoming lightheaded.
An accurate map would take hours but LeVeque had made multiple comments suggesting Tango should invest in a hobby. Something about his mental health.
His legs were getting weaker. His vision was blurring. He couldn’t keep up with the treadmill. His vision went black and he dropped.