Catalina Flores as Tarantula II
Author name: Te -- author LiveJournal, author email, author website
Recipient name: Zeelee
Requested character(s): Catalina Flores / Tarantula II
Story title: A Higher Law
Rating: R
Disclaimer: All is DC's.
Spoiler warnings: Up through NIGHTWING #100.
Author's notes: There are a lot of stories which could still be told about Catalina. The more fans kvetch about her, the more likely I am to write them. ;-)
Acknowledgments: Big thanks to Prop for audiencing and helpful suggestions.
Summary: Catalina still wants a fight.

A Higher Law

There are, even now, little things.

Curious things designed to *keep* her curious, keep her hopeful -- or not. Catalina has her suspicions. It's just that there are little things which make no sense whatsoever on the surface of them.

The lawyer has no connection to her brother beyond being a name she has heard him curse derisively -- and enviously.

In retrospect, the envy in his voice had passed quite some time ago. There is an urge (still) to tell herself that it's something else she could pin on her list of regrets, a hanging tag of fault -- after all, she hadn't spent much time with Mateo in the months before *that* night.

Mateo had laughed at her sense of betrayal, mocked her. Perhaps because he knew full well how pleased she would've been to know that they were both working for Blockbuster when they both *had* been. Before she had decided to...

There's a part of her which doesn't know how to say it, or even think of it. She'd been doing the right thing, for a while. She knows it. She'd been scared and she'd nearly gotten herself killed, but the nights had felt more hers than they ever had (with Nightwing, even if she'd thought she'd been getting *Dick*), even in the first few nights she'd been Tarantula, even more than they'd felt when it seemed like John Law could make her believe anything, and like it.

Perhaps he'd mocked simply because it'd been a long time since they were young enough to know everything about each other, to have the kind of confidence in that knowledge that she *had* still had. When she'd been 'lina instead of Cat, and he'd been her protection and her hope and...

She'd changed her mind, Mateo had not. She thinks there might be something good in thinking of it that way, as opposed to trying to puzzle out every little hint she should've paid more attention to. Everything that might have kept things from ending the way they had.

In the end, there's a lot of time for retrospection -- more satisfying, more painful than introspection -- in here, and the lawyer is not her brother's, or the late Blockbuster's, in any way, shape, or form.

He's Gotham, though he may have started in the 'haven or some other little cesspool like it.

He's a rich man with dirt under his fingernails who fancies himself a man of the people, as if his tackiness and laziness somehow excuse the fact that he's made millions keeping drug dealing murderers out of prison.

As if anyone would mistake him for the public defender she *should* have.

For that, at least, there's a reasonable amount of plausibility. This is Bludhaven, not Gotham. She has heard the guards talk about her new lawyer with both the expected derision and with simple apathy.

The lawyer is not as well known here as he could be -- though this will almost certainly change when her trial begins.

She doesn't know who's paying him.

He says, "why don't you focus on helping me get you out of here, eh, chica?"

His accent is terrible to the point of making even 'chica' seem offensive, and his eyes say that he both knows this and doesn't care.

His eyes *also* say that he himself probably isn't sure who's paying the bills. Lawyers like him are used to that, she thinks.

She'd probably *know* it if she'd had just a little more time on the streets, with... if she'd had a little more time.

She's in solitary, of course. She hadn't pissed off the cops here enough for them to pull the strings needed to get a 'cape' into gen. pop. for long enough to have an accident, and, while there are times when she'd think she'd welcome a fight for the company alone, for the *contact*...

Catalina has never been stupid.

And being alone twenty-three hours out of most every day means there's no one to ask why she's blushing, and no one to explain to how she'd never realized why it was important to know exactly which poisons you carried.

She still wants a fight.

There are things she'd never considered when she was making her plans and dreaming the dreams she'd taken from Law. Little ones and big ones and things in between, like how the scariest thing about being in prison has shifted away from the loneliness and the sense -- the almost certainty -- that she'll be old and weak by the time she gets out to this:

The calluses on her fingers are peeling and softening. Her arms are still as strong as they should be -- no one tries to stop her from doing the small amount of exercise she can manage in her eight by nine 'apartment,' but her legs... her stamina and flexibility...

She's getting soft.

"You have to get me *out* of here," she'd said to the lawyer, fully aware of both the pointlessness of it *and* the stupid cliché.

He hadn't even looked at her, really. Just turned another page in her thickening file, bit at one of his cuticles on his free hand, and sighed like he was too tired to even sound exasperated.

He hadn't answered her, either.

Sometimes she's afraid of him, and what he means, and who might be paying him and --

And it goes in loops and loops around her mind, because she *thinks* the fact that the jury selection for her trial will begin in less than a month even though no one really knows who Tarantula was (she prays for Law, every day, twice a day. She doesn't believe, but she believes for him. The God of her childhood would forgive him, she thinks, He must.) is a good thing, and because the lawyer has gotten people off who everyone -- everyone -- knew were guilty.

She *thinks* it's good, and she starts to hope, and the walls stop closing in on her and her thighs stop trembling right up until they start again, and --

And, once upon a time, she would've asked her brother what it all meant, and Mateo would lean back against her couch and shake the beer in his hand to see how much was left, how fizzy it still was --

("Beers aren't fizzy. Not good beer, anyway, Cat.")

Mateo would lean back and explain the ins and outs to her, and all the ways the laws on the books could be used and abused by a good lawyer, or by a bastard who just happened to also be a good lawyer.

Mateo would know.

Dick -- Nightwing -- would also know. And he would look away from her like there was something incredibly important on *that* wall or in *that* section of the sky, and lay it all out in clipped, precise terms that demanded attention at least as much as they demanded a tease, or a touch, or...

She tries not to think of Nightwing very much. She tells herself that it's because it's just pointless -- stupid to do it until she's free again and can think about what she actually (needs) wants to do.

This is a lie.

She doesn't think of him because she should be angrier than she is, and because it's one thing to feel confused, stupid, and young about the contents of your belt and something very different to feel that way about... about...

She saves it for the nights. For the times when the lights have been out long enough for her to see perfectly well if she opens her eyes, for her to be tired enough that she's only a *little* tempted to actually do it.

When she's almost asleep, when she can feel the difference between being tired and being, God help her, fatigued like an old woman with more fat than muscle on her belly, *then* she thinks of him, and the things she will say, one day:

"Listen, I know the way you tremble when my fingernails are too long, when I've chipped one or two of them on a wall or on a drug-dealer's face, when I run them up the outsides of your thighs -- so perfect, querido -- and down the insides.

"I know how to make you look at me, how to make you see me, even when you don't want to do it.

"I saved you, and then I loved you as best I could, and then I tried so very hard to do it better."

In the almost-dreams, he is staring at the wall, or the sky. He doesn't say anything at all, or, if he does, it isn't to *her*. She isn't a child, and she *isn't* stupid.

"I know how much more you could have hurt me," she will say.

"I know you were grateful, just for a moment, when I pulled the trigger. Just as I was grateful that you didn't injure me so badly I would never be able to do this -- *this* -- again."

She will show him some of the moves she'd used against Lady Vic, and against Copperhead before he'd gotten the better of her. Some of the ones he had -- maybe -- never seen from her.

"I know this is what makes you happy, because when you are still you're not happy at all. I love you when you're happy, and every other time. Still."

On the good nights, Catalina falls asleep after this, before she can imagine the way he will reject her, and deride her.

She knows none of the others of his family -- and there are names she can guess now, theories and questions she could answer very easily with even the simple, constrained phone calls she is allowed to make from here -- have been told about her. Not in the way she would have liked.

She knows...

On the bad nights, of course, it goes much further. He looks at her -- past her -- like the seniors used to do at the freshman girls who let the boys make them forget that they were supposed to stay pure, for their reputations if not for the Church.

He says she was never good enough, and he has no idea why it doesn't matter that he's only talking about her skills, or her moral code.

He says all of this, and says nothing at all when she asks him why it had taken so long for him to turn her in, and why he'd finally done it when he had.

Because he is a man, and he isn't perfect -- more than that: he's an imperfect man who was never, truly, her partner.

She thinks they will have sex again, anyway. She won't be able to keep from touching him, and if he lets her get close... she knows how to make him tremble. He's like a boy, in so many ways.

And if they do -- when they do -- she knows it will feel, to her, as if they are making love.

She hopes she'll be able to kill him for it. She hopes.

When the not-dreams become dreams (mostly, thankfully forgettable) and when she wakes again an hour or two before the warden decides it's time for all the bad girls *to* be awake again, she erases Nightwing from herself as best she can.

She reads the legal books she's been allowed to borrow from the prison library, she flirts with the trustee who delivers the mail, because the woman is as big and hard as a man and enjoys that kind of attention, and because there's always a few extra moments. The people in solitary never get much mail, after all.

There's a favor there for her, if she needs it.

If the lawyer doesn't get her out of here.

She does crunches, and push-ups, and jogs in place with her eyes closed until her jaw hurts from the way she's clenching her teeth, or until the guards who hang around to watch and laugh at her are gone -- whichever comes first.

In the mornings, with the taste of weak prison tea at the back of her throat and her fingers pressing and rubbing at the points of her jaw, she is as clear as she can be in a place where 'night' just means 'lights out.'

In the mornings, Catalina knows as well as she thinks she ever will who's paying for her ugly, trollish genius of a lawyer, and that the lawyer is as much of a message as a thank-you note.

Whoever bankrolls the Batman would want no traceable connection to a woman like her, but would almost certainly remember with gratitude the ways she'd helped his (their?) city survive during last summer's gang war.

The lawyer has informed her to expect offers of plea bargains within another week or so -- enough time for the prosecutor to save face.

The lawyer had been -- curiously -- hesitant about the kinds of offers she can expect, and has dropped numerous hints about prosecutors being corrupted in some vague, indefinable way. She isn't aware of anything like that -- Mateo had, the last she'd heard, resigned under the sort of cloud no one *here* is able to penetrate.

She'd had no information to give him, really, but... she can guess.

Ten years. Perhaps a little less, probably not *much* more. It seems like the sort of carrot-and-stick treatment she could expect from the man who'd raised Nightwing. She won't take it.

In ten years, she'll be weak and half-broken by this place. She'll look twenty years older and fight like something...

She'll be an animal, or crazy, she thinks. She'll be even less of a player than she'd gotten to be before, she'll be forgettable and *absent*, and...

She can't.

She *won't*.

Tomorrow, or the day after -- whichever looks more boring -- she'll request an urgent meeting with the lawyer. She'll pretend the phone call she'd gotten from her cousin in Philadelphia the other night was something more than the awkward dance of family members and well-meaning strangers, that there might be something *extra* in it for the lawyer if he gets her off entirely, and some different kind of extra if he doesn't.

He'll look at her as if he understands, as if she's finally admitting to his worst suspicions about whoever's paying his fees, and he will, perhaps, manage some kind of miracle.

While she's talking to him, she won't let herself think about the smell of the old, well-stocked gym in her neighborhood, or the bite of the pasteles at Diego's, or the way everything she'll probably never get to say to Nightwing crowds at the back of her throat until she doesn't know if she'll vomit or scream like a crazy woman. She'll be the sly, hard murderer they all think she is.

She'll be the Tarantula who helped kill John Law.

She'll do it, even though it makes her stomach feel like a fist with nothing to punch, because if she doesn't...


She'll do it.

And then maybe, just maybe, she'll be able to do something else later.

It feels like a promise she can keep.

end.Catalina Flores as Tarantula II

Reference images taken from NIGHTWING #100 and page 15 of NIGHTWING #93.

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