The thing is, Dani hates Cora Hale on sight.
They have three shared classes in freshman year and the other girl shows up to all of them in clothes so fucking designer they don’t even have labels, clutching a Starbucks travel mug to her chest and staring at everyone with dark, judgmental eyes and her lips pressed in a thin line, like she’s better than all of them and wishes they’d just leave her the fuck alone.
Rich fucking white girl.
Dani, who grew up with a single parent working her ass off to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, with the parents of her friends being politely snide about her mixed heritage and lack of money, hates her.
She knows it’s not rational, knows that she’s doing the exact same thing that’s been done to her all her life, one snap-judgement at a time, but she can’t help it. She looks at Cora Hale and sees everything she could have had, if the world weren’t such a bigoted, ugly shithole sometimes. It’s the twenty-first century. Life should be fair.
It isn’t, though, it really isn’t. But Dani… Dani tries not to be a part of that. She hates Cora because she’s white and rich and judgey. Because she once watches her get picked up by a guy in aviator shades and a damn Camaro that cost more than her mom makes in a year, because she overhears her say that her dad’s a lawyer and she’s such a cliché.
(And beautiful, damn her.)
And for all of those reasons, Dani dumps one of her study buddies to partner with Hale on a project for one of their shared classes. Because Dani doesn’t want to be like the people around her. She doesn’t want to treat Cora Hale on prejudice and stereotypes.
She wants to know her and be able to dislike her honestly.
So she’s going to do this project with White Girl Hale and she’s going to get to know her enough to confirm everything she thinks and then she’ll be able to say, “What a bitch,” without that squirmy feeling of guilt in her gut and it’ll be fine. And once their shared classes are done, she’ll never have to see her again.
Doesn’t work out that way.
The first thing that happens when they meet to work on their presentation is that Hale slams her travel mug, which she might as well be surgically attached to, down on the table. It doesn’t say ‘Starbucks’ at all, but is instead a pirated version of the iconic label, reading ‘Starfucks’. The logo-lady has been turned into a tentacle-waving Cthulhu. It looks fucking awesome.
(Dani wants one.)
Hale notices Dani’s gaze, smirks as she drops her bag on the floor and sits across from her. “My brother made it for me. Awesome, right? He’s a total save-the-world hippie and the dads made it way worse by sending him to art school, but he gives good gifts.”
She sighs dramatically while Dani tries to parse that sentence, gets hung up on ‘art school’ and ‘dads’. Not what she expected. Not at all.
Cora leans forward. “So. The class is called ‘overview of twentieth century lit’, but so far, it’s all been dead white dudes. How do you feel about Margret Atwood? Bessie Head? Joy Kogawa? I don’t dig the child’s perspective of Obasan, because it’s creepy, but it’s a good book and I refuse to sing praises on Hemingway in any way. Prof does enough of that already.”
Their prof is, needless to say, a rich old white dude. His hard-on for Hemingway can be seen from space. Dani, steam-rolled and sort of spellbound by the way the other girl’s dark eyes have lit up with mischief, just nods. She feels a bit dizzy.
This is not going the way she expected it to.
So. The designer threads that don’t even have labels? Are handmade by Cora’s art school brother and their craft-store-owner dad. Cora calls him Stiles and Pops alternately, without any rhyme or reason to it, confusing the shit out of Dani for a week before she asks.
The lawyer dad – Peter Dad, usually – actually is a big-shot rich guy, but he came with Cora to get the dragon tattoo climbing up the left side of her ribcage and let her maul his hand the entire time. Also, he’s apparently not actually Cora’s father, but her uncle. He took in her and her siblings when their parents died and Cora was still a baby. Stiles/Pops is his partner.
Cora has a big sister, too, who is in law school and plotting to take over their father’s firm one day. Cora tells Dani that Laura will be terrifying with a shark grin on her face and a highlighter behind her ear. She looks so fucking proud of her entire family, including the myriad of non-blood brood (her words) she calls and texts all the time. There’s Alli, who’s her age, and Marcus, who’s a couple of years younger, a few other ‘cousins’ all below her in age. There’s Derek and Laura of course, and Stiles and Peter. There’s Allison Freaking Argent (Dani has a heart attack when she hears that her favorite author of all time changed Cora’s diapers) and a deluge of other names and Cora loves all of them, so clearly and openly, not really giving a shit who knows.
She has her bitch face down pat, untouchable and angry, but behind it, she’s a giant fluff ball who misses her family and plans to change the world because no-one ever told her that she couldn’t.
No-one ever told her that the world doesn’t work like that. When Dani tells her about growing up with her mom, Cora tells her that Grandpa Stilinski raised Stiles on his own, and that Gran Mel raised Scott, her vet uncle. She says that Dani’s mom must be awesome and fierce, and that it’s crap that she was dealt such a shit hand. And hey, Gran Mel was a nurse too. Weird, right?
It’s not really Dani’s fault she falls head over heels in love, okay? It’s, like, the shock of being so fucking wrong about Cora, of finding out she’s this amazing, caring, smart, ruthless person, of watching her write a paper that’d make a grad student green with envy, her phone next to her, Allison Goddamn Argent giving her pointers. She hangs up eventually with a casual ‘love ya’ and turns to find Dani staring at her, smiles.
And Dani thinks fuck it, surges across the desk scattered with books and laptops and drinks, and kisses her.
Cora pulls back, studies her face for a heart-stopping second, mutters, “Fucking finally,” and hauls her back down.
It’s how, six months later, after they’ve survived their first year of college mostly unscathed, Dani ends up following Cora home.
She talked to her mom, who told her to go and have fun, she has to work anyway, they’re swamped, bring Cora by next time. Cora, lying on Dani’s bed, flipping through a slew of pictures Derek sent her of one of his new projects, nodded and said, “We should totally do that. Spring break with my family, and we’ll go see your mom in the summer. I’ve never been to either of the Carolinas. We can make a road trip out of it.”
(And it does not, does not make Dani’s heart beat faster that Cora remembers the talk they had about Dani wanting to pay her own way, even if Cora actually is rich and could cover her, too, easily. Flying home for a week is not something Dani can afford, so they’re driving. Easy as that.)
So. That happened.
And now Dani is fucking panicking.
“Oh, calm down. They’re gonna love you. Just don’t say anything against tattoos or crafts. Don’t get Derek on a roll about politics and don’t ask Laura if she’s seeing anyone, because she broke up with her last boyfriend so hard he still covers his balls when he sees her on campus and she’s militantly single. Don’t mooneye over Alli being famous because she hates it and don’t get her confused with the other Alli because they both hate that.”
She nods to herself, then frowns, adds, “Don’t get pissy when Derek doesn’t talk, because he just takes a while to thaw around strangers and so does Boyd, for that matter. Don’t get Scott started on anything relating to animal rescue. His wife will stab you with a fork if you do. They have seven dogs right now and it’s all his fault. Their kid, Marcus, will crush on you the second you walk through the front door, because he’s sixteen, and your tits are fantastic. Grab one of his siblings as a shield, if you have to, he hates them.”
Dani wonders how she ever thought Cora was the silent type, because really, the girl babbles like you wouldn’t believe. Just… selectively. Also, Dani feels like she should maybe have written that down. On her arm. For quick reference.
This is going to go so badly.
“Ohhhh, compliment Erica’s ink if you want her to love you forever. Stiles, too. Don’t mention Peter’s tattoo, because it’s complicated. Isaac is going to bitch face you. Danny’s a sweetheart, though, and he rules Isaac via sex withdrawal, so just get in good with him. Lydia will, too. Bitch face you, I mean, not sex up Isaac. Don’t let Paige rant about music, and if Bobby gets too crazy, send him to Helen, she calibrates the psycho out of him.”
Cora finally notices Dani going spare, pats her on the thigh across the center console. “You’ll be just fine. And hey, Jenny and Amy are actually mostly normal, so you can always sit with the old lesbians and let them regale you with stories of the olden days. And anyway, tonight it’s just sleep-ins. You don’t have to face the full freak show till tomorrow.”
“People who sleep in the house, i.e. family. It’s not blood, so Stiles came up with sleep-ins ages ago.”
“Okay. Cool.” Is it too late to jump out of the moving car and hitch hike back to campus?
Answer: yes, it is, because Cora turns her car into an obscene driveway just then, pulling up in front of a house that looks like something out of a commercial. Dani isn’t sure, but the extension to one side might be considered a wing. They haven’t even stopped yet when the front door slams open and a tall, wiry man with dark hair comes shooting out. He snags Cora up for a hug and a spin as soon as she steps foot out of the car. “Rocket girl! I’ve missed you! You look good!”
Cora gives the man one of her rare, soft smiles and squeezes tightly. “Hey, Pops,” she greets as he puts her down, patting his arm. He beams at her and Dani is kind of impressed because, damn, people should not age that gracefully. Stiles is in his late forties, but apart from a few laugh lines and some grey in his hair, he doesn’t show it.
The other man coming down the front steps shows it a bit more, but then Cora says he’s almost a decade older than Stiles. Peter Dad. Mr. Hale. It’s weird to think of them as Mr. Hale and Mr. Stilinski-Hale because it’s always Peter Dad this and Stiles that.
He smiles at Dani, the corners of his blue, blue eyes crinkling as he offers his hand, “You must be Danielle.”
She shakes it, finds his hand warm and dry and firm and damn, that’s some nice play of muscles in his arms and chest. “Hi, Mr. Hale. Just Dani, please.”
“Then it’s Peter. And the goof over there is Stiles, please.”
“Hey!” Stiles crows offended, and then tows Cora around the car to shove her into her other father’s chest with a mock affronted look before focusing on Dani. “Hi there!”
He doesn’t bother with a handshake, just folds her into a soft, comfortable hug like they’ve known each other for years. He lets go quickly, not crowding her, and Dani finds herself feeling a sense of loss. That man gives some damn fine hugs, all parental and kind and no-one’s hugged her like that since her mom saw her off almost a year ago, okay?
She hears Cora chuckle, turns to her. Finds her standing under Peter’s arm, snuggled into his side like a puzzle piece slotted into place. It’s the first time Dani has ever seen Cora look small. Usually, the other woman fills rooms. They have similar coloring, too, apart from their eyes, the same nose and chin. Blood relations and there’s no denying it.
They both watch Stiles fondly as he offers his heavily inked arm to Dani. “Milady?”
With a laugh, she takes it, lets herself be towed inside without any of her things. The problem is solved a moment later when Stiles hollers up the stairs, “Derek! Paige! Stop screwing and come help get Cora’s stuff inside! And meet Dani!”
There’s a disgusted grunt and then a deep voice from upstairs calling, “Shut up, Stiles!”
It’s followed a moment later by the douche with the Camaro, only this time his accessory of choice is a petite brunette – Paige, his girlfriend. They’re fully dressed, too. They both hug Cora and introduce themselves to Dani before trotting outside to fetch their bags.
“I should probably-“ Dani starts, only to be hand-waved at by Stiles.
“Nope. You should stay right here and tell us all about yourself. Where are you from? Your family, friends, what are you studying, how did you meet Cora and what did you do to her, because I’ve never seen her smile as much as she has in the past few months and also, what is your favorite color.”
Okay. Now Dani knows where Cora gets her babble from. She says so out loud, because apparently her filter is shot.
“I don’t babble!” Cora growls, offended.
Peter pats her on the head fondly, even as he keeps her from going after Dani by wrapping an arm around her middle and lifting her right off her feet. She kicks. He chuckles, unimpressed, and hoists her higher. That’s some fit dads Cora’s got there. Day-uhm.
“Yes, you do. It’s adorable.” Suddenly, his fond smile turns feral. “Speaking off, should be wait with the baby pictures until after dinner, or can we start now? Is there protocol for this? Laura has never brought anyone home and Paige has been around too long.”
“Peter!” Cora screeches, kicking harder. “No!”
“Sweetheart,” he counters, calmly, setting her down abruptly so she has to stop kicking to find her footing or fall on her face. “I spent the past eighteen years enduring property damage, make-up disasters, food fights and weremaid invasions for this exact moment. Don’t rob me of my vindictive glee. It’s the only payback I’m ever likely to get for all the expensive shit you broke.”
“Yes,” Stiles pipes up. He’s leaning against an end table, arms crossed, looking placidly amused by the sideshow. “Let him. You know how he gets when he has blackmail material and can’t use it. He’s been waiting for you to bring someone home for literally all your life, kiddo. He’ll be insufferable if you don’t let him get it out.”
Cora snarls. Loudly. It’s actually a little terrifying.
“Fuck you both!” she snaps and Dani pales because they’ve been here five minutes and already there’s a fight?
But all Stiles does is snort. “Dish duty, kid,” he tells Cora, still sounding mellow.
Derek and Paige pass them with their bags just then and Derek stops long enough to pat his sister on the head and say, “Thanks, Cor. It was my turn.”
She actually tries to bite his hand as he withdraws it. Somehow, instead of horrified, everyone’s amused. Peter finally lets go of her, giving her a nudge toward Dani. “Behave, sweetheart. You’re giving your girlfriend a heart attack.”
“If anyone’s getting a heart attack, it’s you, old man!” she crows, suddenly all sunshine again, grabbing Dani by the hand and hauling her after her brother.
That actually gets a reaction. Peter clutches his heart dramatically, turns to his husband and whines, “She called me old, Stiles!”
The last thing Dani sees before they’re around the corner, is Stiles patting Peter’s hand in a ‘there there’ motion.
Then she almost gets brained by the backpack Derek flings at her, so she doesn’t pay any more attention to them. Cora hauls her down the indecently long hallway, pointing out, “Laura’s, Derek’s, Craft room, guest room, Alli’s room, parental room, mine.”
“Your aunt lives here?”
Cora shrugs, flops down on her bed while Dani inspects the room. Blue walls, a few band posters, a large drawing above the bed that Dani manages to identify as one of Derek’s. She might have internet stalked him a little. The furniture is all light woods and there’s a big bay window with a bench. It’s cozy despite being crammed full of eighteen years’ worth of stuff. Also big enough to fit Dani’s bedroom back home at least twice, but she’s getting used to Cora being rich.
“Nah. She used to, then she had her own place for a while, then she started travelling again and never really settled down. She calls the house her base camp. Pops won’t let her pay money for her own place when she’s only there a few months every year, anyway. When she needs space, she housesits for Lyds when she’s doing her professor routine down at Berkley.”
Dani finishes her self-guided tour with a look out the window at the giant backyard and matching deck, then drops on top of Cora. “Is everyone in your family somehow extraordinary?”
By Dani’s count, there’s at least a math genius, a famous writer, two artists, a big-shot lawyer, a music prodigy and, well, Cora.
Cora actually thinks about it. Then she shrugs hard enough to almost dislodge Dani. “Nah. We’re all pretty normal. Insane, but normal, really.”
Cora nudges her. “Come on. Dinner.”
Dani expects to tank for the next three days, for someone to start the inquisition and realize she isn’t good enough for Cora, to take offense to her big mouth and angry attitude, for her to put her foot in and ruin everything.
It doesn’t happen.
Dinner is a nice, easy affair and the worst that happens is that Stiles has a small melt down when Dani can’t tell him her favorite color because she doesn’t really have one. They make small talk, ask her about her background, but that’s it. No veiled comments about owning shotguns or questions about how she’s paying for college on a single parent’s nursing salary.
The huge family get-together on the second evening goes just as well. Dani remembers most of what Cora told her, only reflexively tries to slap Bobby Finstock, Paige’s intense step dad, once, and eats way too much delicious food. Boyd, who is little Alli’s father, is a silent but brilliant cook, apparently.
Erica plots Dani’s first tattoo within minutes of meeting her and Marcus does ogle Dani for all of ten minutes before Cora beats him into submission until he yells uncle. None of the nominal adults even try to interfere, apart from Isaac saving some kind of heirloom vase from flying limbs and Danny grabbing one of the littlest kids for the same reason.
Dani has a little fangirl moment over meeting Allison Argent (“Call me Alli, everyone does.”) but she reigns it in and gets an autograph and a promise of an advance copy of the next book in the Huntress series.
“See,” Cora mutters at two am, sleepily curling around Dani because no-one even tried to make her sleep in the guest room. “It’s all cool.”
And then day three, which starts with Stiles breezing out of the kitchen as soon as he sees her coming and returning a moment later to plop a rainbow colored beanie on her head, followed by a scarf and matching mittens.
“You said you don’t have a favorite color so I improvised,” he informs her, snatching the hat out of her hands as she tries to inspect it and putting it right back on her head, arranging her mane of hair under it.
It’s really warm and super soft.
Stiles pats it into place. “I didn’t manage to finish the socks, though. You’ll get them before you leave. And you need to tell me your mom’s favorite color, too. Christmas comes sooner than you think!”
He sits back down next to Peter, steals his coffee and then goes back to his tablet. Cora puts on Dani’s new mittens and then forks a ton of eggs onto her plate, like this is a perfectly normal morning.
“I give up,” Dani decides.
Peter, who doesn’t usually speak before his third cup of coffee, grunts and offers, “Good idea.”
Then he leans his head on Stiles’ shoulder and apparently goes right back to sleep.
Everyone here is insane. And Dani… Dani is suddenly, viscerally glad that she didn’t just write Cora off and move on because missing any of this? Would have been a damn shame, even if she might have never known what it was she was missing.
So she shrugs, flips the scarf around her shoulders with a flourish and steals a bite of Cora’s eggs.