When it all starts Stiles's can't help but notice that Scott's eyes are gold, as bright and warm as his heart, but Derek's eyes are blue when Stiles first meets him, summer-sky-dream-blue when the wolf is close to the surface.
They're beautiful, bright and attention grabbing, and ever time he sees them they make his already pounding heart speed up.
He doesn't understand the difference in the colors, thinks it might be a born-wolf thing at first.
But then Jackson happens, his death and re-birth, and that theory goes out the window.
It's only months later, sitting across from Peter and listening to him twist the truth, that he gets another explanation for it that might be true.
The explanation works, explains Derek and Jackson and Peter's eyes away. But Stiles is still leery because he's aware that it's Peter and that Peter is never to be truly trusted.
Afterwards, when he's blinked the tears out of his eyes and forced his lungs to work again, he thinks about asking Derek, thinks about demanding to know the truth.
He's so certain in that moment that it would be the right thing to do, so certain that it is what he wants to do.
But then he sees Derek again, remembers putting his hand on his shoulder and the way Derek had leaned against him and cried into the hollow of his hip over Boyd's body.
The thought, the plan to ask him about the truth .... Stiles's lets it go, lets it slip away.
He can't ... he can't be the one who brings it up to Derek, not unless he absolutely has to, can't be the one to make him remember that kind of hurt if it's true.
So he forces himself not to ask, but he can't force himself to forget about it.
Weeks pass and there's something different about Derek after Boyd's death.
He's around more. He seems to be standing just behind Stiles's every time he turns around. He is gentler with Isaac and leery of Scott and Cora both.
Stiles doesn't see him with Mrs. Blake again either. He can't help but notice the way the woman's mouth pinches down every time he and Scott walk into class, the way she stares out the windows every few minutes like she's looking for something.
Stiles's finds that the idea that Derek is avoiding her gives him a sharp bite of satisfaction and pleasure that he refuses to admit to out loud.
He'd never been able to wrap his mind around the two of them and now, after hearing Peter's story that may or may not be true, he understands the two of them even less.
Plus there's something about her, something about the way she moves, the ways she looks at Derek and Scott, that just doesn't seem right.
She reminds him of Matt, of how he'd told Scott the boy was evil only to be brushed off. She reminds him of Jackson too, of how a pretty face can hid a snake deep inside.
Still he doesn't understand why Derek is around him now, why after ditching him as soon as school started up he's back.
It had hurt, the way Derek had cuts ties those last few weeks, after months spent together searching for Boyd and Erica. It had hurt to think Derek was dead, to feel his heart freeze in his chest and his hands go numb like they hadn't since his mom had died, only to find him alive and well and apparently fucking his goddamn English teacher.
So he doesn't understand it but when he looks at Derek, sees the new softness in his face, the way his shoulders droop when no one else is around and the way his eyes tint red like he can't help himself when they are alone in Stiles's room or Derek's loft.... when he sees all of that he can't turn Derek away.
He doesn't want to because he's beginning to realize that in a lot of ways Derek and he only really have each other now. That out of every messed up thing that has happened, some how, they have managed to find each other.
Stiles has always known himself well, has always been painfully honest with himself. He's never lied to himself, never hidden behind denial and optimism like Scott does. So he realizes and admits to himself after only a few weeks of debate that Derek has become his anchor.
Regardless of how the wolf feels about him, regardless of the fact that Stiles's knows the chances of Derek ever needing or wanting or even trusting him back are slim, he still needs/wants/trusts Derek.
Derek clears his head, makes his thoughts order themselves out, makes his heart slow and his hands steady.
Stiles tucks the feelings down and away, puts them in that place he keeps his mom and the pain he feels over Scott's drifting friendship, puts them deep inside of him in a place that Lydia never touched. He tucks them down and away and goes on with his life, only lets himself pull them out when he's home in his bed at night so he can wrap them around him like a cloak and imagine for one moment what it would feel like to have Derek love him back.
But then he thinks about Paige and about Kate and Ms. Blake and he knows he doesn't have a chance no matter how clingy and warm Derek has been lately.
It makes him sad but he's used to not being wanted back so it doesn't really slow him down.
They're alone one day in Derek's loft, like they are more and more often.
They're talking, about nothing important for once, just bits and pieces of lore that Stiles has come across, things that he and Derek enjoy debating the reliability of.
It's nice, a type of warm and comfortable evening that Stiles can't remember ever having before with anyone besides Scott, not since his mom died.
It's different too in a way because as much as Stiles has always loved Scott he'd never noticed the way his hair looked touchable or how soft his lips looked. He'd never found his eyes and his thoughts lingering on the breadth of Scott's shoulders or the strength of his arms like they do with Derek's.
Stiles knows that Derek has to feel his eyes, has to know that Stiles is staring at him, studying him, taking him in bit by bit. But he doesn't say anything, just traces his own red gaze over Stiles's hair and his moles, watches the way his hands flail around him as he talks.
It makes Stiles warm inside.
They're talking and Stiles has actually made Derek laugh, that low sweet sound that he rarely ever hears and always makes his heart squeeze painfully in his chest, when Derek freezes.
Stiles immediately tenses, goes stiff and alert as his eyes trace the room looking for danger.
"What is is? What's wrong?" He hisses at Derek only to watch Derek shake himself out of his daze, red eyes wide where they're locked on the window and mouth gaped slightly open before he snaps it shut.
"N-Nothing." Derek stammers after a moment as he tears his gaze away from the window where all Stiles can see is the reflected glow of Derek's eyes. "It ...It's nothing."
Stiles stares at him for but then he shakes it off and goes back to the conversation. He can tell it's what Derek wants him to do and lately he's been really interested in what Derek wants.
A few hours pass and night comes and even though Stiles knows he should probably be heading home he doesn't move. There's no one waiting at home for him, hasn't been for years now, and Derek is warm and inviting in ways he never would have guessed months ago.
So he stays.
He kicks off his shoes, pulls off his hoodie, and sprawls across Derek's bed like he has the right. And when Derek just looks at him, eyes blazing bright red and mouth crooked up into a small smile, he thinks that maybe, just maybe he might. He pushes the thought away and lets himself get lost in the smooth sheets that smell like pine and leather and something wild that he knows is Derek.
He buries his face in a pillow, wallows around in the sheets, gets a sharp, secret thrill at the thought that the next time Derek goes to sleep he'll be able to smell him when he lays down his head.
When he looks back up he sees the way Derek is watching him, the way his hands are curled around his knees and the way his shoulders are tense.
So he smiles, jerks his head in an invitation that he doesn't think Derek will ever take and has to suck in a sharp breath when he actually does.
He watches, frozen, as Derek kicks off his shoes and peals off his socks, as his hands pull his belt from the loops of his pants and his fingers hesitate on the bottom of his shirt before he pulls that off too.
Stiles watches the way Derek's steps are small and hesitant at first and sees the exact moment Derek forces them to be large and confident instead.
He can't help but wonder how often Derek has done that, made himself large and bold when he's wanted to be small and unseen.
Derek lays down next to him, just slips into the sheets and settles on his back, one hand coming up to slip behind his head as the other settles on his stomach, fingers flexing like he wants to grab something but refuses to let himself do it.
Stiles settles down beside him, lets himself stare and lets his eyes trace over Derek's face, the shadow of his stubble and the line of his jaw, the strong line of his brows and the glow of his eyes.
"They're red a lot more often now than they used to be. Why is that?" He asks Derek quietly.
Derek freezes and his eyes abruptly turn back to the blue/green human shine that Stiles has always found beautiful but rarely sees when it's just the two of them.
"Sorry. I didn't ... sorry." Derek rasps and goes to sit up, shoulders tense again and mouth pulled down.
Stiles scrambles up onto his knees, reaches out a hand and wraps his fingers around the strong curve of Derek's shoulder.
"I didn't say it was a bad thing man. I was just curious that's all." He says it softly, gently, as he tugs on Derek's should and tries to get him to lay back down. "Don't get up, just forget I asked."
Derek hesitates but then he lets Stiles' pull him back down until he's laying down again and then he lets Stiles settle back down beside him.
"I know they're ... unsettling. Not many people like the color." Derek says a few minutes later and Stiles knows he's talking about Ms. Blake, about Scott who always flinches away from Derek when his eyes shine alpha red, about Peter who still looks envious whenever he sees the color.
"Do you ... do you miss them being blue? Do you miss the color I mean, not necessarily being a beta?" Stiles is curious like he so often is.
"No." Derek's answer is sharp and abrupt and all at once Stiles remembers Peter's story. "No I don't. I hated the color."
"I didn't." Stiles tells him suddenly, voice low and soft and full of truth. "I like your alpha red but I liked the blue too."
"You wouldn't, not if you knew the reason, not if you knew what was behind them." Derek turns his head and stares at Stiles, red shinning in his eyes again, face vulnerable and almost begging. "You wouldn't like them ... like me ... if you knew Stiles."
"Derek ..." Stiles sighs his name and reaches up a hand to hesitantly cup Derek's cheek. He's surprised at the way Derek leans into the touch even as he keeps staring at him. "I know. Peter told me and Cora both what it meant and even if I think he's a lying zombie bastard I know that part was true."
Red eyes widen and Stiles moves that hand on Derek's jaw up to run a thumb underneath the curve of Derek's eye.
"They may be different, they may have a meaning that you don't like but to me ... to me they're beautiful Derek because they're yours." Stiles feels stupid saying it, feels cheesy and open.
Derek pulls in a shaky breath and Stiles sees his eyes go wide and his face go soften. Stiles has never seen him look so raw, so close to shattered without a body in front of him.
"What did I say? Derek I'm sorry! What did I say?" He didn't mean to hurt him, didn't mean to make him look like that.
"Don't be sorry." Derek rasps. "Don't ... just ... come here." Derek reaches out a hand towards Stiles, expression pleading, even thought they are already so close together.
Stiles squirms closer, lets Derek cup the back of his head in one large palm and draw him close and arrange his body until his cheek is pillowed on the warm rise of Derek's chest. Derek is warm and solid and still beneath him even as his fingers rub through Stiles's hair.
"I always hated the color, from the moment they changed, but afterwards ... before she died ... my mother told me the same thing. Told me the color was beautiful .. that what I'd done ..." Derek trails off and takes a deep ragged breath, a harsh sound that Stiles feels more than hears. "I see a lot of her in you sometimes. In the way you smile and the way you talk. She ... she would have loved you."
Stiles feels tears well up in his own eyes, thinks about his own mom and the way he knows she would have been thrilled to meet Derek, the way she would have hovered and poked and prodded at him to make him smile.
"I wish ... I wish I could have met her, wish you could have met mine. I think they would have loved each other too, would have made all of our lives a living hell." Stiles whispers into Derek's chest but he knows the wolf hears him.
"Yeah." Derek says. "Mine would have loved you almost as much as I do."
Stiles freezes, feels his heart stop and his breath catch even as he feels the way Derek goes stiff and tense beneath his cheek.
Stiles slowly gets his hands underneath him and pushes himself up until he's crouched over top of Derek on his hands and knees, heart pounding and eyes wide.
"Do you ... did you mean that? Did you?" His voice breaks but he keeps going because he has to know, has to hear it again.
"Yeah, I did." Derek says, voice firm and sure even though his eyes look scared and the hand he lifts up to cup Stiles's cheek in a mirror of Stiles's gesture from earlier shakes. "I love you Stiles. You're my anchor and without you ... I don't want to go back to that kind of life again. I don't want to be alone like that anymore. I know you don't feel that way about me .. that I'm older and I have baggage and I'm not as nice as I should be. I know that you would probably rather have someone, anyone, else but I just ... just give me a chance. Please just let me try and show you that I'm worth it. No one ever thinks I'm worth it."
Stiles's heart feels like it's going to breath, he can feel the cracks in it getting deeper and wider because Derek is so lonely and so fragile for all of his strength and Stiles sees so much of himself, of what he is and could become if he lets himself.
He doesn't want that, doesn't want it for him or for Derek anymore.
He wants to see Derek smile, wants to hear him laugh. He wants to see his eyes flare red when they're alone, wants to run with him through the woods and lay with him in the quiet loft that's slowly become their safe haven.
He wants Derek to live and be happy with him no matter what color his eyes are now or in the future. He wants to show Derek that it doesn't matter to him, that it won't matter to him, if they ever chance again.
"Derek, your an idiot. I mean what kind of werewolf can't tell when someone's been in love with them for months?" Stiles grins down at Derek, aware that his smile is shaky and his eyes are wet. "I thought you would have realized by now that I think you are worth it and that I love you too."
They stare at each other for a moment, red eyes locked with brown, but then Derek leans up and kisses Stiles for the first time, soft and deep and impossibly tender, and their eyes slip closed.
After that color doesn't really matter to either of them anymore.