Rick vividly remembered the first time he met Derek.
The babysitter had been crying, tears and worry slurring her words as she tried to explain that she'd just gone out to get the mail and when she'd gotten back, the backdoor had been open and Stiles had been gone.
Susan had made a pained noise and her grip on Rick's hand tightened painfully. "He's only six," she said, biting her lip because they both knew Stiles could find trouble anywhere.
Rick had only just started at the Police Station but the Sheriff had called out a half a dozen officers anyway and Rick couldn't help the surge of gratitude even if the Sheriff had very sternly told him to stay put. Rick wanted to be out there searching, but he also wanted to be here if Stiles wandered back on his own. First to hug the stuffing out of him and second to yell at him until he'd run out of words.
The conflicting impulses had led him to alternately pace angrily across the living room floor trying out some of those words and hugging his wife until she stopped crying.
"I should be out there," Rick said for the dozenth time, a hand running through his hair, but all of his agitation was shocked to stillness when he heard the knock.
He practically tore the door off its hinges when he opened it to find a young boy just shy of teenager on the other side; his gangly body just waiting to fill out, his wide spaced pale eyes looking huge on his thin face.
Held tightly in his hand was three feet of bouncing boy, Stiles' huge smile splitting his face as he pronounced, "Daddy I flew," before throwing himself into Rick's arms.
The boy was Derek and he was eventually able to explain, with Stiles interspersed commentary, that Stiles had climbed onto the roof of an abandoned building but hadn't been able to find a way back down.
"Derek told me to jump," Stiles said, leaping from one side of the room to the other, "So I did!"
Susan gasped and Derek looked down at his hands. "The roof wasn't very stable," he said in a quiet voice, "and I wasn't sure it would hold him if I ran and got help."
"So you...so you told him to jump and you caught him?" Rick asked incredulous.
Derek's gaze flickered back up to meet his eyes and he smiled slightly. "Yes, sir. It was the only thing I could think of, and I'm pretty steady on my feet," he said with the confidence of youth. "I knew I could catch him."
Rick had to lean against the wall to support himself, his mind playing out everything that could have gone wrong. Stiles was only six but he was sturdy, and he could've easily flattened the other boy. "Jesus," he whispered, but Susan was already moving forward.
"Thank you," she said, grabbing his hand and holding it tightly. "Thank you for catching him."
Derek had nodded and then backed out the door, but he didn't get two steps before Stiles bounded over to him and tugged on his shirt until he was leaning down so that Stiles could whisper something in his ear.
Rick was surprised when Derek smiled suddenly, huge and bright before he murmured something and ruffled Stiles' short hair. Then, with another nod at Rick and Susan he turned and loped away.
Four years later he watched that same boy, taller and stronger, stare hollow eyed at his burned out home.
"I'm sorry, son," Rick said softly, putting a hand on his shoulder. "If there's anything I can do..."
Derek looked up at him, his eyes blank and his face smoothed of any expression. "There's nothing," he said softly. "Thank you."
Rick thought of his little boy on an abandoned roof, he thought of Derek's smile and hoped fervently that someone would be able to catch Derek and hold on before the boy did something stupid. It took another six years before Rick figured no one had.
"Let's go over this again," Rick said, sitting back in his chair, his manner relaxed and easy. It didn't seem to matter because Derek sat in the same upright and stiff position, his hands folded in front of him and his eyes quietly watchful. "Who's the girl in the grave?"
Derek didn't move, didn't blink, and Rick sighed in frustration.
"Look, you were a good kid," he started, leaning forward, but Derek cut him off.
"I see your son still likes to jump off roofs."
"What?" Rick asked, blinking.
Derek's lip twitched with something that could be amusement even as there was a knock on the door. "Sheriff?" Alex said, stepping into the room, a folder in her hand. "You need to see this."
"Right," Rick said, but he stared at Derek a moment longer before he stood and stepped out with Alex.
"It's the coroner's report," Alex said, as Rick opened it and skimmed the contents.
"Shit," he said softly, and then went back into the room to let Derek go.
Somehow it didn't surprise him when he saw Derek and Stiles weeks later, their heads bent together in a whispered conversation. Maybe it should have, but it didn't.
"Boys," he acknowledged as they broke off their conversation. Stiles' smile was bright in the way it was when he was trying to get away with something, and Derek's gaze was furious. It was the most emotion he'd seen from the boy since he'd been back, and for some reason it made Rick relax. "You staying for dinner?" he asked, resting a hand on Stiles' shoulder as he looked over at Derek.
Derek's eyes went from Rick to Stiles and back again before he answered. "I should really get going," he said, starting to stand.
"Nonsense," Rick said, pressing down hard on Stiles' shoulder, both to keep him seated and his mouth shut. "We love having dinner guests."
It wasn't awkward precisely, but it was interesting. Because Rick was just starting to understand how little Stiles had actually changed in ten years: he was still throwing himself at Derek and waiting for the older boy to catch him.
Rick wasn't exactly sure how he felt about it, but it looked like Stiles had made a choice and Rick couldn't in good conscience try to talk him out of it. Mostly because he actually liked Derek and, if his guess was correct, Derek liked Stiles back.
And Stiles, it seemed, still had the ability to make Derek Hale smile.
Of course, it didn't matter that he liked Derek, he was still a father, so after he forced Stiles upstairs to do his homework he stepped out onto the front porch and gave Derek a long look. "You and my son seem to have hit it off."
His expression shuttered closed so fast it was like Rick had taken him back into interrogation. "He's a good kid," he said shortly.
"That he is," Rick nodded. "That he is." He took a sip of his beer and leaned against the railing on the porch. "Still likes to throw himself into trouble though. Boy gives me heartburn."
"I've been," Derek broke off and looked away, obviously angry at himself for speaking. Finally he took a breath and said evenly. "I've been looking out for him."
"As I recall you were pretty good at that," Rick acknowledged. Derek met his eyes warily as he continued. "But Stiles has gotten pretty good at looking after himself. Hell, after his mom died he got pretty good at looking after me too. It takes a strong man to admit he needs help," Rick said pointedly, and Derek's gaze cut away.
"Sheriff Stilinki," he started, his whole manner going stiff, but Rick cut him off with a hand to his shoulder.
"Rick," he said. "You saved my son's life once and it seems he's gotten it in his head to return the favor so I think we can dispense with the formalities."
"You do," Rick said, "and I'm obliged to warn you that I carry a gun so I wouldn't advise letting my son fall and hurt himself this time either." He gave Derek a rough squeeze on his shoulder and then headed back inside.
Just before the door closed Derek said, "Sheriff?" and then waited for him to turn. "I'm still pretty steady on my feet," he said evenly, then flashed a quiet smile and turned and loped away.
"I'm sure you are, son," Rick said, shaking his head and locking the door behind him. "I'm sure you are."
He tossed his beer in the trash and then headed up to Stiles room, shaking his head again when he caught sight up Stiles spinning in his chair and air-drumming.
"Dad!" he said, startling and getting tangled in his headphones. "What's up?"
Rick leaned against the door and crossed his arms. "So about your boyfriend," he started, and then grinned unrepentantly when Stiles dropped his head into his hands and said, "Oh my God."
"I'm just saying-"
"Can we not talk about this?" Stiles pleaded. "Like ever?"
"Oh no," Rick said, shaking his head sadly. "I get to milk this for years," he said, as he walked away. "Years."
"I hate you!" Stiles called after him, and Rick smiled.
Maybe it wasn't conventional, but it worked for them, and maybe they could see to it that it worked for Derek too. Rick always did have a soft spot for the boy, and besides, he still owed him. And Rick always paid his debts.