A/N: Salutations! This is my first story in the world of "The Walking Dead." I've become very invested in the Rick x Beth pairing, and I wanted to contribute to the fiction catalogue.
This story's title is taken from the Bruce Springsteen song, "If I Was the Priest."
If Jesus Were the Sheriff
He wondered if it was just his imagination.
A lot of women are tactile, especially the sweet ones. And those warm, lingering smiles—maybe that was just a broken man misperceiving time. He wasn't the most sane person on planet earth right now.
But sometimes when she walked by, he could swear she purposefully brushed past him. When he entered a room, he could swear her body stiffened. Her voice, feminine and small, seemed to hum with electricity when she addressed him.
Or maybe he was crazy.
Rick leaned back to give the appearance of relaxing, eyes sweeping across the road.
"How far you gonna push it?" Glenn asked from the passenger seat.
Rick shrugged his shoulders, stealing a glance at Beth in the rear-view mirror, before replying: "I think we could make it to Clayton and back without much trouble. Wouldn't wanna go any further."
"It's a small town," Glenn said. "You think we'll find anything?"
"Clayton's not on the way to anywhere. If we're lucky, it hasn't been picked through yet."
Beth looked out the window, watching the trees zip past like a flip-book. Her momma had always liked those. There was this one they used to look at that showed a cat and a dog playing together. Beth couldn't remember the last time she'd seen a dog. Had to be before all this started.
"You okay back there?" Rick's voice pulled her out of her thoughts.
She smiled at him in the mirror, finding herself enjoying the concerned look on his face.
"I'm fine," she assured him. "Just nice to get outta that prison for once. Not that I don't appreciate it—it's sort of like home now, I guess—but all that concrete and wire gets in your head, y'know?"
Rick smiled back. "I know what you mean."
He held her eyes in the mirror for longer than he meant to, and he looked away quickly when her face began to flush. If Glenn noticed, he didn't say anything. He seemed preoccupied with his own thoughts, some mixture of pensiveness and disdain on his face. Rick gave him an appraising look.
"Something on your mind, Glenn?"
Glenn opened and closed his mouth. After some consideration, he said: "I'm just thinking I don't like both of us being gone at the same time."
"They got Daryl back there to look after things. And besides, this is important. I needed you—" Rick paused, glancing back at Beth. "—both of you on this one. We can't protect anyone without guns and ammo."
Beth looked down to hide her smile. He was only placating her—after all, she'd had to talk him into letting her come—but it thrilled her that he was thinking about her feelings.
Glenn nodded, but a dark look appeared. "I know. You're right. But we wouldn't be down any guns if—" He stopped himself, shaking his head. "Nevermind."
Rick could understand his frustration. But it wasn't any good to them. "What's done is done. And anyway, it's my fault. I'm the one who said we needed to let the other group take watches. Should've known better than to leave a teenager to guard the armory."
Beth frowned. "It ain't your fault, Rick. You can't take all the shifts yourself. Sooner or later, we gotta trust people."
Though he appreciated her effort, Rick didn't appear convinced. For the hundredth time, he pictured everything in his head.
David, the Woodbury kid, took the midnight shift guarding the guns in the armory. Sometime around three or so, the kid got sleepy. He took a pillow into the adjoining corridor—telling himself he'd only rest his eyes a minute. When he woke up, there a was gang of men—maybe six altogether—hurriedly loading the guns into bags. David didn't dare confront them. He turned tail and sprinted back to the main cell block, shouting at anyone who would listen.
By the time Rick and Daryl reached the armory, the men were long gone. The only evidence they'd ever been there was the mangled door, which had been subjected to an explosive, and the person-sized hole in the fence surrounding the building.
Rick's complacency—letting a teenager guard the armory and failing to post someone at the perimeter—had lost them the majority of their arsenal.
Seeing the recrimination on his friend's face, Glenn felt a measure of guilt. He forced a smile and said, "I bet you're right. Clayton's out of people's way. I'm sure we'll find something."
But Rick wasn't listening. Beth's heart broke a little to see that burdened look on his face—the guilt in his eyes. He'd been alone for so long, even before Lori passed, that he truly believed everything was his fault, that he kept letting everyone down. He'd been taking care of everyone with such singular focus that he probably wouldn't even know what to do with comfort if it was given to him.
Beth decided that Rick wouldn't be alone anymore.
They left the SUV in the parking behind the town's only pharmacy. Beth suppressed a smile when Rick suggested that Glenn pick the place clean, leaving the two of them to explore Main Street together.
There were no walkers around, for which Beth was grateful. As she and Rick walked, she tried to put the right distance between their bodies—too close to be casual, too far to be intimate. She could have sworn he inched toward her, but maybe she imagined it.
"We lookin' for a gun shop?" she asked.
Rick nodded, scanning both sides of the street and ignoring how good she smelled. "Yeah. But we'll check the bar too, and the corner store. Lot of 'em keep them under the counter."
A charming picture of Rick in his sheriff's uniform filled her mind. She could see him walking into a pub in King County, clean-shaven but tired-looking, as he assessed the danger and calmly asked two parties to explain their conflict.
"You must miss it. Being a sheriff, I mean," Beth said, an admiring smile on her face. "You must've been so good at it. People trust you, and you've always got plan, and you keep so strong for everyone—" She stopped herself and trailed off with a nervous laugh.
Rick narrowed his eyes, studying her, but he couldn't help the smile that played on his face. "I guess I was pretty good at it. Used to think the job was hard." His eyes had a rare teasing quality. "Now? Hell, I'd sell my soul for a simple armed robbery."
"You should take more care with your soul," she chided lightly. "You only get one." It was meant to be playful, but Rick frowned slightly. She added, a little desperately, "—and yours is special."
After a long moment, Rick chuckled softly. He gave her a warm smile. "You are relentlessly supportive."
Her stomach twisted in knots. She fought the urge to grab his hand.
"So are you," she said shyly.
The bar was a bust. There was nothing under the counter; the only gun was an antique blunderbuss being displayed on the far wall. They had some luck at the corner store, where Rick smashed open a lock box to reveal a Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol. They shared a triumphant grin before Rick secured it in his waist band.
When they were leaving the store, Beth gasped as Rick's arm shot out to block her path. He held a finger to his lips and nodded his head toward a commotion down the street. She followed his eyes to a pair of cars parking a couple block away.
Rick lightly grasped her arm, crouching down and pulling her with him. The railing in front of the store concealed them.
He watched the car doors open, as two groups stepped out—six men altogether.
"Who are they?" Beth wondered softly.
They looked relatively young—no older than forty—and even from a distance it was clear they were well-built. Rick couldn't be sure, but he thought saw fatigues. They might be the survivors of a Guard or Army unit.
He watched patiently as they opened the back hatch of one of the cars. They began unloading bags. One of the men held his the wrong way and the contents came spilling out. Rick squinted at the cargo, and a cold look spread over his face.
"Are those guns?" Beth asked.
Rick scowled. "Our guns."
"It's a doctor's office, from what we could tell," Rick said. "I donno if they're holed-up there or just making a pit-stop, but they took the guns in with them."
Glenn glanced over at a falsely calm Beth. She wasn't used to all this, but she was determined to make good on Rick's faith.
Glenn gave a disgusted sigh at their predicament. "If we're gonna hit 'em, we need to get back to the prison, get Maggie and Daryl—make a plan."
Rick wiped his face, then leaned forward as he was prone to do when delivering bad news. His eyes were cold and resolute. "We don't know how long they're staying here," he reasoned. "We leave now and that might be it. Once they're on the road again, those guns are gone."
Beth looked between them a little timidly. She trusted Rick implicitly, but an uneasy feeling was rising inside her. "What are you saying, Rick?"
"We hit 'em hard, we hit 'em now," Rick hissed, pointing down for emphasis. "Glenn and I'll go in—you'll be around the corner with the car runnin'. We'll take as much as we can and get the hell out."
That feeling seized her lungs. His plan was dangerous, and the thought of waiting at a distance while Rick (and Glenn) assumed the risk was suffocating. She knew, objectively, that she wouldn't be much use, but that didn't negate the overwhelming need she felt to protect the sheriff.
Glenn's sigh pulled her from her thoughts. He narrowed his eyes at Rick. "Two of us against—what—six of them?" He shook his head incredulously. "That's some real cowboy shit, Rick."
The sheriff glanced down. Then he gave him a faint smirk.