A/N: Inspired by a Season One screen cap of Rick walking from his cruiser carrying the bag of guns and a jerry can. Takes place between seasons 2 and three. I own nothing. I don't believe in betas, I just believe in me.
The rifle in his hands is heavy. The Python at his hip weighs him down and swings his gait almost to a limp. Carrying firewood is a grueling job, and arranging the stones high enough that the light won't be seen by the road or the dead is a job he'll take up to ignore the three ton stare his wife levies at him.
The choice Shane made him make threatens to drown him and the thought of his son taking up his gun to finish the job suffocates. He wonders when Carl got strong enough to level the Colt, to pull the trigger, to not be jolted by the kickback of the massive pistol. He'd told his son 'no more kid stuff', but he didn't know how deep his words would run, how much of an impression they'd leave. Carl is an apt student, and that scares the former cop to the point of being breathless.
His wife is staring again, cold black coals in an unforgiving face, and a baby slowing her steps and slowing his love every minute of every day. He doesn't want to not love her. He wants to be able to fix things. He's always been able to fix things. He's always carried the tool belt, laden with uplifting words and phrases. Now it houses anxiety, and trepidation, and in the deeper recesses fear, and guilt. He'd carried Jenner's words with him for long enough, along with the responsibility – the duty – to keep everyone safe. He threw that bomb into the air, tired of being the one to keep everyone together, intact, and he watched as it exploded and made shrapnel out of hope.
One weight was lifted, only to be replaced by more.
So he presses on, up at dawn, ignoring the sideways glances from Maggie and Glen as they pour over a map in hopes of finding a route. He forgoes breakfast, divvying his allotment to Carl and his wife, despite the frowns from Hershel and Beth. T Dog is on the fence, and the sheriff recognizes the ambivalence of his dark stare. When he meets Carol's gaze across the evening fire it's like she slaps him, and the loss of Sophia comes tumbling down and threatens to crack his flawed veneer. If Andrea had been there, if she had survived – the thought dies before he lets it flicker. If he lets it come he'll think of Dale, and he'll think of everything and everyone he's already lost. The only one who doesn't stare is Daryl, and the short glances and nods from the redneck cut him to the quick, reminding him of a camaraderie that he once had and then had to put down.
His hands flex in the cold night air and his breath leaves his chest in thinly vapored puffs. His fingers ache. His bones creak. His heart has sunk to depths he's never known and his soul is beyond his reach. He stands with stiff joints and stalks into the forest. Here he'll watch, without others watching him, and he'll see that despite the flaws, despite his errors, they're still a group, fractured, but holding together as best they can. He's not sure he has enough hands to keep all the pieces together, or how long he'll be able to hold them. For now, it has to be enough. He has to push on.
He patrols. The fire dies down to glowing embers, and eyes are shadowed, open or closed. The only bright flare is that of Daryl, who is awake, and alert, always ready, despite what Rick has brought them to. The redneck takes over, mumbling something about sleep, and Rick forces a smile that is closer to a grimace. He leans heavily on a tree and slides down, ignoring the bark as it catches the back of his jacket. Sleep is a long shot, though his eyes are heavy and his limbs are lead. He gazes at the embers, his wife and Carl close by, and he thinks briefly that he'd like to be able to go back to where he sauntered down the hot Georgia highway, and the duffle bag full of guns and the jerry can of gasoline were the heaviest things he'd carried.