AN: I haven't done a ZA fic for awhile and this one came to mind tonight so I decided to write the first chapter and see if anyone is interested. It was actually kind of fun to really reflect on how Carol might see the men in her life. Hope you enjoy. I'd love to hear your thoughts if you feel like sharing. One more week to go!

Chapter 1

The ZA isn't the place for romance. People die. Happy couples get ripped apart. Children lose parents. Parents lose children… She paused on that thought for a moment. There wasn't a day that went by that she didn't think of Sophia - even the days she swore she wasn't going to… still - somehow her mind would find it's way to her daughter.

Romance, love, sex… three things that had never meant much to her. It was easy not to want something that she'd never truly experienced with any sort of joy. But it was also hard not to want to experience things that made others so happy. But what was the point? People die. And then what would she be left with? The same thing she felt when she thought of Sophia - a constant ache to feel that joy once again.

She hadn't always been so bitter about falling in love. There were moments, back on the farm and in the prison, that she'd really thought about it. She saw the relationship between Maggie and Glenn develop and it was beautiful. She'd even tried flirting a few times, to see what it felt like - to see what kind of reaction she would get. Carol thought about the scoffing, the pink in his cheeks. He pretended to brush her off, but truth was - he'd liked it, she was sure of it. So why hadn't she pushed harder? Why hadn't she let herself fall in love with him? There were times she thought maybe she had, fallen in love with Daryl, but then she convinced herself it just wasn't that type of love - for either of them.

But Carol had spent weeks reflecting on her life, both before and after the ZA began. She knew now that she loved him - and always had, right from the moment Sophia was lost and he put his mind, soul and body into finding her. She loved him, but she'd left him and he didn't know where she was or how she felt. She couldn't go back - not yet. She just wasn't ready for that. So she would stay, in her cozy little house, alone - well as alone as Ezekiel and Morgan would allow for.

Morgan was good about respecting her privacy, Ezekiel - not so much. But he was kind and Carol knew he was a good man who only wanted to help her, so she couldn't bring herself to tell him to fuck off. Morgan would show up and drop things off on her porch. Some days she would invite him in, only briefly, and other days she would wait until he was gone before she went out to see what he'd left. Again, it was sweet and thoughtful, but it annoyed her deeply that neither of them believed she could look after herself. Yeah, it was great to enjoy the fresh fruits and vegetables from the kingdom, but she didn't need them.

Morgan. Ezekiel. Tobin. Any one of those men would be happy to have her fall in love with them. She saw the way they looked at her. She knew how they felt about her. Yes, they were all good men in their own way. What she did with Tobin was wrong though - she knew that now. He was nothing more than an experiment. Her mind was so jumbled, she'd been so messed up - she thought something normal could fix her. What was more normal than playing house with a decent guy? That's what Tobin was - a decent guy. He would have treated her well, loved her deeply, did anything he could to make her happy - but she never would have been truly happy. Eventually she would have resented his weaknesses, his fears, the way he admitted he could never do the things she could - the things she didn't want to do anymore. That made him good - still so pure, and it also made him weak. She could never be with a man like that.

Then there was Ezekiel. The persona he'd created for himself was the epitome of brave and strong. He was king. He was a leader. People looked up to him and respected him. But everything he was to everyone but her was a lie - a big show. While she had deep respect that he'd trusted her with the truth and while she understood the need to become someone else sometimes - he'd created his whole world, his entire kingdom, based on this fake version of himself. He had his reasons, she understood that, but it was so different from what she'd done in Alexandria.

Carol created a persona to protect her family. It wasn't about giving people hope or bringing light and joy into their lives - it was purely and simply to do whatever necessary to keep the people she loved safe. Maybe that's what Ezekiel believed he was doing too, but she just couldn't fully get behind his show.

And then there was the fact that he continued to show up uninvited. He'd offered her a place where she could be alone and then never let her just be alone. Carol knew why. She knew he was enamoured with her, he was intrigued and curious. If she opened that door even slightly he would push right in, both literally and figuratively. But she didn't, and she wouldn't. The most he would ever get from her was friendship and some days she didn't even allow that. She was polite and showed appropriate gratitude, but she also made it clear she wasn't impressed by his visits - yet he still kept coming. Men were so goddam dense sometimes.

Morgan was the third option. They had a strange history in their relationship. She'd known from the start that he was smart and intuitive. While she fooled most everyone in Alexandria - Morgan saw through her from day one. At the time he was a threat to everything she'd worked so hard to secure and he was also a threat to her mental stability - he knew she was cracking and she didn't want to crumble. But she had and it was him who followed and found her. It was him who pushed her to find the will to live. It was him who saved her life while compromising his own morals to do such.

He was a special guy and perhaps the most like her from anyone who had graced her life. Morgan understood her, sometimes better than she understood herself - and that was scary. But as much as they were alike - their philosophy on how to live in this world was still too different - even though as of late they had both moved more towards the middle. There were other similarities - they had both lost a child since the turn, they had both been married and lost their spouse since the turn, they were both strong and independent and could survive out there alone, but Morgan still believed that everyone had good in them, that everyone still had humanity left - they just had to find it and Carol knew that some people were too far gone to ever come back, changed forever.

No, none of those men were right for her. From the moment she'd realized that love was her key to living, there was only one person that came to mind. Morgan, Ezekiel, Tobin… they were firmly in her friend-zone, just like Rick and Glenn and every other heterosexual man she knew - all except one. He was the one, the only one, she could ever imagine herself being with. He was her best friend. They had a connection that she couldn't deny and a similar past that shaped who they had become. He was strong and brave like Ezekiel, but he was real. He understood her better than she understood herself like Morgan, but they were on the same page with their fundamental morals and values. He was sweet and kind like Tobin, but he had done all the same things she had to survive, to protect his family. He was everything, all the best of the others with none of the their flaws. Daryl was the only one who she could ever give her heart to, the only one she would ever trust to make life worth living and make all the awful things she would have to do bearable.

But there was a major problem - he had no idea how she felt. How could he? She'd only discovered it herself after a lot of reflecting and soul searching. And even if she told him - there was no guarantee he felt the same way. She knew he loved her as a friend, a dear friend. They were family and always would be. But could he love her the way she loved him? Could she bear to find out and risk losing everything if it didn't go the way she wanted?

Carol took a deep breath and got up to put another log on the fire. She liked to keep the little house warm and cozy during the day so it would stay warm enough she didn't have to get up during the night to add more fuel to the fire. She threw the log on and eyed her rifle. She considered going out for a hunt, to get out of her head for a little while.

None of it really mattered at that point anyway. She wasn't going to ASZ to find him and he had no idea where she was, so it's not like he would find her. It was just one more thing to weigh on her mind. One more regret that she wasn't able to fix - not yet anyway. Alexandria was just too painful at that point. She'd spent too much time healing to go there and end up back where she was when she left. And if that happened it certainly wouldn't be fair to even attempt a relationship with Daryl - he deserved better than the damaged soul she'd been back then.

Another thought came to mind as she picked up the gun and prepared to head out. Would Daryl understand why she had to leave? Or would he be angry with her? Would he be able to forgive her for taking off without telling him? Without saying goodbye? She had so many questions already and more just kept coming. The biggest one of all, the one that was truly haunting her… Did Daryl deserve better? Was it fair to tell him how she really felt, to lay that truth on him? Maybe he was better off with a sweet and innocent girl, someone he could protect in a way that made him feel like a hero. Were there even any girls like that left anymore? There had to be, somewhere, right? Did Daryl want a woman would would be his equal? Someone who would save his ass just as often as he saved hers? Or did any of that even matter? Maybe the real question was far more simple - Could Daryl actually want her?

Carol sighed again and trudged towards the door. When she pulled it open she froze and then rolled her eyes. "Oh for Christ sake," she muttered. His Royal Highness was back - again. And she was in no mood to play nice.