A/N: hope everyone is surviving the hiatus! I've had this fic idea for a few weeks now, and I finally got a chance to write it out. I'm really excited for it! It's my first official AU/AH multi-chapter TVD fic. I usually stick with canon-verse with TVD, but I'm not exactly a fan of the multitude of plot-lines happening on the show this season...so I decided to write this instead ;) Enjoy!

"I mean, it's just so unfair," Caroline Forbes shut her locker with harder force than was strictly necessary, and her textbooks tumbled out of her hands. She knelt to the ground with a sigh, sending a grateful smile in Matt's direction as he helped her up with an admonishing look.

"Those guys are my friends, Care," he reminded her for the umpteenth time when she continued glaring at the cluster of football players standing down the hall from them. "I know you don't like them, but…"

"But nothing," she snapped, "Those guys get to walk on air around here just because their daddies pay for all the new computers, and the new basketball court, and the new gym, and the—"

"Would you lower your voice?" he interjected, casting a wary glance around them as several people looked in their direction. "No need to broadcast your opinion to half the student body."

Caroline pursed her lips, but reluctantly heeded his warning. "Just last week, I had to turn in a paper a day late because I got called into the bar to pick up my drunk mother AGAIN and I had to spend the night taking care of her instead of writing that term paper for Ms. Starr. "

"What did you get?"

"She gave me a freaking C- because heaven forbid anyone around here actually has a good excuse for something," she fumed, "Tyler Lockwood gets to turn in his assignments a whole WEEK late for supposedly having practice every night—"

"We did have practice every night last week," Matt said in a soothing tone, which did nothing to appease Caroline's mood.

"So what? You still had time to clock in hours at The Grill—why can't they?"

"Maybe because they don't have to work for a living," Elena Gilbert appeared behind them, looking out of breath. "Hey," she added to Matt, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek before she hurriedly turned towards her locker. "I can't believe I had to miss all my morning classes," she muttered, "I got called into work."

Matt frowned, "That's where you were? I've been texting you all morning; I thought you might be sick or something."

"You know Damon doesn't allow us to keep our phones on," Elena shut her locker and glanced down at her watch, "Come on, we're going to be late."

Matt reached out to grab her arm, and turned pointedly to look at Caroline. "We'll catch up with you."

"Whatever," she said distractedly, her gaze flicking over to the cheerleaders making their way down the hall. "I'll see you guys later."

"Doesn't Damon know you have school?" Matt demanded as soon as Caroline was out of earshot, "How could he call you into work?"

"I told him that I needed to pick up extra shifts," Elena pulled her arm out of Matt's grip in annoyance, "Especially now that Jeremy is…" She bit her lip and lowered her voice, "Now that we have to pay for his mandatory therapy sessions."

"Sure, extra shifts after school," Matt snapped, "He has no right to call you in at all hours of the day!"

"What's your problem?" Elena hissed back, "You know that we need the money this month—I thought you of all people would understand, given what you went through with Vicki."

Matt's expression tightened for a second as he remembered his sister. After his parents had gotten divorced and his dad had left them with nothing, his mom had quickly descended into bouts of alcoholism while his sister, Vicki, had turned to drugs. One day, she got arrested and was forced to enter rehab. Matt hadn't minded picking up extra shifts and working two jobs if it meant that she was going to get better—and for a while it seemed like she was turning her life around. But then last year, out of the blue, she had OD'd and he had lost her forever.

"I'm sorry," Elena's voice broke through his reverie, "I shouldn't have brought her up. Her situation is nothing like Jeremy's, I don't know why I said that." She looked guilty, "I didn't mean to imply that she was trying to kill herself or anything, I just…"

"I know," Matt said quickly, "I'm sorry too. I didn't mean to get so upset. It's just that, Damon…I don't like the guy, Elena. I hate that he always schedules us to work different shifts, and I hate that brother of his even more."

"Stefan?" Elena frowned, "He doesn't even go to the same school as us, how could you possibly hate him?"

"The whole Salvatore family creeps me out," Matt responded flatly, "And I know that your parents were friends with their parents—"

"Until they all died in that car accident," Elena interrupted, "Look, Damon is doing us a favor by letting us work for him. You could be a little more grateful. No one else in this town would ever hire either of us, what with Vicki and Jeremy and..."

"Yeah, the Donovans and Gilberts pretty much have the market cornered on 'bad reputation,'" Matt admitted, "Family, huh?"

Elena's gaze became distant as she nodded grimly, "Family."

"Sorry I'm late!" she rushed into The Grill, her cheeks flushed as she glanced at the big clock hanging on the wall. "Damn," she groaned, noticing Anna balancing about five plates too many. She hurried behind the counter, where Damon was watching her through narrowed eyes. "Sorry," she repeated, "I know my shift was supposed to start a half hour ago, but—"

"Just go change into your uniform," Damon interrupted, "Anna had to cover your tables...you know how busy it gets here right after school gets out."

Elena ducked her head and nodded before quickly making her way to the employee's room in the back. She fumbled with her locker combination in her haste, and let out a frustrated groan when the lock wouldn't open. "Come on!" she hissed, "I don't have time for this today!"

"First sign of insanity," Anna's voice said from behind her, "Talking to yourself."

"Hey," Elena turned around, "I'm sorry you had to cover my tables. Has it been busy?"

"Isn't it always?" Anna countered, grabbing her things out of her own locker. "Damon told me I could go on break now that you're here. I've been working since you left for school this morning...he really has to hire someone else, this is getting ridiculous."

"You're going on break?" Elena watched her friend pull on her jacket, "But that means that I have to..."

"Cover my tables, yeah," Anna smiled apologetically, "Damon's orders, not my idea." She waved goodbye to Elena and nearly bumped into Damon on her way out.

"You're still not dressed?" Damon demanded as shut the door and stepped more fully into the room. He crossed his arms, "Elena, look, I want to help you out, I really do...Jeremy is a good kid. Stefan and I used to hang out with him all the time before I went away for college. I know things spiraled after the car accident, but..."

"The therapy sessions have been good for him," Elena spoke into the awkward silence that descended between them. "And I know that you're holding off on hiring someone new so that I can have the extra shifts, and I really appreciate it."

"Good," Damon relaxed and cocked his head at her, "So, have you heard back from any colleges yet?"

Elena snorted, "That would be kind of difficult, considering I didn't apply to any."

"What?" he frowned at her, "You're an honors student, Elena. You would've gotten in somewhere."

"We don't have the money right now," she answered simply, letting out a sigh of relief when her locker finally clicked open. "Aunt Jenna is already holding down three jobs just to pay the mortgage on the house, and now there's this whole thing with Jeremy..."

Damon took a step towards her and shoved his hands into his pockets, looking unsure. "Our families were always close, Elena. If you need us to lend you any money—"

"No," Elena shook her head, "You've done enough by letting me work here. In fact, Matt and I were just talking today about how no one else in town would've ever hired us after what happened with Vicki and what happened with Jeremy." She grabbed her uniform out of her locker and gently squeezed his arm, "Seriously, you've done more than enough. Thank you."

Five hours later, Elena had a pounding migraine. She glanced up at the clock again, relieved to see it was nearing 8 o'clock. Matt would be here soon for the night shift, and she could finally go home and...start her homework.

"Hey, I'm taking off," Anna waved goodbye to Damon, before pausing next to Elena. "I'm not working this weekend, so I'll see you Monday afternoon?"

"I'll be here," Elena confirmed, smiling at her friend curiously, "How come you took the weekend off?"

"My boyfriend is coming up to visit," Anna said excitedly, "I've told you about him, right?"

"Just that he's a senior at NYU," Elena shrugged, "I'm sure you'll have a lot more stories to tell me on Monday."

"Oh I will," Anna winked at her conspiratorially, and let the door swing shut behind her. Elena shook her head in amusement and walked back over to the counter, where Damon was looking at some paperwork.

"Where's Matt?" Damon asked her without looking up, "He's usually here for his shift by now."

Elena frowned as she looked down at her watch. "Yeah, he usually is," she agreed, "Maybe practice ran late?"

"Maybe," Damon glanced up at her weary expression, seeming to consider something for a moment. "Hey, it's a slow night," he offered, "Why don't you take off too?"

"But I usually wait till Matt gets here," Elena protested, "If I leave now, then you won't have anyone to wait on the tables."

"The only people here right now are that elderly couple in the back, and those other two people sitting by themselves," Damon nodded towards the lone customers, "I think I can handle it."

"Are you sure?" Elena hesitated, "I mean, I know I showed up late...I could stay, if you want."

Damon studied her, his eyes unreadable. "You look exhausted," he finally said in a surprisingly gentle tone, "Just get home and rest."

She didn't need telling twice, and she sent him a grateful smile as she went to the back to gather her things.

Elena pulled her coat more tightly around herself as she stepped into the chilly night air. The wind had picked up substantially from the afternoon, and she found herself regretting that she had parked so far in the back. She quickened her pace when she caught sight of her car, but came to a grounding halt when she heard two raised voices echoing around the parking lot. She recognized one of the voices as Anna's...but what was she still doing here? She had left The Grill at least fifteen minutes ago...It sounded like she was arguing with someone...

Elena wavered with indecision for a moment, wondering if it was her place to interrupt. She took a step in the direction that she thought the voices were coming from, when suddenly a gunshot tore through the air.

She froze in horror, adrenaline spiking her nerves as she whirled frantically around on the spot. She dropped to the ground a second later, inwardly cursing herself for not getting to her car sooner. She crept on her hands and knees towards the nearest car and knelt down next to it, praying that she hadn't been seen. With shaking hands, she pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and pressed in 911. She let her finger hover over the "send" button and waited a full minute, but all remained silent.

Elena took a deep breath and slowly crawled towards her car, her heart thudding painfully in her chest. The streetlight this far back in the parking lot was out, a mercy for which she was grateful for. The darkness lent a sense of security—if she couldn't see anyone, then maybe they couldn't see her either.

Several seconds later, she had finally reached her car and she let out a breath that she hadn't realized she'd been holding. She reached into her purse for her car keys and quietly slid it into the keyhole, knowing better than to use the automatic unlock feature. She let out another shuddering breath when she unlocked the door and gently pulled it open.

And someone fell out of the car.

Elena screamed, scrambling to her feet. Her phone clattered to the ground, and she screamed again when she recognized Anna's dead body.


Footsteps pounded on the gravel and Elena turned wide-eyed to see Damon and his brother, Stefan, running towards her. Several of the customers from The Grill were also there, suddenly all milling around her. There were more screams when people realized what was happening, and someone grabbed her shoulders roughly and shook her. "Call 911!" Stefan shouted, and Elena looked blankly down at her phone which was still lying on the ground.

"Look at me!" someone said urgently, "Elena, look at me!"

It was with great effort that she focused on Damon's face staring at her in concern. His fingers dug into her shoulders then, and she let out an involuntary gasp. "I..." she began to tremble violently, "I heard people arguing, th-then I heard a gunshot..."

"It was a gunshot," Damon snapped as he suddenly turned around to look at Stefan, "I knew it didn't sound like a car backfiring!"

"The police are on their way," Stefan knelt down next to Anna's body, looking slightly sick. "Gunshot wound through the chest," he muttered, laying two fingers on Anna's wrist just in case. "No pulse," he sighed as he stood back up to look at Elena. "Are you alright?"

"No," Elena's teeth chattered as sirens wailed in the distance, "I'm not."

*let the murder mystery commence ;)