Author's Note: First off, this isn't written in the same POV as The Dresden Files, mainly, because those are case files and this is not. Also: the acquisition of the Beetle probably didn't come about this way in canon, but I like my version. Yay for getting into a new fandom. :D

The Dresden Files/Codex Alera is copyright Jim Butcher. This story is licensed under the Creative Commons as derivative, noncommercial fiction.

So there. XD

Let me re-introduce myself as a man with a cause

—"Let's Go," Cartel

Lazarus Motors, the humorless sign read in tall, yellowed letters.

The young man standing beneath it snorts and wonders if it might be some kind of…omen, or something. The portents portion of Magic 101 didn't cover billboards and storefronts.

The wind tugs idly at dark hair, which he pushes back as he eyes the sign with skepticism. He's too tall for his clothes, lanky and sharp-edged all over. Harry Dresden is mostly nose, knees and elbows. Or at least that's what his girlfriend used to say, usually followed by his suggestion of a few other anatomical attributes that should be featured in her list.

Good times.

A little family of maple leaves scatter around his ankles in gold, flame red and amber, pushed on by the stiff breeze.

Ebenezer McCoy stands off to the side, leaning on an oak staff, being quietly mentor-ish. This is the sixth dealership they've visited today – he wants to keep his options open, and if McCoy is fed up with chauffeuring him around, it doesn't show. Truth be told, he thinks the old man is having as good a time as he is.

Harry shoves his hands in his jacket pockets and eyes an army-green Jeep parked near the office, until he sees the price. Whistling, he turns on his heel and walks toward a row of 'Certified Pre-Owned' rolling deathtraps, parked out of view of the street.

So maybe he's a cynic, but 'Used' takes less time to read, less ink to print and conveys the same general idea of faded paint and cigarette burns in the upholstery.

Ebenezer had promised, on the condition that Harry passed his GED, they'd go car-hunting. He'd worked for ages, delivering feed and hay and firewood for McCoy's friend who owns the farm store. When he finally had enough money, he bought the study guide, signed up for the test and passed on the first try.

It had been pleasantly unlike that driver's license fiasco – he was pretty sure the Department of Motor Vehicles lady had issued him the license out of pity after his sixth attempt.

The sun warms back of his neck and the car salesman is hovering in his peripherals, black and greasy like a vulture. Dusty windshields reflect the hazy, thick light of late afternoon, and everything is shiny and distracting and perception-altering.

Harry walks the length of the parking lot, passing a gorgeous sixties model Mustang, black and gleaming chrome, but too high-maintenance. He doesn't like working on cars – if you don't have the innate motorhead proclivities, it's just uselessly frustrating.

Never mind the fact he doesn't combine well with flammable liquids. Kablooey.

There's a rusty silver GMC truck in his price range, but he doesn't want a truck, people just ask you to haul shit around for them. What a pain in the ass that would be (if he actually knew people).

Next, a Honda, economical but too new for his purposes – he'd short out the computer and wiring in thirty seconds if he got too angry or angsty or horny, and since those were his factory preset emotions, well…

Magic; phenomenal cosmic powers, no working stereos for thirty yards.

He keeps walking, passing a Cadillac, a Corvette, a Corolla, a Camaro. Say that five times fast. A white panel van that screams 'serial killer,' and oh boy, that's a title he'd like to avoid if at all possible.

He's about to turn and head back to Eb's truck when he catches a glimpse of faded powder blue on the far side of the van.

A second glance and he's in love. Bewitched, body and soul.

It's a Volkswagen Beetle. There's an impressive crack spidering its way across the front windshield next to the price tag, rust on the front bumper and a handful of Mardi Gras beads hanging in the rearview. Bare metal shows through the paint in places and one of the door panels is dented deep enough to bake a cake in, but the tires are new and the suspension has a nice spring to it when he leans against the hood.

He can't keep from smiling as he peers in the windows. The car's so ugly it's cute, with a sense of steely, indomitable cheerfulness about it, like it's saying, "Come on, get happy, goddammit."

Harry already gets along with this car better than eighty percent of the people he's met in his life. Maybe eighty-five.

That constant, gnawing dread in his stomach is suddenly replaced by something else – a weird one. It's a quivering, excited, unfamiliar little feeling, fragile but powerful. He hasn't felt this one in a while. It's certainty, so strong it may actually be prescience. That's his car, parked there next to the creepy van.

He makes a mental list of pros and cons anyway – I could park the damn thing anywhere and incredible gas mileage outweigh the dents and cracked windshield and the fact that even a master of the Kama Sutra wouldn't get laid driving a rustbucket like that.

Not that it would be physically possible to have sex in a car that small unless he was a master of the Kama Sutra. And it's not like he'll be getting any for the foreseeable future, anyway – that's pretty obvious even without a crystal ball.

Instead of lingering on that pathetic tangent, Harry runs through the math in his head – he has enough money in his pocket for the car (tax, title, and license), a tank of gas, and a Coke on the way home. He waves the salesman and Ebenezer over.

"Can we test drive this one?"

The salesman hurries to the office for the keys. Harry's fighting a grin and McCoy looks at him, then the car, then back to him, his lined face writ with doubt.

"You sure you gonna fit in there, Hoss?"

The wind tears at his hair but he doesn't roll the window up. The car smells like industrial-strength pine-scented air freshener and pot smoke and needs airing out before he gets chemical pneumonia or a contact high.

Sticky tape residue delineates a square on the windshield where the price tag had been, until he'd unceremoniously ripped it off and chucked it behind the seat. There's a Depeche Mode tape rattling around in the floorboard. He has a can of Coke in one hand, his fingers cramped from the chill of it.

Ebenezer had stepped in front of him and paid for the car, peeling hundred dollar bills off a roll and telling him to keep his money. He didn't protest too much – you don't question the judgment of someone that's been alive for better than two hundred years. Or you don't do it more than once, anyway.

"Now, this is your birthday present, so don't go askin' for anything else," McCoy had said, his demeanor shifting a few degrees from mentor-ish to grandfatherly, and Harry stopped suddenly, keys dangling from his fingers.

Halloween. He'd be eighteen – legally allowed to do whatever, though he was still under the Doom of Damocles, and still apprenticed to McCoy, who has been asking what he plans to do with the rest of his life since the day Harry moved in. To be honest, he'd never really thought about it until recently. He had expected to be Justin's apprentice for at least ten more years, provided he lived through the lessons. Most of his plans had involved a girl with blonde hair and grey eyes, whose name he never ever says anymore.

His fingers tighten around the steering wheel and he shakes his head, slowing at the crest of the hill overlooking the farm. The sunset filters through the iron-colored fortress of an autumn thunderstorm, building, rolling in with a ponderous grace.

He wants so badly to be happy right now that it physically hurts. He is, but it's a fractured happiness, and god… what little normality he's able to conjure up only seems to emphasize all the parts of him that are gone. He feels like a yard-sale board game, with the instructions missing and pieces lost in dark, dusty places. Disappointing. Incomplete.

It's a burning kind of emptiness, surrounded by the all-consuming drive to compensate for the void, to fill it with something. To make good.

"Man up, Dresden," he growls at the face in the rearview mirror. Not for the first time. Definitely not the last time.

He parks the Beetle next to Ebenezer's truck. McCoy is grilling steaks for dinner, standing on the wide porch that runs around the farmhouse. He nods a welcome as Harry crosses the gravel driveway to stand next to him. For a moment they watch the horses, grazing in the big pasture next to the new barn. The shadows grow longer in their silence.

"Big step, owning a car. Big responsibility."

This is about as sentimental as they get.

Harry nods. Ebenezer flips the steaks. "What's your next move? College?"

"I don't want to go to college," he blurts out, waiting for a chastisement that doesn't happen.

"That's fine. I never went, not when I was your age. There's plenty of time for that, if you ever decide you want to, but even a wizard needs a trade."

Harry pushes himself up to sit on the porch rail. His fingers find the folded-up pamphlet for a private investigation course in his pocket. It's been there for two weeks because he hasn't found a way to bring it up to Ebenezer. This isn't something new—he's had this idea since he'd found out about his magic, but when he told Justin, the man had laughed and told him to quit reading so many comic books.

He takes the paper out of his pocket and slowly unfolds it before handing it off. The old man reads, peering through his glasses.

"I...I want to help people. And I'm really good at finding things," he says, a little ashamed of the defensive tone that creeps, unbidden, into his voice. "You said so yourself."

"That I did," McCoy says, smiling, and gives Harry a look that says go on.

So he does.

Thanks for reading.