Author's Note: A little ficlet that came to me while working on "Order Up." Dusty is pretty much a secondary character; unlike the ninjas and company, we don't learn that much about his past or his motivations aside from what we see him do and what's on his file card. In the comics, he seems a pretty level-headed and fun guy, but there's definitely hidden depths—he's frighteningly, almost coldly competent in his chosen area, and never seems to lose his cool. And he really doesn't like Las Vegas.

Hence, this ficlet. Hope you like it!

Rating: T

Disclaimer: G.I. Joe and all associated characters and concepts are property of Hasbro Inc, and I derive no profit from this. Please accept this in the spirit with which it is offered—as a work of respect and love, not an attempt to claim ownership or earn money from this intellectual property.

Surviving Sin City

by Totenkinder Madchen

"Hey, Dusty!"

Ronald W. Tadur, usually known to his comrades-in-arms as the quiet and amiable desert trooper of G.I. Joe, glanced up from the catalog he was perusing to make eye contact with Clutch. Thanks to pulling CQ more than usual, Dusty had been dealing with a heavy duty list for several weeks now, and he had been enjoying the rare opportunity to just kick back in one of the rec rooms and go through his backlog of mail. That relative quiet had now been interrupted by Clutch, Snow Job, and Cross-Country, who were gathered around and eyeing him with a certain amount of eager anticipation.

"You know," Dusty said, looking back at his catalog, "I can feed you guys, but you have to let me get to the can opener first."

Clutch snickered a bit as he dropped onto the couch next to Dusty. "Yeah, good one. Hey—Dusty-you're from Vegas, aren't you?"

Well, that was nice and unsubtle. Dusty closed the catalog, a little reluctantly, but Clutch was a pal and there was no harm in asking questions. "Officially, I am G.I. Joe. I come from nowhere and I exist to serve my country. Off the record, I was born and raised in Mesquite. What about it?"

"Mes-keet?" Cross-Country drawled. "Dag, I thought ya were from Vegas."

"Mesquite's part of Las Vegas. What about it?"

Snow Job elbowed Cross-Country and nudged the seated Clutch's shoulder. "A few us are getting leave all at the same time, and the redneck and the Jersey geek have never been to Vegas before. I keep telling these guys that it's one of the real American experiences—you can't be in the service and not have gotten drunk and tried to marry a showgirl in Vegas."

"We're taking five days next week," Clutch added. "Hit the Strip, see some shows, maybe get Cross-Country to lose his virginity-" Cross-Country promptly elbowed Clutch in the head, making Dusty raise an eyebrow. The Mudbuster driver might play up the hick stereotype, but he'd clearly been paying attention in hand-to-hand. Clutch grunted and rubbed his bruised scalp.

"Anyway, before we make too many plans, we thought we should, y'know, check in with the guy who knows it the best." Clutch grinned, leaning forward a little. "So c'mon, man, spill. Where should we start?"

Dusty eyed the other three Joes. Cross-Country appeared genuinely curious; Snow-Job and Clutch, on the other hand, seemed to be placing silent bets on how many illegitimate children the desert trooper had left behind in the city of second chances. They didn't need to know, though, that the subject of Vegas was one of the few things that could crack Dusty's facade of amiability: they were his buddies, they wanted information, and they didn't mean any harm.

"I never spent much time in the entertainment district," he said, opening the catalog again. Hmmm. A calendar of previously-undiscovered Ansel Adams desert prints . . . that might be worth getting.

Unfortunately, Clutch and the others didn't seem to take the hint.

"Seriously? You're from Sin City and you never went crawling on the Strip?" Clutch was grinning, but his tone was layered with disbelief. "Sue me if I don't quite believe you, man."

Dusty put the catalog down again. "Hey, believe whatever you want. It's no skin off my nose. But if you're looking for information about the Strip, you should probably talk to someone who's more familiar with it. Like Snake-Eyes."

That got a good reaction from the three men—eyes wide, words like "what-" and "are you-" dying before they could quite get them out, and an instinctive glance over towards the corner of the room where an ominous masked figure was quietly playing chess with a redheaded woman. Dusty grinned a little and finally took pity on them.

"No, I don't know if Snake's ever been to Vegas. I was just making a point. Snow Job, if you kept your mouth open that long in the desert, you'd be eating sandflies by now." He picked up his catalog. "Is that good enough for you?"

"Nah. Now I'm curious." Clutch nudged him. "So what's the deal? Seriously, Dusty, you grew up in the biggest, baddest possible place for a guy to live, and you never even got curious? Mesquite wasn't settled by Mormons, was it?"

"Actually, it was." Dusty shrugged, resigned, and put the catalog down again. "But it's not that much fun to live in. Sensory overload, constant hangovers, slot machines in the bathroom. Give me the desert anytime."

Snow Job yawned. "I knew it! All that dehydration has given you brain damage. How can any sane man not have a good time in Las Vegas?"

It has been previously noted that Dusty was a mild-mannered individual. He liked quiet and spending time in the wastelands of the world, but he didn't mind spending time with people either. After learning to survive some of the most dangerous climates that Earth had to offer, he tended to worry less about little things like politics and who married who, and took a live-and-let-live attitude towards most issues. He was loyal to his friends, but trusted them to solve their own problems, and thanks to the necessity of consuming bugs and lizards while lost in the desert, he'd won well over a thousand dollars in eating contests during his time in the service.

He did not, however, like the city of his birth. One of the reasons he'd always enjoyed the desert was that it was clean, pure, harsh, and unforgiving—the exact opposite of Las Vegas.

If you respected the desert and went out into it with a certain amount of knowledge and preparation, you would come back alive. On the occasions when he'd had to lead other soldiers through the desert, they'd usually been surprised at what he considered normal: nabbing the aforementioned lizards for dinner, sucking water out of rock-crawling plants, soaking a cloth with whatever (disgusting) liquid happened to be handy to keep the dirt of a sandstorm from choking you to death. But what the desert made you do was nothing compared to Las Vegas. The desert could only take your life; Vegas took your dignity, your self-respect, and every penny you had to boot. Dusty had seen a few too many relatives get sucked in by the bright lights of the Strip to have any particular love for the city. And as for cheerful, impulsive personalities like Clutch and Snow Job, who went through the world as if they owned it and didn't seem to believe anyone could ever sucker them? They were walking wallets to the Vegas crowd.

So it was with his teammates' best interests at heart that he did what he did next. He sighed, audibly, and lowered his head, as if ashamed or upset by something. "I'm sorry, guys," he said quietly, fixing his gaze on the magazine. "I just . . . I don't like to think about it. It's weird, y'know?"

As notoriously well-adjusted as he was, Dusty didn't get sent to Psyche-Out a lot, but he knew a little bit about the doctor's methods. Clutch and Snow Job, instantly sensing an interesting story but just dense enough not to twig to the unlikeliness of Dusty admitting to anything traumatizing, crowded around and clamored for the details.

Fifteen minutes of elaborate lying later, Dusty had woven a story so complex and tragic that even Storm Shadow's biography couldn't top it. A long-lost sister rediscovered as a syphilitic hooker, a cousin whose knees were broken by the mob, and generous details about just what it was like to grow up surrounded by obsessive slot-jockeys were interspersed with half-remembered bits from pretty much every heist movie Dusty had ever seen. He was especially proud of the description of his sister's dead-on-arrival child, which made Snow Job turn pale green and elicited a wet "urp"ing noise from Clutch. All this was delivered in a low, halting voice, with plenty of grimacing and swearing to secrecy. A graphic testament to the power of the city of sin.

The best part about being known as a friendly, open guy is that when you show people a less-than-amiable side of yourself, they're more likely to believe it. Even if it's bullshit.

Clutch and Snow Job went away, looking vaguely ill and more than a little shellshocked, with the bemused Cross-Country trailing behind them. Smiling to himself, Dusty picked up his catalog once more, vaguely aware of the fact that Storm Shadow, Snake-Eyes, and Scarlett had begun to applaud for some reason.

The desert teaches you about survival. You do whatever it takes to keep yourself alive, and as a soldier, to keep your friends alive too. Even if they don't want you to. And when it came to protecting his fellow soldiers, Ronald W. Tadur could be one scheming sonofabitch.