What is this? A Gears story from gnarled that's got a plot centered around something other than Marcus and Anya doing it? What?

Yes yes, that is correct. This story has been my brainchild for quite a while, and I rather like some of the ideas I've sprung up in here. Like Old Times happens around 25 years after the events of Jacinto's Remnant, and has no correlation with any of the other stories I've written. This one will probably take me longer to update and is meant to distract my attention while I wait for GOW3, so I'm pretty much going to write it at my leisure. So don't complain. I'll try not to leave cliffhangers.

And please review! I love reviews. :D

So without further ado....

Chapter 1: Unexpected Delivery

Dom trudged up to the door of the two-story shack, his large feet kicking around the various leaves that lay on the concrete path under his sandals. The house was nice, really-- the modest plants out front were well groomed, the windows were clean, the siding was the best anyone could have salvaged. If anything it was in better shape than when they first arrived here; twenty five years ago, this small settlement nestled in the Dorado Hills was nothing more than a charred heap of skeletal remains-- both human and structural. But now, he thought, as he glanced behind him at the patched asphalt street, children playing a few houses down; now, Odessa was thriving.

The latino smiled to himself as he knocked on the mismatched door made of polished wood, thinking back to the first day they came here. After the COG successfully sank Jacinto and took Vectes as a new home, it was a couple months before they managed to find the Queen and chainsaw her damn head off, which Marcus himself had the pleasure of doing. After that, all the Locust's organization simply fell apart. But there were still plenty of them to kill, so the Chairman decided to have the Gears spread out, stationed at over twenty different settlements across Ephyra to help with the reconstruction and to kill locusts in a localized area. Dom and Marcus got stuck here, in Odessa; named for the body of a massacred and mutilated soldier they found at the entrance to the outpost, the only recognizable thing being the COG tags wrapped around a bloody appendage. But, to say the least, in under a year and a half the Locust were completely wiped out, save for stragglers that wouldn't survive long without the whole, and the war was officially declared over. Given the "all-clear" designation, the two veterans were allowed to retire peacefully, and a few years earlier than normal.

With no response from his first knock, Dom knocked again, more insistent this time, feeling the arthritis in his hand twinge as he did so. During the wars, Dom had never really thought about his age too much because of all the fighting, it just didn't quite matter, and most of the time he was one of the youngest in the squad. But now he thought about it every day, it seemed the years had just flown by; soon it would all be over. He welcomed the thought. After the initial grief of losing Maria, Dom did a little soul searching while they were chasing the Queen, and somehow he found peace in the fact that his family was safe, in a better place than he could have ever provided for them. They traveled with him in his heart, and it was this that gave him the strength to continue on, but even still he longed for the day when he would be able to hold them all in his arms again.

It was a funny thought, realizing that he was the last remaining Santiago... by blood, at least, and because for him, there was only Maria, he had never quite settled down like Baird and Cole had, in nearby Bentin. No, he had taken up transport, much like his father had done during the Pendulum Wars, and enjoyed seeing all the progress that humankind was making as he transported myco vats, livestock, fresh water, and the like. Seeing children come to greet him when he drove into a town was the most rewarding; he loved seeing the excited looks on their faces, and some of them would even follow him to the drop-off center for a hug and a muss of their hair. Helping people, he realized, was what he liked about it the most.

Knowing the house wasn't empty, Dom tried the round metal handle on the door and turned, finding it to be unlocked. He pushed it open and took a few steps inside, breathing in the stale smell of varnish emanating from the salvaged hardwood flooring, glancing around to find the bottom floor was empty, both the television and radio turned off. Maybe a yell would help.

"Yo, Marcus, you here man?"

He heard a muffled "Yeah" trickle down the stairs in front of him, followed by a muted thud. He smiled, Marcus had been doing pull-ups again on a bar he had fastened between a door upstairs. It seemed all the guy did now was exercise; while Dom had taken up a job to keep him busy, Marcus just simply... didn't. Money was never really an issue, the two of them were legends, and could probably live off handouts with hardly any effort, so Marcus took to running and working out, but most of his time was spent on a nearby hill that overlooked the Jacinto sinkhole; just staring out into space, thinking about whatever crossed his mind.

A few more thuds came from the floor above him, the heavy footsteps of a soldier used to his armor, and the culprit finally appeared at the top of the stairs. He was old, Dom realized, every time he got back from a transport it seemed like the guy got older; from his long, silver hair that he hadn't bothered cutting in years and was now braided into a short tail behind his head, to the many, many wrinkles on his lined face, most of which the result of years of worry and unsatisfactory warfare. Even so, he was still Marcus, with his black skullcap and fierce blue eyes, still built like a brick shithouse at the ripe old age of 61. That was more than Dom could say; he'd attached a bit of a spare tire to his six-pack over the years.

"Sorry," Marcus said, looking him in the eyes as he came down the stairs. "Thought you were some snot-nosed kid looking for an autograph."

Dom chuckled. "You get a lot of those don't you?"

"More than you know," The older man replied sarcastically, obviously unpleased at his 'hero' status among the civilian population, especially the children. He leaned on the interior wall of the house, watching the shadows from the morning sun creep across the hardwood floor, dust motes swirling inside the shafts of light as the two of them shifted into a comfortable silence. Outside there were birds chirping, somewhere children were laughing, and Marcus couldn't help but wonder if all the wars had been more than a dream.

"I got your stuff," Dom said quietly, breaking the silence that Marcus seemed to enjoy more often than conversation nowadays. But, at his words, the surly old bastard straightened up, eyebrows raised.

"They let you take it?" He asked, obviously startled at Dom's words. The latino was still somewhat surprised when Marcus showed emotions; age had mellowed him, it seemed, and he was less prone to bottling it up and taking it out through furious blinking, like he used to.

"Hell yeah. I got a whole truckbed full." Dom nodded, and watched as a small, sly smirk grew on Marcus's wrinkled face.

"Come on, you can help me unload it." He motioned for his honorary brother to follow him outside, holding the door open as he did so. Leading the way down the concrete path out to his large flatbed truck that was parallel parked in front of the older man's house, Dom unlocked the rear gate of the bed, flinging it open to reveal the boxes upon boxes of bottles of beer.

"Shit, Dom." was all Marcus said, eyeing the dark blue cardboard boxes filled with 18 bottles each, stacked four high and who-knew-how-many deep, his muscled arms folded in a satisfied pose, stretching the sweaty, white tank top thin across his chest. In the years following the Locust War, beer had been extremely hard to come by in large amounts; the only way to obtain it being an order through the COG, but even then the beer was at least 15 years stale. However, in the past five or so, some crazy bastard named Faust had opened up a brewery on the coast, using the seawater to brew up some of the best shit that anyone had tasted in over a decade. Naturally, Marcus had been on Dom's ass about getting some, but only recently was the younger man able to work out a decent deal.

But what a fucking deal it had been. Dom smiled as he watched the old man inspect the boxes, happy at Marcus's satisfaction. He was so quiet and antisocial as of late that Dom sometimes worried that he would end up like Maria -- the younger man would come over one morning, just like he had today, and find that Marcus just wasn't there. There were a few times during their stay in Odessa when that panic had swept him, only once or twice, but Marcus had turned up shortly following, almost angry at Dom for thinking such a thing. It was foolish, perhaps; Marcus was definitely not the type to run off like that, and he'd made it clear to Dom in his brusque, blunt manner that anything short of death would not keep them apart, they were brothers to the end.

But Dom still worried nonetheless.

"Let's get this shit inside before anyone sees," Marcus grunted, hefting two boxes from the top of the stack, balancing them carefully against his left shoulder as he backed cautiously around the gate of the truck, then venturing back up the concrete path to the house. Dom, still smiling, followed suit, trailing the older man into the house and into the kitchen as they stacked the boxes in a vacant corner next to his refrigerator.

They continued to unload the boxes -- thirty-two in all, two at a time -- working methodically like they would have as soldiers, the idea of efficiency engrained into them from many years of combat. When there were two left in the bed of the truck, Marcus resolved himself to loading the 'fridge, kneeling in front of the tarnished appliance and sliding the dark brown bottles into the bottom shelf while Dom went and retrieved the final two. The man paused for a moment, holding a bottle in his hand and admiring the blue paper label, Faust's Brew written across it in fancy gold letters. There had been a time when something like this was common, when brown bottles such as this would litter the streets around bars and alleyways, when humankind took them for granted. But no, not anymore; now these simple things meant civilization, if the town bar had these then that town was on its way to becoming a city. Marcus had never been much of a drinker, and was sure that all this would last him quite a while, but actually having such a bottle in his hand meant that mankind was finally coming back.

No. He thought, still gazing at the bottle. Mankind was back.

Dom struggled in the door with the last two boxes, his forehead covered thickly with sweat, his breath short and labored. He hadn't done work this physically intensive in quite a while, and he had to admit that he wasn't quite as spry as he used to be. He saw Marcus was still loading bottles as he stumbled over to the corner, placing the final two in the stack, grunting from both the effort of hefting the two boxes and the incredibly painful arthritis in his back as he set them down. Putting his hands on his knees, he stood there for a moment, catching his breath. Damn, he thought. I need to work out.

"So what do I owe you?" Marcus asked, tugging a second box over to his side and cracking it open, eyeing Dom over the top of the refrigerator door.

Dom smiled his big Dom-smile, shaking his head as he straightened up, leaning his back against the mountain of blue cardboard. "Nothin' man. Nothin' except a favor."

Marcus's somewhat relaxed expression quickly hardened into stone, his eyes centering on Dom. From the huge grin on the man's face, Marcus knew he wasn't going to like it.

"What." He growled, obviously displeased.

Dom's face went somber for a moment, looking away from the other man's blank expression.

"Well, latest wire from New Jacinto said that Hoffman died yesterday. His funeral is tomorrow."

Marcus's eyebrows twitched upwards only slightly before giving way to a darker expression, his eyes downcast from his brother's as he resumed occupying himself with stacking the bottles in his 'fridge, not saying a word, only uttering his hrmph of disapproval. Dom knew from his body language that this meant 'Ok, new topic' and it was always a trigger for Dom not to push an issue. But this was one that deserved to be pushed.

"Come on, Marcus. You owe the old bastard that much. All I'm asking is a ride to New Jacinto, you don't even have to go to the funeral, alright? We could pick up Baird and Cole on the way, make it just like old times..."

Dom trailed off, still with no reply from the gruff man to his right, at a loss for the right words to say that would make him acquiesce. Because he was right, Hoffman did deserve at least that much respect, no matter what had passed between them, and that had been years ago.

And then suddenly, the right words came.

"I heard Anya still lives there."

At that, Marcus paused for a moment, closing his eyes, holding back whatever emotions Dom had just evoked at the use of her name. Their parting of ways had not been pretty, to say the least, and Dom knew it was sort of a low blow to remind him, but he knew deep down Marcus was still in love with the woman, and that would never change.

The latino walked over and snatched the bottle from Marcus's frozen hand, waving it in the man's face before placing it in the 'fridge himself.

"And besides. You owe me."

Marcus kept his eyes closed as he stood up and took a deep breath, kicking the now-empty box aside as he pinched the bridge of his nose, his other hand on his hip.

"...Fine," He grumbled, still displeased, but as far as Dom was concerned, he could suffer. A huge smile broke out on the younger man's face as he punched Marcus playfully in the shoulder.

"Sweet!" He said, obviously excited. "Cole's gonna be pumped. This shit's gonna be awesome."

"Yeah, yeah..." Marcus grunted again, pissed off, slamming the refrigerator door shut and removing himself from the room, rounding the corner to walk back up the stairs. He needed to finish the pull ups that Dom had interrupted earlier, and maybe take out some frustration while he did so.

"I'll be back to pick you up at eleven!" Dom shouted up the stairs after him, and although there was no reply, he knew that Marcus had heard and understood. Shaking his head, the latino man rubbed a hand across his face, relieving his skin of the sweat that settled there as he walked out the door of the house. Closing it as he left, Dom couldn't help but smile himself, barely able to contain his excitement at the day to come.