Special thanks to GoldenRat for beta-reading!
The old photograph.
The first drops of rain fell and the clouds above promised to turn into a heavy shower soon enough. MacLeod looked around, trying to find the nearest haven from the coming storm and discovered, rather to his surprise, that he was close to Methos' apartment. The idea to check on Methos seemed quite attractive, and not just because of the rain. The Ancient had been somewhat preoccupied over the last few days and with Methos you never know. It could be a complicated linguistic puzzle or something deadly serious.
Methos was at home, though it was a while before he opened the door. "Hey, Mac, come in."
He barely entered when it began to pour.
"Good timing," Methos commented with a smile. "Come to the study."
MacLeod hung his coat and went to the study, where a warm, familiar sight greeted him. Methos sitting on the floor, leaning on his desk, surrounded by old photographs, papers, files, and beer cans. And, of course, something rock-like was flowing from the computer speakers. MacLeod half expected a beer can, flying to him, but Methos just pointed to the couch, where another pack rested. And two more boxes with photographs were in front of it.
"Sorting the archives?" MacLeod asked, sitting down and opening a can.
"Can I help?"
Methos raised his head,
suddenly serious; but then examined the chaos on the floor and
"Well, if you want… Pick the prettiest box and sort photos by decades. Don't be so skeptical, they are all signed."
Duncan grinned and picked the nearest box up.
"Oh, by the way, if you come across something from the late 40ties, pass them to me."
"Okay." So Methos must be looking something specific, but MacLeod decided not to ask.
The photos were mostly black and white: some portraits from the studio, some official, some just captured moments of life. Women, men, children… Some prints were already dingy and yellowed, some still clear. And all were indeed signed. In different languages (English, French, Russian, Hebrew), but in the same precise handwriting. The captions were accurate and detailed—dates, names, places, and events… Soon enough Duncan began to look only at the date, until one picture caught his attention. First, Methos himself on it (this was only for the third or fourth time); second, he had beard, and that seemed rather unusual. He and three other young men were standing somewhere in the mountains, all bearded, all in field dress with backpacks, and all smiling. Duncan turned the photo and read, in English: "The expedition of *** University, *** mountains. James Parsons, Marcel Raush, Bjorn Ericson, Derek Williams. Summer of 1948."
Marcel Raush must have been Methos' alias at that time. Oh, time.
"Methos, look. This is from '48."
The Old Man took the print, looked at it absently, but then his expression changed. He obviously found what he'd been looking for.
"Thanks, Mac." He stood up, threw down books and papers, laying on revolving chair, sat and began to clean the space on the table.
"Mac, do me a favor, fetch the scanner here."
Duncan looked around and saw the portable scanner in the corner. He didn't remember Methos having one, but then, buying such things was not a problem nowadays. He brought the device and put it at place; glancing at the monitor he noticed a webpage of some Geological Research Centre. And there was an obituary. An elderly grey-haired man smiled from the photograph in black frame; the letters beneath it said Bjorn Ericson—and three more lines of degrees, titles, and awards. He'd passed away the previous week, at the age of 83. Oh.
"It was him, in the photo", MacLeod stated the obvious. The smile was even more recognizable than the name.
"Yeah", Methos plugged the scanner and turned it on.
"Want to talk about?"
The Ancient shrugged.
"Not much to tell. We were roommates in campus after the War, studied together. I was interested in geological theories of dating then… They needed a spare hand in expedition, I volunteered. It was rather fruitless, though, save for couple of good songs… But Bjorn had never been easily discouraged. "
With another shrug, Methos put the photo in the device, then minimized the webpage window and opened Picture Manager.
"We graduated, he stayed in geology, and I left. We didn't actually stay in touch… And now his daughter is finishing his autobiography and collects the archive. This is the only photo from his first expedition, besides the technical documentation."
"And you want to send her the scan?"
"No, I'll send her the original. The scan is for me."
Methos was finally satisfied with scan's quality, saved the file and began to scan the back side of the photograph.
"But how are you going to explain…"
"MacLeod, don't tell me you've never found anything in 'old family archive'. And don't look at me like that, this is just a usual mortal-Immortal thing, you have dozen similar stories yourself."
"And there is no need to stand over my shoulder, Mac. There are salads in the fridge, if you are hungry…"
"And one and a half boxes of photos, if I'm not." Duncan smiled. "Yeah, I got it."
MacLeod continued to sort the photos, wondering, if each of them held a story like that. Though it wasn't really a 'story', just a piece of life, indeed usual mortal-Immortal thing, as Methos had said. But nevertheless Duncan felt somewhat grateful that Methos did share this. Geology expedition… Interesting. Of course, MacLeod did his share of wandering, but never with scientists. Maybe he should try once, while there are still things to discover on this planet…
A half an hour later Methos printed a letter, signed it, put in the envelope together with the photo and sealed it. Then glanced at the wall clock:
"When does the post close?"
"At six. We'll be in time."
MacLeod put on his best innocent look.
"I hoped you'd give me a lift to Joe's afterwards, it's still a flood out there."
Methos frowned and Duncan quickly added, "They have new band today, Joe says, they're incredible."
The Ancient grinned, turning the computer off.
"Okay, let's go."
MacLeod smiled inwardly. Usual thing or not usual thing, his friend just didn't need another evening alone with photographs right now.