Story Note: Okay, this is one of those weird stories that came from a Christmas song, and ended up not being a Christmas story.

Silver and gold, silver and gold
Ev'ryone wishes for silver and gold
How do you measure its worth?
Just by the pleasure it gives here on earth.
Silver and gold, silver and gold
Mean so much more when I see
Silver and gold decorations
On ev'ry Christmas tree.

A Vein of Silver

Jackson Gibbs sighs as he gets ready to trudge home from the mines. His marriage is getting rocky and he needs to find a way to get out of this dark hole before it's too late, and he ends up making a career out of it. LJ, one of his best friends in the mines, and also from the war,steps up beside him.

"What's the matter Jack?"

"Oh, not much, just trying to find that silver lining in a cloud black as sin."

LJ claps him on the back. "I know what you mean. We need to hit some black gold, man, or even a silver vein. Then we could get out of here. You could even start that store you mentioned during the war. You know, that one you kept going on and on about when we were in flight, out of flight, trying to sleep in our bunks."

LJ's good-natured teasing brought back memories. He hadn't been the only one to think about buying a grocery store. They'd both discussed how their small town of Stillwater needed something, even just a small general store, to bring in the farmers and ranchers. How a grocery store could accomplish just that. When they'd first gotten home from the war however, it had seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream. But now he stares at LJ, not daring to think about what he's thinking about and yet unable to think anything else. Not seeing Jack stop, the other man keeps walking, his long strides taking him away from Jack in seconds. Running after him, Jack puts a hand on his arm.

"How much would you be able to invest, LJ?"

The black man turns back to him, "What are you talking about Jack?"

"Investing, in the store. How much collateral could you put up?"

LJ cocks his head to the side, "Not really sure; I'd have to check my accounts first."

"Think about it; talk it over with the wife if you need to. We both have families we want to start and the last thing we'd want is for our kids to be forced to stay in the mines. I know that my wife isn't happy with it; Goldie can't be willing for you to stay down there for too much longer."

LJ nods as if he's in agreement. "I'll talk it over with her, and see what she thinks of the idea." He doesn't bother telling Jack that his wife has already issued divorce papers; she was trying to take all the money he still had in his savings account. He thinks about it, and then grins. His wife wants to take him to the cleaners so to speak. If there is no money, then there is nothing for her to take. Maybe there is a silver vein in his black cloud after all.

"Hey, Jack!"

The silver templed man turns back to him.

LJ saunters up to him, "What would you need to make that initial down payment? How much do you need to get set up?"
Jack stares at him, "I'm not really sure, I think the original investment was close to five hundred. I need to do more checking, but with initial taxes, finding a building, getting the permits and then putting food on the shelves we'd be looking closer to six or seven maybe as much as eight just for setting it up."

LJ grins, "You get that information and I'll see what I can do to help you set up shop."

LJ's divorce papers came and he smiles as he signs off on them. There is nothing Goldie can take monetarily as he's invested everything he owns into Jack's store. She can take his paychecks from the mine, but he's checked with his lawyer and there is nothing she can do about the money he's voluntarily given to Jack. Everything he's had in savings, he's given to Jack. She couldn't touch it and she knew it. Jack had been floored when LJ had handed over 600 dollars. He'd tried to give it back and LJ shook his head.

"No, you take it and invest it in that store of yours. If you want to pay me back, you name that first born son of yours after me. That will be my reward, Jack. This store, saving your own marriage by getting out of the mines and your son will be my cloud's silver lining."

From there it was just a matter of finding the time to scheme. They'd meet on lunches, and Jack would show LJ the progress he'd made with getting building permits and taxes. He'd asked around and several of the area farmers were more than willing to start selling their crops through a local grocery store. Some even made suggestions as to what might sell best considering when Jack would be opening the store. One year to the date from when they'd discussed opening a store, the Stillwater General Store opened its doors for the first time.

LJ and Jack had a busy first year and soon the store was a success. Jack kept offering to pay LJ back, as that initial first investment had more than trebled their income. LJ demurred, telling Jack to put that money into an account for his namesake and Jack did just that, but he also opened up another account, just in case his friend changed his mind. Every week, when he did his deposit into Leroy's account, he put another two percent into that separate account.

Two years later LJ moved out of Stillwater. The cough he had from complications due to black lung disease, had forced him to the big city and an extended stay in the hospital. Jack and his wife, with their infant son, Leroy Jethro, were among the few who helped the man pack up most of his belongings, shut up the house and Jack promised to keep an eye on the place, in case LJ was able to come back. Jack hugged his wife, thanking her for staying with him, for standing by him when he and LJ left the mines. His wife had frowned at first when he'd told her what he wanted to name their son.

"Why didn't he name his own son that?" she'd asked and Jack had told her that among one of many reasons for LJ's divorce, his wife had been cheating on him. The son that LJ had wanted was not his own, as he'd been in the hospital fighting bronchitis, during the time that she'd gotten pregnant. She had tried to make the boy out as his, but LJ had proof of her infidelity and she'd dropped the paternity suit but kept the alimony.

"She's left him almost high and dry so to speak, honey. If not for LJ, we'd still be struggling to make ends meet. As it is, I'm out of the mines, he's made it possible for us to give Leroy a good home, and we won't have to wonder where our paychecks are coming from."

Five years later and the store is still going strong. LJ stops in and stares at the photograph behind the counter unable to believe that just a few short years have passed since he'd left town. He wants to say goodbye one last time as the doctors have told him that if he wants to see his 35th birthday, he has to go to a warmer climate. The bell chimes and a sandy haired, blue eyed child around the age of 6 or 7 comes in and stops just long enough to yell

"Hey Dad! It's your friend!"

LJ turns to him frowning and the boy points to the picture. "You look just like him."

A light bulb goes on in LJ's mind and he says, "You're Leroy, Jack's son."

The boy nods and grins cheekily as he says, "You're Leroy Jethro, Dad's best friend. DAAAAD!"

Jack had come in behind him and ruffled the boy's blonde hair. The boy looks up at him and Jack points to the garden outside. "Get your chores done, Leroy."

"He's growing up so fast. I barely recognized him." LJ says as Leroy heads out the backdoor, bushel basket in hand.
Jack nods, happy to see his friend yet knowing something has to have happened to have brought him back to their small town. He points to the card table in the corner and pours two cups of coffee, bringing them over as they both sit down.

LJ sips the brew and sighs as the caffeine hits. "Now that's a cup of coffee." He looks around at the tidy shelves and the canned goods that are in immediate sight.

"You've been doing good?" He asks almost idly.

"Darned good. What's wrong, LJ? Last we heard, those doctors were saying you had an extended leave of absence."

LJ sighs, "It's just gotten longer. I'm here to put the house up for sale. The doctors have said if I want to live to see my 35th birthday I need to go to California or Hawaii. They don't think I can last another winter if I don't."

"We can keep it open, turn it into a rental so that you can make some money off of it."

LJ shakes his head. "We both know that's not gonna happen Jack. No one comes to this town anymore unless it's to work in the mines and I really don't want to sell it, but I need to pay off the hospital bills here before I go and what are you doing Jack?"

Jack goes outside and hollers for Leroy to come in and watch the store for a moment. Then he motions for LJ to follow him down to the bank. LJ does so and soon the two men are walking companionably down the street, discussing the slight changes that have happened during LJ's absence. Once inside the bank, Jack heads over to the teller and hands her a key. She nods and LJ frowns, wondering just what is going on. Jack then tells her to take what is in the box and write him out a cashier's check for the amount within. She does so and Jack saunters back over to LJ and hands him the check.

"What's this for?"

"This is for you. Remember, I told you I'd pay you back. Well, this is me, paying you back with a little bit of interest."
LJ looks at the check, and his brownish almost black eyes widen in surprise at the amount written there.

"Jack? I thought I told you to invest this money into Leroy's account."

"Oh I've got a separate account set up for Leroy, don't you doubt that LJ. No, this is what you have earned as my silent partner all these years. You can't say no to me this time my friend. You earned it, by helping me set up the store and being a friend when I needed one. Now let me be the one to give you a silver lining on that black cloud that's been hovering over your head. You go pay off what you can of your bills and then come back here to discuss what we're going to do about your house."

LJ wipes away tears as he hugs the one man who has stood by him in more ways than one. The one friend who kept him laughing during a war, kept him sane while down in a mine shaft and a shoulder to lean on during a bitter divorce has once again given him something he needed; that little bit of hope in the darkness, a vein of silver to shine his way to the light outside.

a/n: This story was inspired, by of all things the Christmas song Silver and Gold, sung by Burl Ives in the classic Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer television show. The song was created by Johnny Marks and I don't have the rights for any of it save the story it inspired. Also, I have not seen the majority of season 8 or any of season 9 so if the characters seem out of canon, or even out of season, that might be why.