A/N: I do not remember what inspired this, but I must have been in a low mood, if you can't tell by the end. You've been forewarned--its not happy. Its cathartic!
He never understood why his father cared so much about the damn word.
All those years he spent rebelling and picking fights, just to piss of his father and show them all he was tough because he hated the world, those lonely, teenage years after he'd lost his mother and his father hadn't understood anything.
He'd hated him almost as much as he hated the other kids who had it easy. Maybe it had made him feel better to make his father miserable, maybe he didn't care if he hurt dear old dad because he'd been hurting so bad back then.
He couldn't remember now. Nothing mattered now.
He'd called him 'Jackson' once, and made his father angrier than he'd ever seen him. It was the first time Leroy Jethro Gibbs saw real pain and real confusion in the man's eyes, and it had triggered something—one more way to gain ground in their power struggle. It was the one thing Jackson Gibbs hadn't been able to bear.
And he never understood it. He didn't get why it pissed his father off so much to be called by his first name, he didn't know why Jackson was always insisting he call him 'Dad'. He never thought it mattered. All he cared about then was that it was a weapon.
He never even thought of him as 'Dad' in his thoughts anymore—it was Jackson, always Jackson, even after he got out and they stopped speaking and he finally found something better than that small town.
It had been Shannon who signed 'Love, Leroy,' on the Christmas cards, Kelly who'd curled up to Jackson and called him 'Grandad!' and smiled so brightly when he read her stories, and he who watched stonily, forced to share his happiness with someone who never saw eye to eye with him.
He hadn't understood even then, why semantics mattered, why words mattered—why what he called his father, whether Jackson or Dad, mattered. It had seemed stupid, the fight. Ridiculous. Shannon had tried to make him see, but it was one thing he shut her out on. He didn't want to hear it. Didn't comprehend.
Until now. Until this moment, as he sat in the crushing darkness of his basement with nothing left but the unfinished boat—unfinished like their lives—drowning in bourbon and his own tears and misery, he hadn't understood why his Dad cared so much.
And he understood, suddenly. Because all he wanted now was Kelly to run down the basement stairs, throw herself into his arms like she always had, and call him Daddy again.