In the Zone
It turns out watching a game with Cal is more a case of listening to him explain how terrible American sports are and how pointless football in particular is. Oh, and how it's not really football at all.
(Gibbs is more amused by Cal's intense opinions on the subject than he's allowing himself to show. As well as being entertaining in and of itself, it's also an interesting challenge to see exactly how long he can go without Cal figuring out he's lying his ass off, if only by omission, since he cares a whole lot less about this subject than Cal thinks he does.)
"It's all bollocks, innit? I mean, you got blokes coming on the field just to kick the ball and then they leave again, that's not sport, that's-" Cal huffs, gestures wildly "-it's just silly, is what it is. They stop every five minutes for a rest and a chat, and they make a sixty minute game last three hours. I thought cricket was boring, but you lot managed to take, you know, rugby, and turn it into a game with more stops an' starts than the bloody M25!"
"It's a commercial thing," Gibbs points out. "It's popular. Loads of money in it. They have breaks for ads."
"So they basically spoil the whole game for a bit of extra dough? Pfft. Do me a favour."
Gibbs makes a noise that could be interpreted any number of ways, but it doesn't much matter anyway, because he's certain Cal's way too caught up in his scathing indictment of football to notice. ("It's not football anyway, no one outside this godforsaken continent thinks it's real football, football is the one where they use their feet, 's right there in the name.")
"S'pose you played, then?" he asks, once he's done with his ranting. "Big strapping lad like you probably was growing up?" Cal gives Gibbs one of his assessing stares - one of the rare times, outside of work, that he comes across as being as focused and intent as he is when he's trying to get inside some criminal's mind.
Even Gibbs finds this version of Cal slightly... well, not intimidating, as such, but occasionally unnerving. He's better than most at figuring out what's going on in Cal's head (and keeping his own thoughts to himself), but better than most is not necessarily always saying a lot.
"Played quarterback all through high school," he offers. "Couple friendly games in the service, too."
"Quarterback?" Cal makes a vaguely amused noise. "Should've known."
Gibbs raises an eyebrow, and Cal momentarily winces like he wishes he could take that back, then apparently decides to brazen it out.
"Too bad, all that time you could've been playing real sports and instead you were running round looking like a pillock and yelling 'Hike!' Bet you feel like a right knobhead looking back, doncha?"
Gibbs shrugs non-commitally. "Lot of pressure on the quarterback, y'know. Calling plays, reading the other team. Changing things up on the fly. He's the team leader. Tough job."
Cal doesn't look convinced. "Look, I know, it's American football, you probably have some stupid patriotic stick up your bum about it, but you must be able to see it's all sorts of ridiculous, a game where everyone's got three replacements and you wear so much body armour you look like refugees from that godawful Transformers movie."
Gibbs stifles the urge to laugh. He'd admit he doesn't much care to watch football himself, especially on TV, except it's way too much fun to watch Cal getting all expansive and impassioned about this. "You realise how often they get injured? Dangerous game." He shrugs again. "Probably makes it worse anyhow, they think they're protected so they play harder."
Cal opens his mouth then frowns, presumably at a loss how to answer back. "Huh. Seems sorta dumb."
"Maybe. 'S how it is, though."
There's a pause, then, at the end of the down: "And what's with all the arse slapping?"
For the first time in the whole damn conversation, Gibbs allows himself a chuckle. It's honestly a relief. "That's just a 'good job' thing."
Cal wriggles. "It's weird."
"Hey, I've seen what your soccer players get up to. Pot, kettle."
"Football. It's called football."
"Some bloke slaps my bum to tell me 'good job', he's looking for his hand."
Gibbs is suddenly seized with the irrational desire to do exactly that, just to see what happens.
He's perfectly able to defend himself against Cal's theoretical fury, but he'd be intrigued to see if Cal would actually try. The man has almost no self-preservation instinct, which makes him... interesting to spend time with. If there's any chance whatsoever to learn something new, figure something out, or just poke at something to see if it pokes back, Cal will do it. He's the guy who'd press the big red button marked 'Do not under any circumstances press this button' just to see why not.
How he's survived as long as he has is a mystery.
It makes him somewhat fearless and extremely unpredictable in situations ranging from 'gun pointed at head' to 'daughter pissed with me', and Gibbs wonders which way Cal would fall if his bluff was called regarding the butt slaps.
Either way, it'd definitely be funny. Iron clad guarantee. The temptation is making Gibbs' teeth itch.
There's another brutal tackle on screen and another stoppage. Cal pouts and makes annoyed noises for approximately the hundred thousandth time. "'S like they're doing stop motion animation," he complains.
"Like to see you get up right after that tackle, Lightman."
"That's the point, though, innit? Brute force. It's boring." He leans forward as he warms to his theme. "In footie - I mean, proper footie, not your stupid American imitation, mind, the one everyone but you lot know is the real deal - you need skill and finesse. Not these lads built like a brick shithouse and about as bright. Ever seen a striker bend a ball round the goalie?" He half rises from the couch and waves his hands in fluid motions as if to try and demonstrate. "'S magic, that."
Gibbs can so easily imagine Cal as a youngster, an expression of wonder on his face as he watched a soccer player apparently defying the laws of physics to score a goal. Gibbs'd bet good money Cal's ambition at the age of ten was to play for his beloved West Ham. (Hell, in some far corner of his mind where reality doesn't intrude, it probably still is.)
"And a ninety minute game lasts, you know, maybe two hours, with half time and stuff. It flows. They call it the beautiful game for a reason. And you ain't stopping every five minutes, getting some kid on to kick goals 'cause that's all the poor sod can do."
Cal shakes his head, looking thoroughly disgusted.
Gibbs doesn't trust himself to answer. He could point out the skill required for goal kicking, but instead he nods sagely and tries not to laugh. He can't help admiring Cal's passion for soccer, even if he doesn't share it.
"So why do you watch it, then? 'Cause I don't get it at all. Bearing in mind, if you tell me I just don't understand 'cause I'm not American, I will lose all respect for you."
Okay, there's really no way to keep the straight face going. If he holds his amusement in any longer, he is going to damage something. "Uh, Cal?"
"Haven't watched a game in-" He thinks for a second "-five, ten years, I guess. Maybe longer, even. Used to play, sure, but I usually don't got the time to go spendin' hours to watch one match even if I wanted to. Sport on TV's less hassle, but it ain't really my thing."
Cal is genuinely dumbfounded for a second. "What?"
Gibbs just grins
Cal shakes his head, his mouth open wide in astonishment. "Why'd you go and let me bang on about it?" His voice is squeaky with disbelief.
"Seemed like you were having fun making your case."
"But... but you played it, you said... I thought..."
"Rule 8. 'Never assume'." Cal pulls a face. (He's not fond of rules.) Gibbs smirks. "Sure I played it. Good exercise. Fun. Great atmosphere. Liked being part of something bigger'n just me." He shrugs. "Don't mean I wanna sit around on my ass watchin' someone else play."
Cal pouts. Gibbs grins wider.
"Hey, c'mon, it's not like you need anyone to argue with. You were doing great arguing with yourself."
"You- you-" Cal looks like he's trying very hard to get up a good head of steam and be all furious about it, but it's not really working. He raises his hand, as if he's going to administer a head slap, then screws up his face, evidently thinking better of it.
"Backin' down?" Gibbs really shouldn't enjoy goading him so much, but it's damn entertaining.
Cal's bottom lip sticks out, and this time he comes in at Gibbs full steam, all barrels blazing.
If it were one of his agents, Gibbs might even be worried, but it isn't. Cal's problem isn't his (lack of) height as such, and though he's not tall, he's pretty solidly built, with determination to spare. He's just hopelessly, comically outclassed against six feet of former Marine. If Gibbs weren't laughing so hard, it would take even less time for him to get Cal in a headlock and knuckle into the top of his hair to make him squirm.
After a short struggle, Cal deflates. "I'm gonna tell your little lady on you if you're not careful. I bet Kate knows how to pin you."
Gibbs knuckles Cal's head again, harder this time, and prompts a yelp. "Don't push your luck, Lightman, I could still break your neck, easy."
"See, but then you'd have to answer to Gill." Cal paws ineffectively at Gibbs' arm. "Pretty sure she's got dibs on strangling me if I outlive my usefulness."
"You call Kate 'little lady' in her hearing, trust me, she won't leave enough for Gill to be pissed at." This time Gibbs deliberately messes Cal's hair up - as far as that's actually possible when Cal doesn't have a lot to mess - then gives in to temptation and lands a hearty slap on his backside before releasing him. "Idiot."
Cal looks a little pink as he settles back into the couch. (Gibbs isn't sure if it's embarrassment or exertion. Or maybe Cal's just registered the slapped ass and is figuring out his retribution.) He huffs. "Do you enjoy making me look like a pillock, or is it just a side effect of you being a git?"
Gibbs pretends to think about it for a second. "It is pretty fun," he allows.
Cal gives him a glare, but it resolves pretty quick into a reluctant smile. "You are such an arsehole."
"And that's a surprise?"
"You take all the fun out of insults, you do."
He grins again. "I know."
"Does that mean we can turn this nonsense off and stop pretending either of us is enjoying it?"
"Nope." Gibbs deftly whips the remote from Cal's hand and holds it high above his head, laughs when Cal launches at him again. He might not be too fussed about actually watching the game, but no one can deny he's getting more than his money's worth in terms of pure entertainment.
~ fin ~