Jess glared at the door as she got up to answer it. Who would come to a person's home at 7 p.m. on a Friday? Who would expect a person to want company at such a time? Okay, so usually she was a social butterfly and out and about on Fridays, but she'd actually had a chance to relax and whoever it was had just ruined the first good moment of her truly craptastic week. She glanced in the mirror as she passed and was comforted by the fact that her flyaway hair, scowl, and ratty sweatsuit/PJs would be frightening enough to scare whoever it was away within moments.

She looked out and groaned softly, resting her forehead against the frame. Perfect. She opened the door. "Sam, I'm sorry, I know I'm the one who told you that you had to work on your spontaneity but now is just not good."

Sam held up his hands like a suspect would to a cop. "I'm only here to settle you on the couch, make you some dinner, and press play on your DVD of Dirty Dancing."

"What?"

He pushed his way in and headed towards the kitchen, effortlessly circumventing the art supplies scattered around. "You looked ragged earlier today and Becky told me that you had 'the most rotten week, like, ever.' So, I will make you some comfort food and you will relax and enjoy Patrick Swayze. Or Jennifer Grey. Or whatever you like about the movie." He set his bag down on the kitchen table. "I'll be gone in 30 minutes. Call me tomorrow if you feel better."

Jess stared at his back for a long moment, unable to speak. How had she ever found this guy? What had she done so right?

He turned around. "Come on, let's get you relaxed." He took her arm. "Jess?" he asked when she didn't move.

It wasn't the ideal time or place, but she just couldn't keep it to herself anymore. "God, I love you, Sam," she said.

He went very, very still. She couldn't even see him breathing. It was eerie. If Jess hadn't been watching him, touching him, she would have sworn she was alone, he was that drawn into himself.

She hadn't expected that reaction, hadn't thought Sam was the sort to freak out over those words. Of course "I love you" would be an important step for him. Everything about him was so careful, from how he walked to how he entered a room to his nightly routines. Sam chose his words with precision when talking about the most mundane things, so something like this? Jess knew he wouldn't say it, or expect it to be said to him, until he knew beyond any doubt it was true.

Still, they were at an appropriate place in their relationship for them to move to that level. They'd been together for almost six months and they'd had generic talks about the future. And her current zombie-movie-extra look aside, it was a good time for her to say it, too--they weren't drunk and it wasn't during or right after sex.

Then it hit her. He could well believe it of her, but he wasn't sure yet and didn't how she wanted him to respond. "Sam, it's okay, you don't have to say it back," she reassured him.

Sam grabbed her and pulled her into his arms almost before she finished speaking. "No. I--I love you, too, Jess." His voice was strained, husky, there was something...but she couldn't interpret it.

She pulled back a little, just enough to look him in the eye. "Sam, I'm serious. Don't be that guy. Don't say it if you don't mean it." She let a teasing note come into her voice. "I know you won't be able to resist loving me for long, so..."

"You don't get it," he said, barely a whisper against the top of her head. "I wouldn't--just say that. I never have before."

Oh, well, that was just sweet, his first "I love you"? No wonder he was taking this so seriously. Jess sort of vaguely wished she could return the sentiment, but even if she didn't count that gushy fan letter to Jonathan Brandis (which she didn't), oh, how she had loved Connor Jackson with all her 16-year-old heart back in high school. "Well, what other girlfriend could be worth it?" she joked.

He shook his head. "No--I just meant--ever. I've never said that before."

Suddenly, Jess was the one who couldn't breathe. He'd never said "I love you"? No, how was that possible? She didn't realize she'd pulled away entirely and was gaping at him until he shrugged.

"My family wasn't big on...expressions...of affection," he finally said. A ghost of a rueful smile crossed his face. "To people, anyway."

She didn't bother to try and figure out what he meant by that. "No, but Sam. I know you. Because they would say it to you--" She cut herself off when his face went carefully neutral. "They didn't?"

He shrugged again. "Like I said, not big on expressing affection."

Jess was reminded again how little she knew about his past. She would remedy that, she vowed. However, she had something specific to focus on at the moment. This was just too huge. Images of horrific child abuse that she'd seen on shows like Dateline and 60 Minutes flashed into her mind and even though he said his scars were from animal attacks, he had so many and there were a few that were questionable...

He seemed to know what she was thinking and shifted uncomfortably. "Hey, Jess, no. It wasn't that, never. It just...they didn't say it, that's all. Not everyone says things. That doesn't mean they didn't--I knew they...cared about me."

Jess threw her hands in the air. "Oh, God, you can't even say the word in theory!"

He pulled her back over and kissed her. "Well, why would I say it in theory when I have a practical application right here?"

She leaned into him. "Well," she grumbled, "you better get used to hearing it. Because I love you, and apparently, I have a lot to make up for."

He smiled at her. "I'll look forward to it."