Disclaimer: I don't own iCarly. And if I did, I'd probably see if I could trade it to Josh Schwartz for Gossip Girl. Or should I be trading with the CW? Whatever. Point is, I own diddly.

Soft

Samantha Puckett never surprised Freddie Benson.

He tried to act outraged at all of her pranks and cruel jokes, but to be honest, he had always expected nothing less from her. Ever since the first day of kindergarten, when she stole his sugar-free lollipop from the lunchbox his mother had lovingly packed for him earlier that day, licked it, and stuck it in Gibby's hair, he had been prepared. No amount of wedgies, teases, or other various indignities he suffered at her hands ever truly surprised him, because he knew exactly what she was: a bully. And so he stayed prepared: a change of clothes in his locker, a special waterproof casing for his laptop, and a padlock on his lunchbox. No matter how many times Sam targeted him, he never let it affect him emotionally. He knew it wasn't because she felt particularly strongly towards him; he knew she randomly directed her aggressiveness when she was bored.

One time his mother, aghast at the results of Sam's last bored spell (itching powder in his daily bath— he didn't even want to know how she put that in there), tried to comfort him by saying that girls always tormented the boys they liked.

Despite years of practice at humoring his mother, Freddie just couldn't do it this time. He cracked up laughing, as his mother looked on sadly. There was no way Sam had any feelings for him. It was just that when Sam got bored, she got imaginative. It was what made her a huge asset on iCarly; Carly may have been the face of the show but Sam was the undisputed ringmaster. Samantha Puckett did exactly as she pleased, and if that meant sticking a barbequed rib on his face or putting a goldfish in his locker, then that was what she did. Nothing more, nothing less.

Whenever he tried to confront her about the 'incidents,' it never worked. He would accuse, Sam would ignore, and Carly would try to moderate, and all that happened was that Freddie's stuff got ruined. A recent example:

"You took all of my textbooks and slathered them in butter?"

"Uh huh."

"Sam, why did you do that to Freddie?"

"Science project."

"You're doing your homework now?"

"And how does your homework involve ruining textbooks?"

"Friction and mass, duh. I wanted to see if the weight of the textbook affected how fast it slipped down the playground slide. But it wasn't moving very fast, so I improvised."

At this point, Sam would usually shrug and relocate to the kitchen, where she could rummage through the refrigerator and pretend she couldn't hear Freddie.

"You know it's wrong," Freddie would remark to Carly, as he always did.

"Yes."

Despite the occasional apologies Carly forced her to deliver, Freddie had never seen a hint of remorse in Sam's eyes.

Yet they had become friends, in a strange way, Sam even defending him on occasion ("Hey! Only I can call him Fredward the DorkWad!"). He had even done the same in return—behind her back, of course. If Sam had caught him defending her dignity, she would have kicked his ass. Luckily she wasn't in the boys' locker room after P.E.—lucky for the boys, that is. Just two weeks ago Jared Collins had been rating the racks of each girl and of course 'the webshow hotties' came up.

"Shay's hot, but her friend, the blonde what's her name?"

"Sam," Freddie had automatically offered.

"Sam," Brian Smith said thoughtfully (or as thoughtfully as possibly whilst wearing a towel and snapping a jockstrap at his friends). "She's the bitch, right?"

Freddie didn't say anything.

"Yeah." Jared smirked. "You know what they say about the ones with tempers…"

Brian matched his smirk, as did several of the other guys listening in.

"I'd do that for sure. She's hotter than Shay, if you can just get her to keep her mouth shut."

"I don't know, I wouldn't mind her with her mouth wide open—"

Jared's look of shock when Freddie punched him quickly turned to anger. Two minutes later, the rest of the guys in the room had cleared out and left Freddie and his bruises on the locker room floor. But when Sam and Carly questioned him later that day, he pretended that he had just been knocked around too much during field hockey. Still, he knew Jared and Brian and the others hadn't forgotten, judging by their knowing smirks at lunchtime.

He was embarrassed to admit that he had been a little nervous when the boys approached the table he shared with Carly and Sam. It was the day before iCarly, so they had shooed away their other friends in favor of detailed planning.

"Hey, Carly, Sam," Jared grinned, a move that usually made girls weak at the knees. The boy had made the varsity soccer team as a freshman, and to fellow ninth graders, that meant a lot. It wasn't until after they had made their billions that nerds and geeks were objects of lust, Freddie reflected sadly.

Carly gave Jared a perfunctory smile, but it was clear she was preoccupied with the show. "Hey, Jared." Freddie knew he should usually be celebrating that Carly didn't care about Jared Collins, but for some reason the idea of Carly liking the other boy didn't affect his mood much. Strange, especially since he had just punched Jared for talking about Sam earlier that day. Freddie decided that his emotions must be on the fritz because of all the blows to the head he had sustained earlier.

"Can I sit here?" He indicated the empty seat next to her.

"Sorry, we're kinda busy." Sam glared. Then her gaze brightened, and Freddie's stomach dropped. "Unless you'd like to be on the show with us this week?"

"What?" Carly and Freddie said together.

"We're doing a new segment, and I think you'd be perfect."

Jared looked at Freddie, and Freddie could see the triumph in his eyes. "Really?"

"Yeah," Sam said enthusiastically. "You know where Carly lives, right?"

"Sure."

Carly and Freddie exchanged glances.

"Just come over an hour before the show goes live tomorrow and we'll fill you in."

Jared had got what was coming to him the next day, Freddie remarked to his 'coworkers' (as Sam referred to them), although he wouldn't tell them why he thought so.

Nevertheless, it sure was satisfying to see the new and improved, longer-lasting 'Wedgie Bounce' work so well. It lasted through Sam and Carly's attempts at piano accordion, two competitive eating sessions between Sam and Gibby, and a user-generated video featuring both interpretive dancing and a unicycle.

"And last but certainly not least, let's give a big round of applause to Jared over here!" Carly gave the camera a winning smile.

Sam attempted to do the same, but her smile looked a hell of a lot more scary than Carly's had. "Jared, we couldn't have done this show without ya."

As she said this, Freddie noted that the still-suspended-in-midair Jared had his eyes trained on the top of the tank top Sam wore. It wasn't an indecent top or anything, but if Freddie could see the slight curves of her pale skin from where he stood, then he was pretty sure that Jared had an even better view. Seized with a sudden vindictive urge, he gave the Wedgie-Bounce controller a yank and was rewarded with a squeal from Jared.

Freddie couldn't deny that he had realized Sam was female long before Jared Collins had so crudely pointed it out, but before that he had been able to mask his feelings in ever-present enmity. After all, it wasn't as if she didn't make it pretty easy to pretend anger at her.

But once Jared Collins and Brian Smith had opened his eyes, it was like he couldn't shut them. Every time Sam wore a tank top, his voice stammered uncontrollably. Her hair bounced behind her as she walked up the stairs and Freddie couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to touch it. And when his gaze traveled down her back, down the golden curls of her hair, and saw her tiny ass in the jeans she always wore—well, let's just say he was a fourteen-year-old boy, all right?

Freddie never let his mind truly wander to what might happen if some of his fantasies were realized. He always knew the ending: Sam slapping/punching/killing him. Carly was a safer dream girl, he knew; at least she would never try to hurt his feelings. But dream girls aren't chosen, they just are, and before Freddie knew it, Sam had replaced Carly in his affections.

He couldn't tell her this, of course. Sometimes he wondered if she felt it too, the strange magnetism that seemed to course through them at the faintest touch. Sometimes he saw her eyes cloud like his always did around her, but then she would exhale, and announce that it was time for some Mexican food.

No, he believed Samantha Puckett could never surprise him. She was the same old Sam she'd always been: a food-loving, smack-talking, fiercely-imaginative bitch. No matter what delusions his subconscious and Jared Collins had cooked up, it could only lead to more years of fawning over a girl who saw him as nothing more than an amateur tech producer.

But when Sam revealed his secret on iCarly and told the whole world that he had never kissed a girl, he really was surprised. Sam had usually stuck to physically or verbally abusing Freddie, but she had rarely gone in for serious psychological warfare. Their entire relationship had been shallow banter before that night. Yes, Sam had surprised Freddie, all right, but not in a good way.

He wasn't actually surprised when Sam revealed her matching secret on iCarly a week later. At first he kind of figured that it was Carly's doing, forcing Sam to stage a fake admission to beg his forgiveness, just like he kind of figured that Sam was only visiting him to apologize on Carly's orders.

But for the second time in his life, Samantha Puckett surprised him. She apologized, yes, just as he'd expected, but then she stayed. And in that moment, Freddie knew that Sam wasn't the tough-as-nails girl she'd always pretended to be.

The situation had changed, and Sam was the one who looked nervous. But as always, Sam did exactly as she pleased, which turned out to be kissing him.

The kiss was perfect: sweet, slow, and soft. Freddie no longer felt ashamed that he had waited so long to have his first kiss; this particular kiss was well worth waiting for.

It was over too soon, as all good things are. And as Freddie's third surprise, Sam didn't punch him afterwards. Not even when he said 'I hate you.' She only gave him a soft smile and an, 'I hate you too." Far from being an insult, it sounded more like an endearment.

It made him wonder what else about Samantha Puckett might surprise him.

He wondered this as he returned to Carly's apartment, ready to grovel to Carly for missing two rehearsals and an entire webshow.

Maybe, under Sam's nasty veneer, there was also a soft heart?

"Sam, why would you put Freddie's laptop into a pot of melted popsicle juice?"

"Oops?"

Or not.

--

AN: Over the holiday break, I visited my family and immediately regretted the decision. I spent much of the break hiding in various rooms with televisions, and thus discovered a fabulous show (…for preteens. I know) called iCarly with a damn lot of UST, for preteens. And thus…I was distracted from revising my NaNo story and avoiding my unfinished Gossip Girl stories. And I wrote this. So I know those of you who have me on Author Alert are probably pretty P.O.'d right now, since you were probably expecting some Blair/Chuck goodness…but just saying, if you want a funny show to watch that doesn't take itself too seriously, rock it iCarly-style like me. Hehehe.

I could use some feedback, since this is my first iCarly fic, so let me know how you do (or don't) like it. Thanks!