It bothered him that she would only say it when she was drunk. Sure she showed him all the time. In the way she grabbed his hand and pulled him over for a kiss. In the way she 'cooked' him dinner when he'd had a rough day, even though her cooking always resulted in him picking up a pizza. In the way she curled up to him at night, tight, like she was going to lose him. But it bothered him that she wouldn't say "I love you" without a drink first.
He'd thought, at first, that she didn't say it because he'd said it too soon. After all, he'd said it the first time he'd kissed her. Well... not strictly the first time. But the first time he'd kissed her when he was allowed to, when the frat regs weren't in the way. She'd looked up at him, shocked, frozen. Deer in the headlights came to mind. He hadn't pushed it. He'd actively changed the subject when he saw how uncomfortable she'd become.
Then he thought she didn't say it because she didn't feel it. He'd waited longer this time. Til after they'd slept together, til she'd started moving some of of her things into his apartment in Washington when she thought he wouldn't notice. Things like a spare toothbrush, a week's supply of underwear, and the brand of dried pasta she liked that appeared mysteriously in his cupboard one day. He'd cooked it for her with her favourite sauce, lit some candles, poured her favourite wine, and told her again that he loved her. She'd clearly sensed it coming because she'd shovelled the pasta into her mouth so quickly when he started speaking, giving herself a good excuse not to answer, to mumble something with her mouth full instead. He hadn't pushed it. The awkwardness had dissipated a little, but she hadn't stayed over that night. Had gone back to her hotel with excuses of an early morning flight.
It took a poker night at the cabin with Teal'c, Daniel, Vala and Cam, and a lot of beer before he finally heard the words come out of her lips, confidently, loudly enough for the others to hear and as if she said them all the time. He was torn with how to respond. Part of him, a petty part that he tried to pretend didn't exist; wanted to ignore it and brush her off; the same way she had with him all those times before. Part of him wanted to pull her to him, kiss her passionately and drag her back to their bedroom. The part that won told her softly that he loved her too.
The second time she'd told him had been at a ceremony, though he couldn't remember who or what it was for. They were in dress blues, in Washington, but they'd agreed to get a cab back to his apartment so they could both have a drink. She'd had one too many glasses of champagne, and in the cab she'd flung her arms around him, kissed him on the cheek, and with a sparkle in her eyes told him in no uncertain terms that he was the only man for her and she had loved him for almost 10 years. He'd decided after the first time that he wasn't going to make a big deal out of it if she ever said it again. But it was hard not grin like an idiot or tell the cab driver to step on it so he could get her back to the apartment and do all manner of things to her. Instead he grinned, kissed her hand and said he'd loved her for that long too.
It took a few more drunken declarations for him to notice the pattern. She wasn't saying something untrue, as people so often did when they were inebriated. She wasn't even slurring when she said it. He suspected he knew why she was doing it. For all the ease with which she kissed him, made love to him, slotted perfectly into his life like a jigsaw piece that had been missing for years, saying those three simple words still felt like breaking the rules. They'd pushed the boundaries of the regulations, skirted the edges of what was allowed and not, so many times in the year they'd known each other. Yet saying "I love you" was still taboo to her. And whilst it came easily to him, he didn't want to force the issue. So instead he found excuses to drink wine or beer with her. He knew it probably wasn't healthy, physically or emotionally, to allow her to depend on alcohol just to tell him how she felt. But dammit, he'd waited ten years. He wanted to hear her say it.