EDIT 8/25/2016: As far as the edits go, I added several thousand words in an attempt to connect what were previously broken up pieces. Almost exactly doubled it in length. I have the very distinct memory of writing this during English class in high school. Years later, I still think Johnny/Sam would have been a cool pairing. So I edited this one a bit and decided to leave it up, in memory of the pairing that never happened and never will.

as a refresher for people: Claudia is killed, Sam is hit by a car and at odds with Sonny/Jason, Ian Devlin is the doctor/hitman who worked for Claudia. This was written pre-reveal that Claudia was Johnny's mother (not that Johnny would have known it at the time), Alexis is involved with Jerry Jacks, and Nicolas is haunted by the ghost of the recently deceased Emily. Aside from that this is fairly AU, or at least it takes off from the show and proceeds differently. A universe in which Claudia is killed by Sonny/Jason and Johnny mounts his vengeance with the one person who now hates them just as much as he does.

Zacchara
Johnny and Sam

Claudia Zacchara was dead. Claudia Zacchara had been dead for 78 hours and 14 minutes and Port Charles was going on its merry little way as if she had never been alive in the first place.

Someone would pay for it. Johnny even had a pretty good idea who that someone was. Sonny Corinthos -and his bitch Jason Morgan. Ha. Whatever sympathy or common ground or heartfelt nonsense had kept their truce going was gone, along with Claudia. Let the goodwill be buried with his sister.

Johnny sat behind a big desk in a dark office, fingers steepled and fury building, as he tried to think of what he could possibly tear away from them that would equal what he had lost.

Port Charles was a good place to start, he figured. It wasn't about business anymore. It was personal. It wasn't about profit so much as pain inflicted.

His first act, one he hardly even remembered making , was to call dear old Uncle Rudy.

"Lend me some enforcers," Johnny breathed into the phone, the first time he'd spoken for days, "for Claudia."

The next act he ordered was Trevor's death.

The waterfront would be his. A row of warehouses near the docks were the first acquisition in his new reign, although he didn't feel like celebrating. He felt on the edge, on the cusp of something great with anticipation sizzling under his skin. Johnny stared at the papers on his desk for a long while and suddenly, maybe for the first time, he understood just what they meant. Port Charles would be his and he wanted to make sure they were watching while he stripped it away bit by bit.

He didn't care about his own empire, or any of that shit he'd had to spent his whole childhood hearing about. He just cared about destroying theirs.

In those moments, Johnny realized he'd been holding out all along. Wanting to be just a little good, wanting to cling to some ideal, wanting to be better for some reason he couldn't even name. Now that was gone, pushed away like all childish things. There was no hope and certainly no ideal. Only the understanding that revenge was a machine built to keep men going when nothing else could.

In the first weeks following Johnny's revelation, he laid low while his men - big, mean, and Italian - did the leg work. Old business was taken care of while new business was being born. Johnny thought of all the pieces on the board and tried to make sense of the best moves. The smartest moves and the cruelest. On his orders, his men surprised Dr. Ian Devlin on his way to work and dragged him, after shoving a bag over his head and stuffing him in the backseat of a black van for a terrifying thirty minute ride, into Johnny's office.

"You've got a lot to make up for," Johnny said, and if the tone of his voice didn't relay the severity of the situation to Ian, then the guards with guns pointed at the doctor's head did. "After that screw up with Michael Corinthos, you owe the Zacchara family."

Ian's cocky demeanor could turn surprisingly likeable when he was given the proper incentive, which was probably why Claudia had ever put up with him. He spoke slowly and carefully, like a man fully aware he was treading dangerous waters, "I understand. And I'm willing to do whatever I can to make it up."

Johnny tapped his fingers on his desk, rhythmically. Beethoven. A muscle memory of a time when he could afford to let himself care about whimsical things like music and happy remembrances.

"That's good to hear, Doctor," He watched the man sweat for a minute. "Here's what you can do for me—help me destroy Corinthos."

When Ian looked surprised, Johnny laughed. "I won't be asking you to kill him—we all know that's a talent you haven't got. What I need is...information. Personal. I'm talking weaknesses, soft spots, vulnerabilities, and you'd better bring me something more than 'he loves his kids'. I want to know everything. I need to manipulate Corinthos and Morgan and until you give me what I need, consider your life mine. Understand?"

Ian frowned and then tried to give a smarmy, slimy smile. "I understand perfectly, boss."

The pure fear in his eyes confirmed that he understood well enough and Johnny sent him away.

For a first move, it was sensible, but the difference between people and chess pieces was that people had no move set. Ian might wind up somewhere useful, like Johnny was hoping, or he might need to be knocked off the board altogether. The long hours brooding and drinking and waiting led Johnny to a problem he hadn't decided how to solve.

"Where's your sister?" Anthony slurred, high off the new drug regimen Johnny had ordered. He wanted to be sure his father never walked again, paralysis or not.

"Claudia's dead," Johnny said, fascinated by the immediate puckering of Anthony's entire face. He was getting something from this, although he couldn't quite name it. Satisfaction, sure, but something else too. Reassurance. If he could come up so far on top of a man as vile and powerful as his father, then what hope did Corinthos really have?

"Don't say things like that about your sister, John. Your mother wouldn't like it. Maria! Maria?!" The old man ranted and Johnny didn't really give a damn if he was faking or not. He only walked out wishing Claudia was still around to enjoy it too.

Once Johnny's plan gained some motion it just rolled, like a great heavy boulder down a hill. It was funny because there wasn't really that much of a plan. Johnny knew the goal, but the part about getting there had been just do it from the beginning. But from the start, everything seemed to just fall into place, to click in his mind. Each step leading him precisely where he needed to be.

"Jerry Jacks," Johnny said plainly as he made himself comfortable in a seat across from Spinelli in Kelly's. The tech wiz looked around and shut his laptop carefully.

Johnny continued flippantly, "I want to know everything there is to know about him."

Spinelli gaped at him for a moment, "Why—well, number one, why would The Septic Son want to know about the admittedly equally septic Jerry Jacks, and – number two- wh-why do you expect the Jackal to help you?"

Johnny crossed his arms and smiled with all his teeth. "The Jackal," he emphasized," is going to help me and not ask any questions and not tell anyone about this. And if The Jackal doesn't do what I say, a certain blonde is going to have a rough time, to put it lightly."

Spinelli blinked rapidly. He leaned forward and looked so earnest, it made Johnny want to laugh in his face. " I know you and the Fair Lulu separated, but I did not know everything was so volatile between—"

"No," Johnny interrupted, "you're not getting it."

"I'm not talking about Fair Lulu," he said slowly. He wanted to make sure the other man understood exactly where his threats were going. "I'm talking about your precious Maxie."

He watched with a small amount of satisfaction as Spinelli flinched like he'd been struck. Somewhere behind them the new waitress dropped a plate, glass shattering. Spinelli's eyes stayed focused on Johnny, a solemn intensity in them.

"I'm sure a guy as smart as you can figure it out," Johnny said. "Find me everything you can on Jerry Jacks, or I'm going to show you just how wounded your Wounded Blonde One can get."

With a shuddering breath, Spinelli clicked open his laptop. He was a smart man, after all. Maybe even the smartest, but he would learn, if he hadn't already, that life didn't care how good you were at any particular thing. Either you were ruthless enough to take or you wound up empty handed. Smarts had nothing to do with it.

With his two pieces in play, Johnny busied himself with the board. There was plenty he had inherited, but more that needed taking. Shady business that meant long hours drinking with old, rich men who'd grown comfortable and fat from lives of crime. He made partnerships by telling them his father was dead and that he was the new man in charge, or, if he saw a particular bit of loathing in their face, by describing the useless lump of flesh dying off in a hospital bed. He won them over by talking about his own youth and times of change and the long-coming fall of Sonny Corinthos.

By the time Ian Devlin called him and said, "I think I've got what you wanted," Johnny felt confident he'd laid a solid foundation for toppling an empire. He was only lacking the thing he'd been seeking most of all - the personal touch. The insight into Sonny's mind, what would hurt the most, where his pride had left him weakest.

He saw Sam in the shadows of Dr. Devlin's apartment. Her hair was tousled and the crumpled shirt that touched the thighs of her jeans was definitely not her own. Johnny met her gaze for just a second as he looked past Ian and the look in her eyes made it clear she knew exactly what was going on.

What Dr. Devlin offered was ingenious. Johnny had to wonder why such an asset had been left to flounder for so long. Samantha McCall was a potential wealth of information. Not all mob business, no - but personal knowledge?

Sam looked back at him in Ian's dark apartment, brimming with bitterness and a slow-burning hatred, and Johnny wanted to shake his head at his rival's stupidity. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, after all. Claudia had been teaching the world that her whole life.

Johnny and Ian were both tense, the air was thick with do we have an understanding?, and Sam sipped a beer like it was a lazy Sunday afternoon. Johnny knew that ease, had felt it many times before-it was the kind you got when you started to think you had nothing left to lose.

They came to a mutual understanding born out of mutual anger. They left Ian behind and Johnny walked her to her own apartment, slow thanks to her limp. He offered to just carry her at some point and she gave him a look of such offense and disgust that Johnny decided right then and there that he liked her.

Sam had a lot to say and she was eager to say it, happy for the chance to have a hand in hurting Sonny and Jason. It was more Jason, Johnny could tell, but in the end it was all the same. She knew names more than anything, and places, enough for Johnny to know where to look and who to pay off and who to knock off. Sam talked until she was falling asleep sitting up and Johnny left feeling confident, like he had a bullet in every chamber.

The first incident happened a few days later, when some Corinthos men showed up at a warehouse that belonged to the Zaccharas and exchanged some words with Johnny's men. And some bullets. It was an unfortunate escalation that Johnny had been hoping to put off a little longer, but not entirely unexpected. Sonny wasn't a man of patience and level headed thinking, he didn't wait and see before making moves.

One of Uncle Rudy's favorite guys, who told great stories about young Claudia running around Italy and driving everybody crazy, got clipped in the shoulder. Johnny went to visit him in the hospital, played innocent employer with the police, and listened to an hour's worth of morphine induced Italian about his beautiful dead sister before stepping out.

He was waiting near the nurses' station for one last update when he saw Sam limping past, leaning heavily on a walker instead of her cane. There was sweat on her forehead and the deep grimace of pain around her mouth and eyes.

"What's the matter with you?" Johnny asked her lowly, coming up beside her.

"What do you mean what's the matter with me?" she snapped, irritated, and it was the first time he'd heard her like that. "I got hit by a car, what do you think is the matter with me?"

Johnny raised his eyebrows and his hands in a sign of peace. Sam sighed, leaning forward and bracing herself on the walker. "Sorry. Sorry. It's just—this stupid physical therapy."

"Tiring you out?" he asked, leading her to the waiting areas. He hovered while she eased herself onto the bench.

Sam shook her head. "I don't even care about that. But every time I go in , every time, I work my ass off and it doesn't feel like I'm getting anywhere. So they add a week to my recovery. And another week. More and more and more—I feel like I'm never going to get better."

Johnny smiled grimly at this. His situation was a lot similar. Not as physical. But mentally, that just about summed him up.

He left Sam at the hospital after she refused a helpful arm to lean on, though not as spitefully as she had the first time.

The shipments came in slow but steady. Nothing too big to start with, but more than Claudia had been working with. Johnny staggered the shipments and paid off the coast guard, let his men do the work and report back. A lot of people were interested in the rise of the Zaccharas now and Johnny played them all carefully, never saying too much. Half of them were convinced Johnny was working for someone else, either because he was too young or they thought he was too stupid. None of it mattered. He wasn't going to screw anything up because of pride - that was a weakness for old men set in their ways, like his father. Like Sonny.

Johnny was finishing up paperwork for some business with the Alvarado's—another family that was tired of seeing Corinthos at the top—when one of the new guards poked his head in. "Mr. Zacchara? Samantha McCall is here to see you."

Sam had come by a few times. She didn't have a job, didn't have many friends, and seemed distant from her family. Not that Johnny was in a position to judge on any of those fronts. She always had something interesting to say, if not funny. Women in leather jackets with a thing for hard liquor were the kind Johnny was most comfortable with anyway.

"Let her in," Johnny waved the guard away, "and next time don't bother to introduce her."

Sam was a mess. Not emotionally, for once. She smiled at him dryly, leaning against the doorframe like she hadn't a care in the world. But her hair was tangled ,her shirt was ripped, and there were holes in the knees of her pants. Johnny dropped the papers in his hands and stood, sucking in a surprised breath, "Jesus Christ, Sam—what the hell happened?"

He was by her side in a few steps, helping her to a seat. By the looks of it she'd lost her cane.

"Oh, you know," Sam said, with a little humor. "I guess somebody noticed my frequent visits and decided they didn't like it."

Johnny looked at her sharply. "Corinthos did this to you?" He didn't know why it was almost surprising, but he felt some kind of backwards expectation that even a man who would have a woman murdered wouldn't necessarily have her beaten. As usual, Sonny excelled in achieving new levels of scum.

Sam let him lift her feet onto the footrest. "Of course not. He wouldn't want to get his hands dirty. But I recognized the guys who did it and their message didn't exactly leave much to the imagination."

He called the guard back in and ordered a first aid kit. He could feel that anger, that constant anger, boiling up again. Every day he found something to stoke the fire and keep it strong. "What was the message?"

"Stay away from the Zaccharas," Sam tried to imitate a man's voice. It almost made Johnny smile. Instead he peeled back some of her shirt to see the scratches beneath and asked her.

"And?"

"And I hate doing what I'm told," Sam smirked, "especially if it's an order from them."

Johnny cleaned a few cuts before realizing the bruising was beyond him and that someone in need of regular physical therapy should probably see a doctor after a back alley beating. He put aside the kit and poured her a glass of something strong while they waited for Devlin.

"I'm sorry." Johnny felt obligated to say. He liked Sam. It felt good to not be the only one hurt, the only one angry, the only one who looked at the lord of Port Charles and saw him for what he really was. He'd only ever had a true ally in Claudia, but this was something similar enough to matter. "When I got you involved in this, I wasn't thinking about the consequences for you. That's on me."

"It's not on you. That's the point," Sam said," That's what this is all about. It's on him. Sonny makes his choices. These consequences are the result of his actions, don't forget that. You make excuses, blame the middleman, blame yourself even when you're the one hurt - it only lets him get away with it. Believe me, I know."

Johnny took that to heart. Sam was a grown woman. Older, wiser, experienced in a lot of ways that Johnny wasn't. Whatever life she'd lived before coming here, he sometimes wondered if it wasn't all that different from his own. Similar enough that it'd taught her to survive, just like him.

In the weeks following, Johnny had only one guard on Sam. It was less for protection and more for surveillance - watch her to see who's watching her. It was always some two-bit thug doing a lousy job of tailing her, probably because they knew she'd recognize anyone more important. As if it really mattered after they'd already made their move. They followed her to picnics with her sisters and lunch with her mother and to the grocery store, but they only ever followed her as far as the end of the street where the Zacchara Mansion had been rebuilt.

Johnny was waiting for the other shoe to drop, building his money and alliances and property slowly, when old investments started to pay off.

It was a single email, containing more than anybody had ever known about Jerry Jacks. Things Jerry Jacks had probably forgotten about himself. Banks accounts and names and debts and secrets.

Of course, Johnny would never really do anything bad to Kristina or Molly. One crippled kid was enough for this mob war. And he'd never hurt Alexis either. Maybe at one time, not so long ago when the pain was still startling and new, but now he couldn't even look at the woman without seeing bits of Sam, and that was enough to put her off limits.

Jerry didn't know that, though. Jerry Jacks was stubborn. He was smart, two-faced, and instilled with an amazing sense of self-preservation, but he was also very clingy to the things he had come to care about. Johnny figured out all those subtle connections that weren't quite visible to the naked mind, thanks to a certain computer geek. Dr. Moreau and Jerry Jacks and James Craig and James Brosnan. The man should have known that having that many secrets just gave your opponents that much more ammunition to shoot you with.

" I want to own Port Charles," Johnny said, enjoying the clenching of the older man's jaw. "And you'll help me—or else you'll lose everything. And so will your brother and your sister-in-law. And Alexis Davis too."

"Family, Jerry," Johnny shrugged." It's an important thing."

"Yes," Jerry curled his lips, like he was smelling something bad. "I am aware of that."

"Then you should be happy to do this for me. You're insuring your family's safety and happiness through your actions." Johnny watched Jerry, silently daring him to talk back in that pompous accent of his.

He did, of course, "Oh, well, excuse me for being ungrateful—"

"No," Johnny interrupted. "I won't. I'm not a man who accepts excuses anymore. I want to hear you say Thank you for giving me the opportunity to help you , Mr. Zacchara."

Jerry stared at him impassively and Johnny urged him, "Go on. Say it." Seeing the older man making no move to speak, Johnny leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers together. "Don't be stubborn, Mr. Jacks. I guess you really do want me to pay a visit to dear, sweet Alexis…"

Jerry sneered at him, disgust in his eyes. And anger and hatred and, best of all, envy. "Thank you for giving me the opportunity to help you, Mr. Zacchara."

Johnny smiled. "You're welcome."

Feeling victorious, he invited Sam over for a round of drinks or three. It was first time he'd invited her, but she didn't say anything about it. She seemed to sense his good mood and demanded a toast.

"To, um-" Johnny wavered, already a few drinks in, "to us."

"To us?" Sam said, raising her glass.

"To us," Johnny said again, more sure. He smiled at her, knowing she'd get the joke, "and to revenge."

"To revenge."

They drank until it wasn't fun to drink anymore, until the lights were off and the repetitive turn of the ceiling fan was the only sound in the night. They huddled down on opposite ends of the sofa in Johnny's office and exchanged depressing stories.

"It was almost like…meeting Sonny gave me this amazing gift, this amazing life, you know?" Sam sighed, and Johnny bristled at the slightest praise for Sonny. But then Sam continued, both sad and resigned," And then he and Jason took it away from me. Just because after all those years of being loyal I finally stepped out of line."

It was the third time she had offered up something private and they'd all been sad. Little bits of a life lived and lost.

"I think you would have made a great mother," Johnny offers as consolation, not sure why, although mothers and fathers weren't exactly his strong point. Sam looked surprised, and then smiled, slow and honest. He didn't remember everything from that night, but he remembered the smile.

That had been a good day and it rejuvenated Johnny. With Jerry in his pocket, a whole new avenue of product opened up. He kept his men busy on the docks and himself busy making purchases and deals.

It came to a head on a slow day not long after. He was trying to nap in his chair and Sam was trying to sweet-talk him into a card game, something he'd quickly learned was a dumb idea unless he wanted to hand over the contents of his wallet. A guard knocked on the door and peeked in. "Jason Morgan is at the gates, Mr. Zacchara."

Johnny straightened up in his chair, the ghost of a smile that had been teasing his lips fading away to a scowl. He looked at Sam and when she nodded, he told the guard shortly, "Let him in."

Whatever Jason had been expecting to see – probably someone else behind the desk, some other relative come to take Johnny's place as head of the family, because obviously Johnny Zacchara wasn't smart or clever or ruthless enough—Johnny figured it wasn't this. Him with his sleeves rolled up and Sam shuffling cards across from him, some old music playing quietly on the radio.

"Sam," Jason said, and since it was Jason talking, Johnny couldn't tell if he was surprised or what. "What are you doing here?"

Sam turned to look at him, raising an eyebrow and lifting the cards. "Well obviously I'm about to play a game."

"Not that it matters," Johnny started as soon as she'd finished, not giving Jason any time to talk, "since I'm assuming you came to my home to speak with me, not Sam."

Jason looked momentarily at a loss, looking between him and Sam. "Yeah. Several of your men have been seen in our ports."

Sam laughed at this, beginning to lay cards down on the cleared space of Johnny's desk. Solitaire. Johnny scratched at a bit of stubble under his chin. "Well, that's how a hostile takeover starts, right? I'm staking out the territory."

"Hostile takeover?" Jason repeated.

"That's right. I'm taking over. So you should run along and tell Corinthos to watch his back. And his front."

Sam was flipping cards and smiling, and Johnny figured she could feel Jason's gaze on the back of her head. "And what do you have to do with this, Sam?"

"Why?" Johnny asked. "So you can send more thugs to rough her up, teach her a lesson?"

"What are you talking about?" It was cute, the way he almost looked confused. Almost, but not quite. Like a broken thing pretending to be a functional person.

"Oh Johnny, don't you know?" Sam quipped, laying cards down. "Jason isn't privy to all of Sonny's business—and he's much too good of a person to let guys beat up a crippled woman."

Jason held his hands up, "No, I had nothing to do with that. Sam, you have to know that." As if there was anything about him that Sam didn't know. What an idiot, Johnny thought, and knew they'd be laughing about this later.

"Well, that's good," Johnny said, "because otherwise it would have really destroyed all of my respect for you." Sam laughed, covering her mouth with a fan of cards.

Jason, seeing the futility of the situation, began to back out. "You're making a mistake. Both of you."

Johnny waited all of ten seconds after the door closed before heaving a great sigh and sinking back into his chair.

"That was good." Sam said, putting the cards aside. "I mean, you seemed confident."

"I am confident." Johnny corrected her, but grinned. "It was good, wasn't it? I don't think he expected either of us to be here. I couldn't have planned it better myself."

"Yeah well, I still think you should have gone with the horse head. Really stick with the whole Italian thing you've got going on."

Johnny laughed. He had to wait for the adrenaline he hadn't noticed to start to run down, watching Sam shuffle the deck over and over. He wasn't sure if he should say it, but he did anyways. Feeling confident, after all. "You were good, too. I mean, with Jason..."

Sam looked vulnerable, looking up at him through her hair. "Yeah? I was worried. I mean, I didn't want to seem..." Weak. Hurt. In love, even after everything. Johnny didn't know what she wanted to say, so he imagined it and figured they were all a little true. That was fair. He didn't want to seem hurt or lonely or scared of his own failure, but he was a little of all of those too.

The following weekend, he took her out to dinner, since the proverbial cat was out of the bag. A show of confidence in a town where the gossip travelled almost as fast the bullets. Only recently freed from the use of a cane, she walked steady and slow, one hand hooked on his arm. Johnny was smart enough not to comment on the black flats she'd chose, despite recalling her old love of heels.

"You look fantastic." The best thing about complimenting her was that it was true. Sam was built for sleek black dresses and the one she wore fit like a dream.

Sam fluttered her eyes obviously. "Why Mr. Zacchara, are you flirting with me?"

Johnny had been rationalizing this with himself for weeks. Liking Sam, that was dangerous enough. Liking her too much was like loading a gun and handing it to somebody else - an exercise in weakness that he had sworn he didn't have room for. It wasn't the time for getting attached to people, especially not assets.

Despite this conviction, every day it was little harder to think of Sam as just that. He was only human. In the end it all came back to his human capacity for loving and hurting : it was the force behind everything he had begun here and everything that kept him moving when the grief wanted to weigh him down. And this thing between them was the one little good thing he allowed himself, a single bright spot of camaraderie taking up all the space he'd made when he'd buried away his old life and ties.

This hesitance had Johnny laughing a little awkwardly, not quite comfortable with his old bad boy persona in his new world. He still smiled at her and leaned a little closer than necessary. Something both for watching eyes and the lonely spots inside him. This back and forth in his head and his heart came to a head later that night, after too much wine and good conversation and better company. Back in his office for one last nightcap, Johnny regarded Sam across the room and just couldn't deny that he wanted.

"My sister wasn't around to take care of me," Johnny offered, the conversation having grown more personal as the bottle emptied and the hours passed, feeling strangely eager to open up. The night wasn't just good - the whole week had been. He had recently come into possession of several piers that had once hosted Corinthos , by way of a truly shady under-the-table deal with someone Sonny had probably considered a friend. The shipping lanes of Port Charles seemed to be falling into his lap. Worse than the wine was the intoxication of success, making him bold. Sam lounged on the sofa, dress riding up a little on her thighs, and looked at him with her dark eyes half closed.

"She tried to take care of me when she was around, but…she got sent away when I was pretty young."

"Yeah," Sam nodded, maybe a little drowsily. "My big brother didn't take care of me either. It was more like I took care of him. Not that I minded."

Johnny's interest was caught. "You had an older brother?"

Sam shifted on the couch, maneuvering her hip slowly so she could face him. "His name was Danny. He was special."

She just lit up. Everything about her changed, in that moment, when she started to talk about her brother. "He was special in every meaning of the word. Oh god, he was just—just the sweetest guy in the world. And for a long time, he was all I had."

Johnny leaned back in his chair. It was too easy in this moment to get caught up in feeling for Sam. These dangerous moments made it hard to keep hold of that quiet enragement that had been nestling in his chest. He tried, instead of thinking of horror and loss, to imagine what this man who'd fostered the love and admiration of Samantha McCall had been like.

"I guess that's just something we have in common," Johnny noted, as if they needed another reason beside their dislike for Morgan and Corinthos to get along.

"Yeah." Sam agreed. "And also-red."

Johnny raised an eyebrow.

"Your sister—she always wore those red shoes, right? And my brother, he had this baseball cap, a red one, that he always wore."

They were quiet for a while. Johnny closed his eyes and pictured things he loved that he couldn't have.

"I kept them," Johnny admitted. "Her shoes. I still have all of them."

"That's okay," Sam sighed. "I still have the cap."

Two people holding on no matter what the world tried to take away.

"Lucky was a lot like me," She confessed, later, when it was only fair for her to give something as well, "but not in the right ways."

Johnny waited for her to continue, sipping at his gin.

"He was just like me…because he couldn't let go of things that hurt him," Sam continued. "But he also wasn't like me because he was such a good guy."

"Being good," Johnny scoffed, after they'd both stared into their glasses for a moment, "It's overrated."

"Amen to that," She laughed, and they raised their glasses together in a cheer to being the bad guys.

"The last time I heard about the infamous Johnny Z , he was in love with Lulu Spencer," Sam said, a little coyly.

"He was," Johnny agreed.

"And..." Sam prompted, making hand gestures that made Johnny's lips twitch.

"And I decided that I didn't want her as much as I thought I did. She was great then, but things are different now." And like Lucky, she had been good, but that went without saying.

Sam poured expensive cognac from his crystal tumbler into her never-full glass. "Was she one of those things that are everything you want, until you have it?"

"Something like that," Johnny agreed and offered his glass for a refill. The next toast was to outgrowing wants, although Johnny admitted to himself wasn't quite truthful. Old wants fell away and new ones grew even stronger in their place.

The blossoming whatever it was between them took more precedence in Johnny's life than he wanted to admit, but he accepted it. It was so hard being angry and hateful and alone and so much easier being angry and hateful together with someone who made him feel the exact opposite. Sam reminded him that life could go on, no matter how much it hurt. Even the pain she talked about feeling now was nothing compared to the pain she sometimes described from her life before - it made him think of himself with a future, something that had always seemed foolhardily optimistic.

They spent a lot of dark nights together, sharing drinks and secrets. He walked with her in the early afternoons before he had business and she sometimes rested her head on his arm. Little things that somehow seemed bigger than anything when he looked back at them.

Uncle Rudy called him out of the blue, laughing into the phone. "Johnny, boy, all the guys say you're doing so much better."

"Yeah?" A little cocky, he laughed back into the phone. "I'm making big bucks turning around the mess Trevor left behind. A little here and there, a little more every week. It's all coming together."

"Good, good, that's all good, but I'm talking about you, boy. You're doing better, huh?"

Better, Johnny thought. If by better he meant Johnny wasn't drinking himself to sleep every night and punching walls till his knuckles bled, then sure, he was better. A little looser in the shoulders, too. It wasn't so hard playing the smooth talking mob boy to his new associates when that part of him was finally coming back from underneath all the anger. Sure, he was better. Better was fine, so long as it didn't become weak.

Johnny confessed his worries to Sam while they were eating ice cream together in the park. He secretly thought Sam liked going out in hopes that someone she knew would see them, would see her smiling and having a good time. Proof that she wasn't just surviving, she was living. He liked it though. If she had any less stubbornness and spite, she wouldn't fit so well into his world. But like him, she knew the power of darker emotions. The certain strengths that came from them and only them.

"It's been a few months now. I worry...am I moving on, without meaning to?" Johnny said. He gestured around, to the ice cream, the park, the perfect weather. "Right after, I couldn't sit still without feeling like exploding. Just wanting to kill someone, ruin something. "

Sam seemed to think about it, eyes off in the distance. "I know what you mean. But answer this, do you still want revenge? For Claudia?"

"More than anything." Johnny swore.

"Then how is that moving on? You still want the same thing. Your goals haven't changed. You've just become stronger. At first, the pain hurts too much - I know that feeling. Wanting only to lash out just for some scrap of satisfaction. And what if you had? What if you'd just gone and...and just shot Sonny, right then and there. Do you think that would be as satisfying as what's coming to him?"

"Hell no. Death's an easy out."

Sam laughed. "Okay. Now the pain's not in control, but that doesn't mean it's gone. Maybe it won't ever be. But you're in control now. That's not weakness."

"Damn. You're pretty good at this stuff."

"Surprised to learn I'm more than just a pretty face?" Sam teased.

"Nah, I knew that from the start. And your face isn't the only thing about you that's pretty."

The flirting was a little heavy handed, reminding him that he was out of practice, but it did the job. Sam smiled and stole his ice cream after finishing her own. It even won him an invitation to dinner on Spoon Island.

"My cousin, Nikolas...you don't have to worry about Lulu being there, she hasn't been visiting lately. He's not doing too good. I think it would cheer him up to have visitors."

"Even if one of those visitors is me?" Johnny doubted it, but accepted anyway. Anything to see if she wore another black dress.

There was a darkness in the Cassadine castle that reminded Johnny of the old Zacchara manor. Not just in the shadows in every corner or the curving smile of the gargoyles' mouths, but in the feeling that vibrated through the building's stones. He had time to think as he walked down its hallways and he tried to imagine what events had put the gloom and despair so deep into the place. Surely it was more than one strangled woman and a left-behind lover's loneliness.

Maybe, he thought, when he met Nikolas's disapproving gaze from across the grand table and saw little Spencer's eyes regarding him carefully, maybe the Cassadines were just like his own family: fucked up and born that way, cursed and doomed to always and forever repeat every mistake ever made before them. Sam smiled at him from her seat, a dark beauty that fit perfectly in that place.

Sam was defensive about her family and touchy about her blood while simultaneously being dismissive of her own inclusion in their legacy, but she laughed when Johnny told her that Nikolas reminded him of his dad.

"He's losing his mind," she said, while on the other side of the room Nikolas gestured animatedly to someone who continued to only exist for him. "But we still love him."

Little Spencer had the same dark eyes and genes for ruin as the rest of his family, but as Johnny swept him up like an airplane he realized that he was wrong before. The Cassadines weren't really like his family at all. They were a different kind of fucked up. He thought he could get used to it.

And Spencer liked him. Then again, Johnny figured it must have been nice to see people at all who weren't the butler, nanny, or crazy daddy who talked to ghosts. But Sam was impressed, in a way that crinkled her nose when she smiled and changed the way she looked at him for a bit. He liked it.

Later that night, walking off the boat and onto the pier and into the dark of Port Charles, he couldn't stop thinking about it. How much of that old pain in her eyes went back to empty cradles and lost expectations.

"I'll get you one," Johnny offered, breezily, like he was going to stop by the nearest 7/11 and pluck one off the shelves.

"You'll get me a baby?" Sam repeated, tone light and humored while her eyes watched him quietly.

"Sure," Johnny shrugged. "What kind do you want? White, black, blonde, brunette, boy, girl?"

"You're sweet, Johnny," She said, looking sad. "But it's just not the same. I should know, I've been there before. It hurt too much."

That made Johnny angry, inexplicably angry, because that was just another thing that he wanted to fix but had no control over. "Well ,let me know if you change your mind."

"I will," she promised, although he figured she wouldn't.

Afterwards, he spent days feeling stupid for offering, and worse for knowing it just wasn't something he could fix. Sam had said it first, hadn't she? That the pain might never go away. Not hers and not his. That was just the world they lived in, where people died and pain lived on.

He couldn't give her anything to combat the harsh reality, but he had a few ways to make her smile.

"Mine," Johnny sat a paper on his desk with a flourish. In a singsong voice he continued, setting more papers down. "Also mine, mine, mine."

Sam clapped happily, amused by his antics. "And what are those exactly?"

Johnny smirked and paused for effect. "Each of these," he said slowly, running the tips of his fingers over the neat stacks," is a piece of the Corinthos waterfront."

Dropping her hands, Sam stared at him, obviously surprised. "You mean that's really…"

"I told you it was only a matter of time," Johnny shrugged. "The Corinthos organization was weak. They've been on the top for too long and they've forgotten how to protect themselves."

Sam pressed a hand to her mouth and stepped around the desk to stand next to him, a sort of amazement in her face. "Wow."

"Didn't think I could do it?" Johnny asked, curling an arm around her waist.

"I don't know," Sam laughed, turning to look at him with wide eyes. "I guess I just never thought I'd see it happen."

Johnny hoped that somewhere, miles away, the Corinthos organization was receiving news about their lost assets. He hoped Morgan was realizing the depth of the situation and that rat bastard Sonny was dumbstruck , that they were both regretting with all their being everything they'd done to the Zacchara family.

"This is only the beginning," Johnny promised. He bent his head, dark Cassadine hair brushing against his cheek.