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The first time Grace used a crop, she jumped and squealed when it hit its target.

"I think the couch will live," Harold said dryly.

John, glancing awkwardly between them, said, "Uh, Harold?"

Grace smiled at him and brandished the crop at Harold. "Don't mind him, John, he's trying to help me reach the point of hitting a person."

She wouldn't hit Harold, of course, not really. And Harold knew that, but John didn't: he only looked more worried. She hugged him, still holding the crop. "He's not discouraging me," she said, laying her head over John's chest. "It's all in good fun. I'm not angry or upset. I'll try again, and this time I won't be so startled."

John shifted in the circle of her arms: not like he wanted her to let go, but like there was something still on his mind. "It'll sound different, hitting skin," John said. "Feel different, too."

"I should imagine," Grace said.

"Different for you," John clarified. "Different give, different... not recoil. I don't know the word."

Grace ran a hand down his back. "Do you make noises, when you're hit?"

John took a moment before saying, "Do you want me to?"

"Oh, honey." Grace tightens her arms around him. "I want you to respond however makes you feel good. I was just curious."

John's head dropped to rest over the top of Grace's. A little while later he said, "I might make noises. I don't know."

She moved just far enough away to look at his face. "Whatever you do, it'll be great." She held his gaze until she thought... not that he believed it, it was kind of hard to make John believe good things. But that he'd remember her voice and face, later, how she said it, so he could tell himself all over again.

~~

Practice makes perfect. Or, in the case of Grace and floggers, it makes mediocre.

"Maybe it'll be different if you practiced on me," John says. It's not the first time he offered.

Grace purses her mouth. "I want to get it right." Her hits are only landing where she aims six or seven times out of ten.

"What's the worse that could happen?"

Promptly, Grace says, "I break you and Harold never lets me play with you again."

It surprises a soft huff of laughter out of John. "I'm not all that breakable."

Grace has her doubts about that. For now, she stares at the pillow ferociously and goes for another hit. That one lands solidly in the middle, which is nice.

~~

The cane is a bad idea, and Grace knows that from the start. Canes are hard; people can go into shock from just a few hits, Grace knows that.

"That only happens to me with much thicker canes," John says, with an assurance that fills Grace with unease.

(At least some of the unease comes from how much she likes the mental image of John, tied up, stoically enduring whatever he has to.)

Bad idea though it is, the cane just sits so nicely in her hand. She flicks her wrist to hear it swoosh through the air, taps John gently on the shin.

"You wouldn't have to hit hard," John says, coaxing. "You could just buy it to practice with."

"Oh, hell," Grace mutters, and digs in her purse until she finds Harold's credit card. They need to get home before she does something that will get the shop to permanently ban her.

~~

She means to practice, and wait, and read up. But what actually happens is that somehow, within thirty minutes of getting home, John is bent over the bed naked and Grace has the cane in her hand.

"I'm not holding out for a safeword," she tells John. "Say no, or you don't like it, or it's bad pain, I'll stop. I'll check in; if you don't respond, I'll stop." Which is a pity. She suspects John would love a chance to get lost in sensation, beyond words: but she can't risk a silence that means John is overwhelmed in a bad way.

"That's okay," John says, muffled.

She doesn't even hit him, at first. She lays the cane gently against his ass, presses it into John's skin and muscle to see it make a valley. The pattern of shadow and light it creates is beautiful: she'd paint it in black and white-- no, of course not. Natural color, the warmth of skin.

Then she taps John a few time, checking that she has the angle down, the basic movement.

John twitches on the bed. Grace smiles, blushes a little. "You okay there?"

"You don't have to hit me today," John says, but it's clearly an effort.

It moves her into putting actual force behind her next tap. Not a lot, just enough for the cane to make an audible noise when hitting John's skin.

And Grace would probably check in, but before she can, John groans, "Yes."

"Oh, sweetheart," Grace says, low and husky, and hits him again.

The noises he makes, goodness. And the way he doesn't move, but only because he's so clearly holding himself still, wanting so much to be good for her.

"We could tie you next time," Grace says, tenderly, before hitting him on top of an existing welt. John groans. "So you wouldn't have to work so hard. Harold would tie you and I'll hit you and afterwards we'll both hug you until you squeaked."

He doesn't answer, panting, and for a moment she's worried. Then he gasps, "Please," and holds an emphatic thumb up.

She takes his hand and kisses it, heart swelling. "My clever boy," she tells him, and he mashes his face into the bed, ears turning pink.

When his ass is red lines all over and so are his thighs, John grunts and raises a hand. Grace stills.

"It's not fun anymore," he says. "But. If you want to, I want to do it."

Grace hesitates. He sounds so earnest. She trails the tip of the cane over his marks, watching him twitch. "You know I won't be hurt or disappointed," she says slowly. "You know I don't want you to cross your boundaries, don't you? That's not worth it to me, not for anything."

"I know," he says hoarsely.

"But you want me to keep hitting you," she says, walking around him to look at his face. As much of it as she can see, anyway: most of it is hidden in the pillow. "Because you want to give me that? Because you know I'm enjoying your pain, and that enjoyment is worth it, to you?"

John groans and drives forward, pushing his hips into the bed. Grace puts her hand on his ass and squeezes, feeling the leap of her heartbeat and her arousal as he squirms under her grip. "You are art," she tells him, fervent, and moves back behind him.

She'll only hit him a couple more times, to make a point to both of them that he'll take it for her. After the next hit, though, she's struck again by his form overall. "I want to paint you as a martyr," she tells him, "would you mind if I did? Only you're very beautiful when you take pain that's enough to make most men cry."

She sees the trembling in his shoulders, and she freezes.

"You can keep going," he says, but she knows that voice.

"Turn over," she says softly.

He's unusually hesitant, taking a few seconds to obey. When he does she sees tears running down his face.

"You should really keep going," he says. "It's not from pain." He sounds baffled, as though he can't comprehend why anyone would start crying while being caned.

An association forms, and Grace says, "You're used to much worse pain than this, after all. So often, so regularly, enough that anybody would collapse but you keep going."

John turns on his side and grunts, curling in on himself, hands clenched into fists. He's clearly trying to stop the tears, and just as clearly he can't.

"Oh, darling," Grace says, helpless. She sits on the bed. "Here, put your head in my lap." She strokes his head when he does. "You're so good for us. You work so hard, and you take so much--" She stops because he's shaking his head. She has another idea, though. "Would it feel better if I hurt you some more?"

After a pause, he nods. She spanks him with her bare hand because that's easy from this angle, not hard enough to bruise her own hand. It's the kind of thing John doesn't even register in their usual scenes. Now every time she hits him he squirms and a fresh fall of tears lands on her thigh. She keeps going until his breathing evens out. "Is that enough?"

He nods. She won't make him talk now: she's a sadist, but she's not cruel.

Instead, she looks at him and calls out for Harold, who arrives from the living room carrying his book under one arm. Harold blinks owlishly at them. "Is everything all right?"

"I need cuddle reinforcement," Grace tells him.

If there's one thing she likes about Harold, (well, actually there are lots of things, but) it's that the man takes a cuddling emergency with the requisite seriousness. "We can't have that," he says, shedding his robe and slipping into bed beside them. He only registers the state John's face once John is nuzzling his shoulder, reaching for comfort as Grace hugs John from the back. "My word, Grace, what did you do to him?"

"Nothing I didn't like," John rasps.

Grace appreciates that he tries to be gentlemanly, but it's important to communicate. "I hurt him, and then I validated his pain," she says.

Harold holds her hand across John's shoulder. "You monster," he says, dry and fond.

"I don't know how I'll live with myself," Grace confesses, and it hits a little closer to the bone than she wanted to.

"You don't have to," John says. "You live with us."

That sets her giggling, the silliness of the words and how happy John sounded about it, it's all too much. She squeezes her arm tightly around him. He doesn't even oof like he usually does, to let her feel like she's making an impact.

It's startling to realize: he doesn't have to. She knows.