They're at breakfast on their third day of vacation when Rodney looks at John thoughtfully.
"Have you ever been caned?"
At least, John thinks as his face goes red, Rodney is using his indoor voice. "I...um...."
"Yes or no. It's not a complicated question."
"Yeah, well excuse me for being vague after you fucked my brains out an hour ago," John says with a little laugh. "No. I've never been caned."
"Really? How'd you react?"
"Yelled a lot." John won't say more, won't say that it scared him a little. It wasn't the pain so much as what the pain did to him, but...well, Rodney is different. He thinks he can go there for Rodney.
Rodney pauses and looks at him, giving John the feeling that Rodney's getting at least a little of what John's not saying. It isn't that Rodney's unobservant or clueless when it comes to people, he reminds himself, it's just that he usually doesn't bother.
With John? He bothers.
"All right then," Rodney says, after a gulp of coffee. "Here's how it's going to work. I'm going to cane you later. It's going to hurt a lot and I won't stop until I get the reaction I want. You have one shot at a safeword." He drinks more coffee. "Right now."
John stalls by eating a few bites of French toast. This might be a mandatory vacation, but they're using it to do things they can't do on Atlantis, things that leave marks or require heavy bondage. Things that leave him too sore or tired to go on duty. Things like giving up his safeword.
"No," he says. "I'm not going to safeword."
The broad grin Rodney gives him makes John duck his head a little.
"So, I want to hit the Apple store, of course. And you need, what? The Gap?"
"You think I shop at The Gap?"
"Well I have no idea where you get those...zippy shirts you wear."
"Zippy shirts?" John all but snorts into his coffee.
"The black ones."
"Mail order. But if you insist on hitting the mall, we need to find one with a decent toy store. I want to pick up some stuff for TJ."
Rodney snaps his fingers. "Well, c'mon then. Eat up; we have places to be! Money to spend! An economy to stimulate!"
By the time they stagger back to the hotel room with almost more bags than they can carry, all John really wants is a drink.
"What are you doing?"
"Getting a beer, want one?"
"No drinking," Rodney says, pulling off his jacket.
"Not even a beer?"
"John? Come here."
Swallowing hard, John lets the door to the mini-fridge close. He walks up to Rodney and even though he knows Rodney's tells almost better than his own, the slap across the face still feels like a surprise.
"Not even a beer," Rodney says. "Strip off and go take a shower."
"I suck at taking orders," John had said, back when they first started this thing. "Even when I want to follow them," he'd added after Rodney snorted sarcastically.
"You'll follow mine," Rodney had said.
In the shower, John touches the side of his face.
He took a bit of a risk--there's always the chance that questioning an order will end the evening--but that's the way it works. He pushes and Rodney pushes back and then Rodney wins.
"I thought about tying you up," Rodney says as John comes into the bedroom, naked and only a little damp. "Would it be easier for you if I did?"
"I don't know. That time I was singled-tailed, I was tied up. Suspension cuffs." John shrugs. "It's up to you."
"Thank you, Colonel Obvious." Rodney shakes his head. "No bondage. Not tonight." He snaps his fingers and points at the bed. "Pile three of the extra pillows in the middle of the bed and then lie on top of them. Oh, and put a couple down for your head if you like."
It doesn't take long and once John's in position, Rodney comes and sits on the edge of the bed. "You comfortable?" he asks, resting a palm on the back of John's neck.
"Yeah," John says. "A little nervous."
"Good." Rodney gives him that big smile again. "I'm not going to make this formal; you don't have to count and ask for more. However, I will keep to tradition and do it in sets of six." He pauses and leans in to give John an almost chaste kiss on the cheek. "It's going to hurt like fuck, but I won't give you more than you can take."
"I know," John says.
"All right then." Rodney grips John's neck just a little and then stands up. "Hang on to the pillow if you need to."
John takes a deep breath and then lets it out. He has no idea what to expect, but he trusts that Rodney knows what he's talking about when he says it'll hurt.
The first touch is so incongruously light that he almost jumps. Rodney just laughs and taps the cane against John's ass again. "Just getting my bearings." He does it again, leaving the cane resting on John's ass this time.
The first blow doesn't really hurt; it's more a heavy tap than anything. The next five follow it in quick order and yeah, they're kind of stingy in a way blows from a paddle or flogger aren't.
"Okay then...." Rodney says, sounding a little thoughtful. "Next six."
The next blow lands and John sucks in a breath. It's sharper now and he has a feeling he's going to appreciate the warm up. "Better," Rodney mutters before bringing the cane down again. By the last blow, John's breathing a little faster.
"Stubborn bastard," Rodney says.
"'m not really," John replies. "I just...it doesn't hurt that much." He shakes his head. "That's not a challenge."
"Actually, it is." Rodney strokes John's ass casually. "But I like challenges. I'm not angry with you."
Oh, John thinks as several things from his past fall into place.
"Ow! Fuck!" The blow catches him by surprise; the pain is swift and immediate and almost before John is through processing it, the next one lands. "Shit!" He digs his fingers into the pillow and manages not to swear through the rest of the set, but it's a close call.
"Okay, yeah, that hurts," he gets out, mostly through his teeth.
"Oh please, you've hardly broken a sweat." This time Rodney's hand on his ass hurts; John squirms. "No more talking," Rodney adds.
John wants to bury his face in the pillow, but he knows Rodney wants to hear him and so, when the cane hits his ass, he yells loudly enough that it seems to echo around the big bedroom. Then the sharp, cutting pain comes again and he yells again and then again. He can hardly get a breath in and his throat feels a little raw by the time Rodney stops.
"Breathe," Rodney says, the cane resting on John's thighs.
"Okay then," he says, once John's breathing evens out some. "I think another dozen will do it, but there won't be a break in between sets.
The cane doesn't move and John frowns a little into the pillow.
"By the way?" Rodeny adds. "This is incredibly hot."
All of a sudden, John's aware that he's hard. It shouldn't surprise him; he's wired that way just like Rodney's wired the other way, but still, it's a bit of a shock. He hopes Rodney will fuck him after.
The cane lifts, and John braces himself.
There's no way he could have anticipated it; it hurts--like Rodney's broken through his skin and is working on the muscles now--and he lets out a sharp cry. Another and another, and John's screaming now and it's still not enough. There's a sharp lump in his throat and only the order to remain silent keeps him from begging Rodney to stop.
I can't, he thinks and then screams again as another blow lands. He's lost count now and he can't bear this, he just can't.
The blows are moving down now. The next one catches him right at the join of ass and thigh and it's enough. Something breaks free behind his eyes and he's screaming while tears start to roll down his face. It makes the next blow easier and then there's another and John's sobbing like he's never going to stop.
There's a sharp blow, like a ribbon of fire across his thighs, and then...nothing.
"That's all, John," Rodney says, his hand soft and gentle on the back of John's neck. "God, you're so...that was so...." His voice is as shaky as John feels and when John turns to look at him, Rodney's staring at him, eyes wide.
"God," Rodney says again.
He bends down and kisses the corner of John's eye and then his cheek--he's following the tears down John's face and that should be freaky, but it's comforting and John's breath hitches in his chest as he cries just a little more. He opens his mouth and then pauses.
"You're so good," Rodney says. "It's okay, say whatever you like."
"Rodney." It hurts to talk, but the look on Rodney's face is worth it. "Thank...thank you."
"I'd say 'any time,' but...." Rodney's reached John's mouth now and John's breathing has calmed enough that he can open up and let Rodney in. Rodney's kisses are oddly tentative at first, but when John makes a little whimpering noise in the back of his throat, Rodney starts kissing him harder.
It feels so damn good; when Rodney pulls back a little, John huffs out a little bit of a laugh. "Oh yeah," Rodney says with a bit of a smirk. "And here come the endorphins."
"Izzat what it is?" John grins up at Rodney. "You gonna fuck me now?"
"Yeah, I think I can manage that."
* * *
It takes three days and a lot of ice before John can move without wincing and later, when they finally go home, he's got two new scars.
Their first night back in Rodney's bed, Rodney pins John down and licks along the scars. John feels the echo of pain in his head and squirms under Rodney's tongue.