Three months pass before she sets foot in Peeta’s house. The primrose flowers that he planted around her house have both blossomed and withered, the train from the Capitol is a now a weekly scheduled event and the relentless noise of building work has weaved its way into her daily life.
Still. One constant remains. Peeta visits her, along with Sae and Haymitch. She doesn’t visit him.
Until one day, he doesn’t. She spends breakfast time staring at the kitchen door, half-heartedly chewing on fried eggs and yesterday’s stale bread.
“Doors open both ways, sweetheart,” Haymitch grumbles on his way out. “Why don’t you go find out what’s keeping him?”
So she does, though not until Haymitch is safely behind the cover of his drawn curtains.
The house is dark when she enters, despite it being close to mid-morning during the height of summer.
She tries to peer further into the house from the hallway, but all of the doors to the adjacent rooms are closed. If he is downstairs, then he makes no indication of having heard her. She calls out again, a little louder this time, but receives no response.
Slumping onto the bottom step of the staircase, the distant sounds of building work dissipate long enough for a new, far more rhythmic noise to reach her. Dull but consistent thumps. Softer than the builders’ hammers, and closer too.
It’s coming from above her.
She climbs the stairs quickly, making her way along the hallway until she finds the source. Slowly, she opens the door to one of the guest rooms.
Her eyes take a moment to adjust to the brighter light. This must be one of the few rooms with the curtains held wide open.
As the sound stops abruptly, she can make out two shapes in the center of the room. The first is Peeta, dressed in a tee-shirt and shorts, his bare feet set wide apart and one in front of the other. The second is a large bag held suspended in a metal frame, as tall as Peeta himself.
“You didn’t come over…for breakfast,” she stutters, taking in the sight of sweat dripping down his face. It’s only when he tries to wipe at it with his forearm that she notices his rounded, gloved hands.
He looks down guiltily, his chest still heaving for breath. “No. I wanted a workout first. Guess I lost track of time.”
Her eyes drift to the contraption. “Is that…”
“Yeah. Effie arranged for it to be delivered.”
She wonders how he can stand to have something – anything – from the Training Center in his home. He must know what she is thinking, and answers her unvoiced question.
“My mind does a great job of sending me reminders of the Games during every single hour of every single day. Having a punch bag from the Training Center here isn’t going to make it any worse. Nothing can make it any worse.”
“Does it help?” she asks instead.
“Working out like this? Yeah,” he answers after a moment. “Yeah, it does.”
He knows what she needs when she visits him now. He pushes the gloves over her hands as diligently as he always does, taping up the edges so that they hug her fists.
Today, it’s Coin. The image surfaces easily, as it often does when she dreams of Prim and the flames that took her. The punch bag morphs into the shape and form of that woman quickly, and within moments she begins to pound at it. She barely hears Peeta’s words, counseling and encouraging, as he circles her. She only hears Coin – and Prim.
Later, she stirs, half-sprawled on the floor and half in Peeta’s arms.
“You passed out,” he tells her. “I told you to slow down but you wouldn’t.”
“I didn’t hear you,” she mumbles.
“Who was it?”
She looks up – and he shrugs. “I do it, too. Imagine someone there, someone I need to hit. Who was it?”
He nods in understanding. “For me, it’s Snow a lot of the time.”
“Do you think this is a good idea?”
“Dr. Aurelius is alright with it. Says I need an outlet for my anger. I still paint, but at times it isn’t enough.”
“Sometimes you just need to hit something,” she murmurs.
His chest rumbles with amusement beneath her fingertips. “Yeah. Sometimes you do.”
He surprises her one day in autumn, throwing two cushioned pads at her chest when she walks through the door. Laughing at her scowl, he watches with a grin as she bends down to pick them up.
“Sparring pads,” he explains as she straightens and examines one more closely. “I hold them up and you hit them. Or you hold them up and I hit them. ”
“What’s wrong with the bag?” she grumbles, tossing the pads back at him as she steps further into the room.
“Too static,” he counters as he catches them easily. “Need to learn to react to an opponent.”
She doesn’t agree – this has never been about preparing for some unknown fight in her future. This is about fighting her past. But still, they spend the morning using the pads, and after an hour or so, she has to admit that he might be right. Reacting to a moving target – and getting the better of it – is far more satisfying.
After they’ve swapped gloves twice, he drops down beside her, their backs lined up against the wall. The room is silent but for their labored breaths. Sunshine streams in through the large, open window.
And when she turns to Peeta, he smiles, small and soft.
For the first time in what feels like forever, she smiles back.
Somewhere along the way, the room with the punch bag and sparring pads becomes the only one they use in his house. They eat in her kitchen. They sleep in her bed. And when his lips are there to comfort her in ways that his arms can’t, they do so much more in her bed too.
When he voices the idea to leave his house to one of the many families returning to Twelve, she doesn’t tell him her doubts about bringing the “gym room” into her home. She doesn’t tell him that she wants that place of anger to remain somewhere else, somewhere just out of reach.
She lets him move in. She spars with him as often as she always did before.
She doesn’t let him hear when she leaves the bed at night. She doesn’t let him see that she spends hours hitting the punch bag while he sleeps, trying to knock every bad memory out of her mind – and failing miserably.
They still come for her when she returns to bed.
“Does it help?”
It’s late – certainly gone midnight. He stands in the frame of the door, his body silhouetted by the light in the hallway. He doesn’t sound disappointed like she had expected him to, just curious.
“No,” she tells him. “But it’s a habit now. One that I can’t shake.”
A moment later, he unfolds his arms and steps into the room. “Come on, then. Might as well do this properly and wear you out.”
Picking up the sparring pads, he stands between Katniss and the punch bag. “Hit me.”
He moves more quickly than he normally does, ducking and weaving and angling the pads to make it more difficult for her to pummel at the center. “Faster,” comes the instruction.
She obliges, but he only steps up the pace. Soon, they’re circling each other, her feet darting back and forth, the way that he had taught her.
“Faster,” he yells.
She does go faster – too fast, she realizes, when she misses the pad entirely and hits him square in the chest.
“Sorry,” she gasps as he backs away.
Hurt flashes across his face, but quickly disappears. She thinks of the bruised eyes that she remembers on his childish features from so long ago.
Before she has time to second guess herself, she’s pulling the gloves off. Carefully, as if approaching prey, she steps closer. “Sorry,” she whispers again.
The sparring pads drop to the floor, but he remains where he is, watching her cautiously. When she reaches him, she dips down to place her lips on his chest, grazing the point when she had hit him.
She watches as he flexes his fists at his sides before relaxing. “It’s okay. You didn’t mean it.”
This time, her lips land on his collarbone. “Sorry.”
“Stop saying you’re sorry. I know you didn’t mean it.”
She kisses his neck. “Do you want to hit me?”
His response is emphatic. “No.”
She kisses his cheek. “Do you want to fuck me?”
His lips twitch at that. “Always.”
He moves faster than she expects, swiveling around moments after he grabs her, pressing her against the wall as his mouth comes crashing down onto hers. With barely any warning, he shoves his hand under the waistband of her nightclothes, enticing a groan that leaves her throat and travels straight into his mouth. She rides his hand enthusiastically, trapped between his pulsing body and the wall, crying out over his shoulder and into the emptiness of the room when she comes.
He lets her shove him to the ground, lets her pull off his sleep pants. He groans loudly when she sinks down onto him, whispers yes and fuck as she rides him with an intensity that she’s rarely shown before. He grips her hips tightly against him when he comes, eyes screwed shut as he cries out too.
She falls onto him, sated, and reveling in the way his strong, warm arms envelop her. He’s still inside her as she straightens her legs to lie on top of him, and he cups her ass roughly to keep her right where he wants her.
It’s light when she wakes, Peeta’s chest cushioning her cheek.
“Hey,” he murmurs, clearly still awakening himself. He grimaces as he shifts a shoulder against the hardwood floor.
She glances at the gloves and pads by her feet, discarded only hours earlier, feeling the heat of Peeta’s gaze as she does so.
“Feel like going another round?”
She doesn’t feel like fighting anymore. When she turns to tell him so, she realizes from his lazy smile that that isn’t exactly what he had in mind.
She lets him push her onto her back, lets him drop his body between her legs. “I think I prefer this kind of sparring,” she whispers when he sucks lightly at the skin above her collarbone.
His hips push against hers as he replies. “Me too.”