I know that this didn't really happen in the original trilogy, but I wanted to give Peeta a positive start to his 17th year. My fourth submission to the Everlark Week.
I turned seventeen somewhere on the railway track between District 10 and 9, while I restlessly walked around the darkened cabins, searching for comfort in the silence of the present, but finding torment in the screams of the past. Those screams that never let go, and which come to haunt me at random moments through all my senses, and which never leave me, no matter how desperately I try to spill them on canvas as I frantically try to flush them through my paintbrush.
I wonder if I'm being unfair with my circumstances as I open a window and feel the cool breeze ruffling my hair. After all, until a few weeks ago, the thought of turning seventeen was not even close to being a possible option. I was meant to die in the Games, destined to represent my District's atonement for a crime committed by others. Instead, I am a year older, and must probably the only seventeen year old in Panem who has a reason to celebrate such a day. I am free. Free from the Reapings, from the tortous countdown that starts when you turn twelve and which never ever lets up until that final Reaping Day when you're eighteen, when you see someone else walk to that stage, and you hate yourself when you sigh in relief. At least, that's how Naan had explained it to me, when I found him sobbing in our room the evening of his final Reaping. He had been so happy that day, and he had never hated himself more for it.
I believe myself to be closer to Barley in disposition, but I'm totally synchronised with Naan when it comes to overthinking.
I take a deep breath, and try to be happy. I'm seventeen, and safe. Katniss is safe too, I add to myself, and I release my breath in a manner that it is too close to utmost, total and indescribable relief to be only meant as friendly concern. I remember a lot of birthdays, and like any other day of the year, they include a fair (continuous) number of moments spent thinking about Katniss Everdeen. In my pre-pubescent years it was all about sharing cake with Katniss, crayons with Katniss, a ball, a worn toy soldier; as the years passed the things that I wanted to share with her were a little bit more intimate. By the time I turned twelve, I wanted to share a kiss, and then a kiss like those described by Barley, and then a bed, a haystack, the slag-heap. I stopped being particular about location – it was Katniss who decided coupling logistics in my daydreams. I pride myself in not being overly fussy. Wherever it suited her fancy, really.
I shake my head ruefully, dragging my mind back to the present. In the dark, silent present on the train during my Victory Tour. Safe and free, but achingly, miserably, alone. It was the pain of loneliness that actually destroyed my resolve to detach myself from Katniss following our return from the Games. I told her that I would stop being so woundedin order to regain our friendship, but in all honesty, I still think that I had every right in the world (and add some more) to be as wounded as I pretty much chose to be. She pretended to love me and snatched away the only real happiness I knew in my life once she had secured our safety.
There was that thing too, though. She saved my life. Maybe not being an asshole about it kind of made sense. Aaand, it brought her back into my life, with her moody, uptight manner that made her what she was, and made me what I've become since the age of five.
The flashing clock on the television catches my eye, and I realise that I will be expected to wake up for the next stop in our Victory Tour in a few hours, so I slowly make my way to my room, hoping to be able to snatch a few hours of much needed, but totally elusive, rest. I open the door to find the lights dimmed, and Katniss sitting awkwardly on my bed, holding a plate on her lap, and a something covered with icing scrawls on it. I stop and gape at her, and am rewarded with her trademark, patented scowl.
"Happy Birthday," she mumbles, holding the plate out for me. "For you," she adds rather reduntantly.
I grin so suddenly and widely that I seem to startle her. I bounce (Mellark, you're seventeen. Get a grip on yourself!) on the bed next to her and grab the plate, staring at the weird lump curiously. "Thank you for the ... pudding?" The scowl deepens. "Brownie?" Scowl is followed by glare.
"It's obviously a chocolate cake," she snarls.
"Of course it is! Sorry, it's late and I'm tired," I reply with a self deprecating shrug. "Why did you write a D and draw two mountains on it?" I add, regretting the words as soon they thoughtlessly flow out of my mouth.
Katniss eyes narrow into two murderous slits. "That's a P and an M, and you're a blind idiot," she retorts.
I look at the poor excuse of a cake, and back at her, and I don't think my heart could love her more. "Thank you," I tell her, swallowing back a lump that is threatening to rise up to my eyes and spill over as tears.
I think my expression carries something with it that manages to soften her gaze, and she blushes slightly before looking down at an imagined spot on the bedspread. "You have to make a wish now," she adds softly.
I raise an eyebrow and remind her oh so very gently that there is no candle to blow. Her embarassment is only momentary, and she leaps up to the desk in the corner of my cabin, rolls a small piece of paper, before stuffing it gracelessly in the "cake" and lighting it up with a match.
It takes roughly five seconds before the bedspread catches fire and I have to put the tiny flames down with a glass of water which I keep on the bedside table. "Katniss, you are such a mess!" I exclaim, as I pull her into my arms, laughing helplessly. She stiffens for a second before turning to look at the burned patch on the bedspread, and turning back to snort into my shoulder. "Have you finally learnt to laugh at yourself, Miss Everdeen?" I ask softly. I feel her scowl in my shoulder.
And there we go again.
I share the cake with her. Although it was not in any way effected by the accidental fire, it tastes like charcoal. Nothing ever tasted so delicious to me. And my heart finds even more space to love this horrible horrible cook. "Who told you it was my birthday?" I ask curiously.
"Naan," she replies."He also gave me the recipe for the cake," she added, "but it didn't really work."
There is so much my brother can do in his life. And he is certainly no miracle worker.
After we set aside the plate, Katniss hovers next to the door, looking at me with an expression I cannot quite read. "I do not ... sleep very well," she confesses, rather randomly. "Do you?" she asks.
"I was walking aimlessly up and down the train, Katniss, what do you think?" I reply with a wry smile.
"It's very quiet, in my room I mean," she continues softly. "It makes me think."
"Would you – would you like to stay here?" I ask. Her eyes widen. "To sleep of course. To sleep," I clarify, keeping my voice, and gaze, steady.
It takes her less than half a minute to close the door, walk to the bed, curl up under the sheets, shift to one side to allow me space, and to finally whisper a soft "yes".
I gingerly lie down next to her and place a chaste kiss on her forehead. "Thank you for the lovely surprise," I tell her.
She is silent for so long that I wonder whether she fell asleep, but then she startles me by saying "It's not that I don't Peeta. It's just that I don't know".
I love this girl, but there are moments when I have no idea what she's talking about. "What?"
"Love you, I mean. I don't know, not I don't. I wasn't born ancient and wise as you," she explains huffily.
My heart soars. "Okay," I reply.
"Did you like the cake?" she asks, after a minute.
"Loved it. Tastes like home. Just like the mines," I murmur sleepily just before I'm startled by a whack from her pillow.
"For that, I'm telling Effie that it's your birthday!" she growls before turning away from me.
I smile and drift off to sleep, the taste of charcoaled chocolate on my tongue.
The Victory Tour continued, but my aimless walks ceased. I made a secret wish on my birthday, and she shared my bed ever since. Together with my dreams.