Sorry for the long wait on this update, life has been busy and I've been working on other fics. Thank you for the reviews and for sticking with me.

Thank you so much to the lovely and talented Court for beta-ing.

Always a Blessing

Chapter 13

August 1955

"What do you and lover boy have planned for tonight?" Johanna asked as she and Katniss in the Mellark's women's locker room. The girls had stayed late to correct paper work because Cray had messed it up, yet again. They did for Peeta, so that he wouldn't have to fix it later.

"I'm not sure yet," Katniss admitted, and pulled her purse from her locker.

"Are you being careful?" Johanna inquired seriously.

"Yes, we are," Katniss said in a near whisper.

"Good girl," Jo smiled. "Now tell me, is he as well endowed as his hands and feet suggest?"

"What?!" she spat in confusion, knowing that Johanna's explanation was most likely going to be something dirty.

"There is a direct correlation between shoe size and dick size. Peeta looks like he's got some sizable feet, what are they, elevens? Twelves?"

Katniss answered her friend with a red-faced scowl. Johanna laughed heartily; she had accomplished her goal to get a rise out of Katniss.

Peeta was waiting for Katniss at the employees' exit.

"Hey, Peeta what size shoe do you wear?" Johanna asked innocently.

"Um…twelves or thirteens, it depends on the shoe," Peeta replied looking down at his feet. "Why?"

"I just wanted to know how lucky Katniss is," Jo shrugged.

Katniss shook her head and rolled her eyes.

Peeta let out an embarrassed chuckle; he must have known what Johanna was alluding to. "So what is the verdict?"

"I'd say that she's pretty lucky," the sassy brunette winked, and headed to the door. "Have a good weekend, love birds. Enjoy the big feet."

Katniss hid her eyes and Peeta continued to laugh.

She let her hand fall, and glared at him and demanded, "What is so funny?!"

"You, you're so pure," he said.

She was about to say something to the effect of, "You're last person to be calling me pure!" But some of the other workers walked past them and gave them a friendly wave.

Peeta walked her out to the car and opened her door. Katniss was going to continue the 'pure' conversation, but then something sitting on the passenger seat caught her eye, a thick manila envelope with the Ohio State University seal on it.

All else was forgotten. It was physical proof that Peeta was going to be leaving soon in just over a month.

She had to pick up the envelope to sit down.

Peeta took it from her hands, "Sorry, I ran home at lunch and got the mail. I've been looking for this. I don't want Mother to choose my classes for me. She filled out both Al and John's freshman paperwork. I don't want her to do the same for me."

"Oh," was all she could say, and she sat heavily in the seat.

He got in on his side and started the car. "I was hoping that you would look through the classes with me."

"Me, why?" she asked in disbelief.

"Because you know me best and you're far more objective than I am," he explained. "Everything looks interesting, and I want to do it all, but I know that you'll rein me back."

Katniss was touched that he wanted her input, but it would be torture. Peeta's education would put more distance between them, not just literally but figuratively. With every class, his world would expand and Katniss's would stay the same.

He drove her home and she invited him into the house. Lily Everdeen had kitchen table laden with cooling cookies. She and Prim had been busy baking all day for the church bake sale. They were happy to have Peeta taste-test them.

Peeta sat on the Everdeen couch, with his milk and cookies on the coffee table,and opened up his manila envelope.

"My roommates are named Timothy Woof, George Leeg, and Germane Legg...huh, must be twins. That will be fun. I wonder if they are the exactly alike. What is that called?"

"Identical, I think," she replied. "Ones that don't look alike are fraternal."

He smiled at her. "Sounds like you're the one that is going off to college, not me."

"No, you're far more deserving than me," she said sincerely. "Anyhow I hated school. You always thrived there."

"Only because it was so much better than home, I only got whooped at school once." His smiled faded and he said in a rough whisper, "At home it was more like once a week."

She didn't know what to say, so she hugged him close and pressed her lips to his in a chaste although heartfelt kiss, uncaring that her mother and sister were just feet away in the next room. Peeta never really spoke of his home life, but she had a feeling that it was not good.

After going through the paperwork, Peeta took her to The Hob for dinner, and then they went cruising that ended in their new favorite pastime. Kissing quickly became heavy petting; their clothes fell away. They were more confident with themselves and each other.

Afterwards they held each other. Katniss ran her hand up his back. She could feel little round marks on his back and upper arms.

"What are all these marks from?"she asked curiously.

"Cigarette burns," he said, as if they were nothing.

"How in the world did you get those?" she questioned.

"Sometimes if I did something wrong and Mom didn't feel like taking the time to paddle me, she'd have me roll up my sleeve or take off my shirt. She usually had a cigarette in her hand, so it was handy."

"Oh my God, Peeta," she whispered and shuddered. Burns were her least favorite type of pain, and to know that it had happened to him so many times broke her heart and infuriated her.

"Don't worry, she doesn't do it anymore. My wrestling coach saw them and said something to her, and it never happened again."

It disturbed Katniss that Peeta sounded unaffected by how he spoke about his mother abusing him. She held him tight, wishing that someone had been there to protect him. "What did your father do?"

"I don't think he knows," he said with just a hint of sadness. "He let Mother handle the discipline."

"I can't wait for you to be away from her," she said into his chest.

"I will be soon," he promised, "but unfortunately, being away from her means that I'm also away from you, at least for now."

He hugged her so tight that it felt as if he might break her. It was as if he was trying to show her how he didn't want to let her go…but eventually he would have to.

For Katniss, there was one silver lining that came with his departure to college: that he would be far away from his witch of a mother. She had to be happy for him,if for no other reason.

February 1956

Katniss knocked on the door of her former home on Seam Street, but for some strange reason it was locked. Her mother had called a couple of hours ago and asked for Katniss to take her shopping. Mrs. Everdeen told her oldest daughter that her father's truck was in the shop, and there were some things that she needed from the store. Katniss had offered to just pick up the items but her mother insisted on going with Katniss.

Just as Katniss began to wonder if everyone was alright, she heard some movement behind the door, and yet no one still answered. She knocked again. "Hello! You locked the door. Hurry up, it's cold out here!"

Finally the door was opened by Prim, who wore a goofy grin and asked in a very proper tone, "Hi, Katniss, how are you today?"

"Fine," she replied suspiciously. "What is going on here?"

The door was flung open and a chorus of feminine voices cried out, "Surprise!"

Katniss eyes flew open wide in surprise and words failed her. Annie, Johanna, Effie, Madge, and even Mrs. Sae were standing in her parents' streamer-decorated living room, along with some friends from church and Everdeen cousins. A pretty yellow-iced cake sat on the table, with 'Baby Mellark' written on it.

"It's a baby shower!" Prim announced. "What do you think?"

"I-I don't know what to say…You all shouldn't have done this," Katniss said in disbelief. "I don't deserve this."

"And that sort of reaction is why this shower is a surprise," Johanna said bluntly and was received with a few giggling agreements.

Katniss was grateful that they did not force her to play silly party games. She opened gift after gift— blankets, quilts, knit hats, booties and coats in every gender-neutral shade. Effie gave them a yearlong subscription to diaper service, which Katniss was grateful for; the thought of washing used diaper revolted her. Madge gave her a fancy little Mother Goose dish and silver-plated eating utensils. Johanna and Annie went together and got her a wash basin, soap, and baby towels. Her mother and Prim gave her a bassinet.

Despite her earlier hesitation, she had a very good time and was very thankful for all the gifts. It would have cost her and Peeta a small fortune to buy all of it themselves.

Katniss made the rounds, visiting with everyone. When she saw Mrs. Sae, she said, "I'm so pleased that you could make it. I'm surprised that Mrs. Mellark gave you the day off to come."

"I already had planned to come," Mrs. Sae told her with a wink, "but I don't have to worry too much about that anymore."

"Why is that?"

The old woman's eyebrows raised. "Oh, you don't know yet?"

"Know what?" Katniss asked, fearing that the old woman had been fired. "Mrs. Mellark didn't let you go because you were coming here, did she?"

"No, I quit," Mrs. Sae replied. "Peeta will tell you more, that is, if he even knows yet."

Katniss wanted more details, but she got pulled aside to start telling the guests goodbye. Mrs. Sae was one of the first ones to leave. The guests filtered out. Annie and Johanna helped Mrs. Everdeen to load the Chrysler; the gifts just barely fit.

While the others were loading the car, Prim told Katniss, "Johanna and Annie came here after work one day and asked if they could help plan a party. We knew how stubborn you can be, so we all decided that it ought to be a surprise. Mom and I sent out the invitations, and the girls got the cake and the decorations."

"Did you invite Peeta's mom?" Katniss wondered.

"We did," Prim's expression was a little sad. "Her invitation was sent back 'return to sender' without being opened."

It didn't surprise Katniss that her mother-in-law snubbed her, and really, she was glad that she wasn't there to pass judgment on her family's home.

Katniss sincerely thanked everyone for helping to put on the party.

She drove home genuinely excited about showing Peeta everything that they had gotten. Once she pulled closer to the house she saw that there was a Cadillac in front of the house. Katniss's stomach sank; it was her mother-in-law's car.

Katniss could hear obscenities being screamed as soon as she cut the car's engine. She could not stand the thought of Peeta being berated. She stormed into the house. The yelling stopped when the door was opened. Peeta and his mother were standing at opposite sides of the living room, both red-faced and glaring at the other.

"What is going on here?" Katniss demanded.

"Mother came to pay a social visit," Peeta said evenly, but Katniss knew that he was holding back for her sake. "But she's leaving now."

"You don't dismiss me like I'm nothing, you ungrateful bastard," Mrs. Mellark snapped.

"Oh, I'm a bastard?" Peeta said with a bitter smile. "I always considered myself to be more of a son of a bitch."

Mrs. Mellark's eyes few wide, her mouth opened but no words came out.

"I think it's time for you to go now, Mother," Peeta said. "We have nothing more to say to each other. I can't change your mind, and you're sure in the hell aren't going to change mine."

Katniss found herself still with the door knob in her baby began to wiggle in her womb. It must have been able to pick up on tense atmosphere in the room.

"I can't stay in this town to be made a mockery of!"his mother hissed. "What am I going to do?"

"I don't know," Peeta shrugged his shoulders. "But really isn't my problem."

Mrs. Mellark stomped her foot loudly and headed towards the door. Katniss opened it wide, and as the woman walked past, Katniss said in a low tone, "You know, I've heard that Florida is nice."

Mrs. Mellark froze and gave Katniss an evil look. "You're going to be sorry for this!" she spat and all but ran to her car. Katniss shut the door and joined Peeta at the window, where he watched his mother. Katnissbegan to rub his back to help ease his tension. Mrs. Mellark started her car and carelessly backed up to turn around, and hit Peeta's car bumper in the process, leaving a huge dent that could be seen on her car's rear end.

"She hit my car," Peeta said in disbelief.

"It looks like hers got the worse end of it," Katniss stated.

They watched her drive out of sight, and Peeta turned to his wife, "So, how was the shower?"

"You knew?!" she accused. He nodded with half a smile. "Fine, not it was wonderful…but the bigger question was what was that all about?"

Peeta let out a breath. "Come sit." He took her by the hand and led her to the couch, where they sat. "Last night my parents had an awful fight. They've been fighting even more than usual, but I guess that last night was really bad. Dad was upset that she refused to attend her own grandchild's baby shower. Mother made Dad choose between us and her. Much to my surprise, he chose us; he packed a bag and checked into a hotel."

"That is what Mrs. Sae was talking about," Katniss said to herself.

"Yes, she quit when my dad walked out," Peeta said with a bit of pride. "Dad has promised to rehire her when he finds a place."

Katniss simply gaped at Peeta. It was all very unexpected. But she was more worried about her husband. She could only imagine what it was like to have your parents separate. "How are you?"

"I'm fine. It was a bit of a surprise when Dad called me after you left this morning. They always fight and one of them threatens to leave, maybe once a month, but no one has ever packed a bag and left. I never thought that it would actually happen," he confessed. "It was a shock when Mother came bursting through the door a little while later."

"What did your mother say to you?" Katniss asked, although she wasn't really sure if she wanted to know.

"The usual," he said matter-of-factly. "I won't tell you what."

Katniss could imagine what was said: you let a stupid Indian whore ruin your life, you're an ungrateful son, and you're all going to burn in hell.

Katniss put her arm around him and rested her head on his shoulder. The words didn't bother her, but she had nothing but sympathy for her husband. She couldn't fathom the hell that Peeta lived through with that awful woman. "I'm so sorry, Peeta."

He placed a kiss on her head. "Don't be, really, it's for the best. Dad will be able to see the baby now without getting lectured for days on end. I just hope that he sticks to his guns."

Peeta placed her hand on his wife's swelled belly and patted it lovingly, "Oh well, I really don't want to think about my mother. I want to think about better things, stuff that makes me happy."

"How did you turn out to be so wonderful?" Katniss asked him.

Peeta chuckled a little. "Lucky, I guess."

They were quiet for a while before Peeta changed the subject. "So, was the party a surprise?"

"Yes," she admitted. "I suppose that you knew?"

"Who do you think iced the cake?" he posed. Katniss could tell that he was happy to be talking about something else.

"I thought Johanna and Annie did."

"They made it in the test kitchen at the bakery, since they don't have a real oven," he explained. "I walked in when they were ready to ice it and somehow got roped into doing it. Good thing. Johanna was going to make a mess of it."

"It was beautiful," she told him. "I brought you some home."

"What kind of good stuff did we get?" Peeta asked enthusiastically.

"Why don't we unload the car and you can see."

They carried in load after load, and Katniss showed Peeta the gifts.

"Everything is so little!" Peeta marveled as he picked up a pair of mint green booties and put them on his fingers. He looked through the gifts and picked up the little medical kit that Lavinia had sent with Madge. "How do you take a baby's temperature without them biting that thermometer?" he wondered aloud.

"It doesn't go in the mouth," Katniss explained.

"Eww," he said in realization. "Poor little thing."

They talked about what to do with everything. The room upstairs was too far away to put a newborn, so instead they set up a corner of their room with a bassinet and a little chest of drawers someone from church had given them. By late afternoon, baby Mellark had its own space.

"It's starting to feel real," Peeta commented as he tucked a baby blanket into a drawer. Katniss flopped onto the bed, worn out from the day's activities.

"Because this," Katniss chuckled and pointed to her belly, "isn't a big enough of a reminder?"

"You're not big. I think it's beautiful," he smiled and laid down next to her. "Very sexy, we'll have to get you pregnant once every couple of years."

"What?" Katniss giggled. "I am not going to be one of those women who spends her entire adult life pregnant or nursing."

"Too bad," he said and rolled on to his side. "I really like you like this."

"I don't," she complained, "I can't control my emotions sometimes, my back hurts, my feet ache."

"Your feet hurt?" he sat up and moved to her feet. "Here, let me rub them." His ministrations felt so good that she moaned in pleasure. He tugged off her stockings, and after a few minutes he switched to the other foot.

She was in heaven and nearly drifted off. Peeta called her back by asking, "Your back hurts too?"

"Uh huh," she confirmed.

"Let's get that dress and brassiere of off then," Peeta suggested. She gave him a half hearted scowl."What?" he said innocently. "I want to be thorough."

"You just want to get me naked," she accused teasingly.

"I told you that I thought that you were especially sexy right now." He grinned down at her. She was exhausted, but she felt that hunger that only Peeta could cause and satisfy growing. He helped her out of her dress and undergarments until she was naked. She knelt on the bed and held the headboard while Peeta massaged her tender back. Occasionally his hands would stray to her breasts and rear and would only linger long enough to tease her and make her longing for him grow even more. His hand traveled in between her legs and he gave a pleased hum when he discovered the wetness there. He got off the bed, and when she turned, she saw him starting to remove his clothes.

She laid on her back and watched him sat between her legs then pulled an ankle up to his mouth and he began to kiss up her leg, stopping to nuzzle her center with his nose and issued a teasing lick before repeating his actions with the other leg. He peered over her belly and gave her a devilish look, as if to question if she wanted him to continue.

"Peeta," she begged. He cast her content smile and bowed his head to work her in earnest with the flat of his tongue. It didn't take long for him to bring her to a pleasant high.

He eased himself in slowly. He attempted to lean over her to kiss her, but her pregnant belly made it difficult. Poor Peeta was always afraid of hurting her or the baby.

"Can you kneel on the bed like you did while I rubbed your back?"

"Why?" she asked curiously, although she had an idea of what he was suggesting.

"You'll see," he encouraged her.

Katniss assumed the position, and Peeta entered her from behind; the sensation of being filled from a new angle was exhilarating. He thrust slowly at first and then built up speed. She moaned in pleasure and gripped the headboard until her knuckles were white. His hand snaked around her hip, and he made small circles around her still-sensitive button of flesh. She came just before he did, and she could feel him throb deep inside her as he spilled inside her. They crumpled onto the bed, and Peeta covered them up with a blanket.

Katniss fell asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow; she was in desperate need of a nap. She awoke sometime later to a darkened room, as the baby's movements had roused her. Katniss reached to Peeta's side of the bed, so that he could feel the dancing in her belly, but found it empty and cold. She put on a warm nightgown and went to go find her husband. He wasn't in the sitting room but she heard some motion in the kitchen. Upon pushing through the door, she saw Peeta at the stove stirring around some sort of hash for dinner.

"Peeta," she called. He looked up at her with red-rimmed eyes and a sad expression. He had been crying. She walked over to him and hugged him tight. He let out a little sob. "Why did I get such an awful mom?"

"I don't know," she in a soothing voice. "But she can't hurt you anymore, we won't let her."

"What are we going to tell the baby about her?" he questioned.

"That she was too stupid to see how wonderful you are and she chose not be part of our lives," she told him honestly.

She could feel the tears falling on her shoulder; she wanted only alleviate his pain. Although sadly she knew that this would be only one more wound that Mrs. Mellark inflicted on her son, and just like all the others, it would be slow to heal and would leave a mark.

Katniss only hoped that this would be the last one.

Thank you so much for reading!

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