Every time before Finnick leaves, he makes Annie promise to stay. "As much as you can," he says, and kisses the breath out of her before she can answer. "I know it's hard not to go away when I'm not here, but -- "
Sometimes it's hard even when you are, she thinks, but curls closer to his chest and nods. She'll try. She'll try for him because she loves him and because Finnick goes away so she won't have to and because she has to take care of him, too, has to watch after the parts of himself he leaves behind. The true parts, the ones he hides from the cameras. The way he whistles when he fishes. The way he swims when he's greeting the water on the first day of summer. The way his hair shines when the first pinks of dawn creep into their room. The way he sounds when he whispers I love you and means it. So she'll protect those for him, and she'll be strong, and she'll watch the train snake toward the Capitol and won't cry.
She doesn't watch the television while he's away. She has one, and so does Finnick, and his cousins love to cluster around it and bicker over which channels to watch. Finnick's smile -- the awful one -- gleams from the screen. He's going to be in trou-ble, his cousins chorus, and shout, hey Annie, look at this!
"No thank you," she says. "It's all right." And it is all right, because he's pretending, but it's not all right that he has to pretend. She doesn't know how to explain that, and she doesn't think she should.
Annie sews. Finnick's aunts like to give her the mending because she'll spend hours on it. There's a rhythm to sewing like the ebb and flow of the waves; she imagines her needle is the tide, pushing the fabric into peaks and pulling it flat again, washing it out. Sometimes she can feel Finnick leaning over her shoulder when she works, asking her the name of a stitch or telling her a filthy joke he's overheard at the docks. Sit down, she tells him, you're blocking the light, and he laughs.
At night, she summons the sound of his laugh again, lets it fill her ears and drown out the other things screaming at her in the dark.
On some afternoons, she sails with Mags. Mags trims sails more cleanly than anyone Annie's met, never letting them luff or bubble or draw too tight, and she never reels in empty fishhooks. She and Annie practice making them until Annie's fingers cramp, and then Mags trounces her in gin rummy or cribbage, and then they drift, watch the waves ripple under their boat until the water turns dark.
She shops at the market. She minds Finnick's cousins. She reads in the afternoons. She practices new recipes. She gathers shells, she weaves bracelets, she watches dolphins. She walks along the beach and waits for the Victor's Village to shrink away into nothing, wades into the ocean and swims and floats until she can't tell if it's the current or Finnick bearing her up.
It's never very much compared to his stories, but that's all right. She knows he likes her stories better. So she tells him at the end of the day when she's getting ready for bed, tells him about a prank his cousins pulled or a song she learned or a beautiful delicate color she found in a seashell, and when she climbs under the covers they aren't the only things keeping her warm.
(There are days when she walls herself up in her room and won't leave because the sea is climbing higher and higher and its waves are like fingers, curling and foam-flecked, reaching to suck her down. There are nights when the darkness is too thick, crawls inside her throat and chokes her and smothers her before she can call his name. But she doesn't tell Finnick about those days, not the Finnick she talks to at night and not the real Finnick when she comes home.)
Finally, the train winds its way back to District 4, and Finnick steps off it. Nobody else notices the bruises under his eyes, peeking out through where his makeup's smudged. Nobody else notices the way he stiffens when his cousins hug him from behind. Annie sees, and when she takes his hand she squeezes it to say I know.
He squeezes hers, too.
They walk down to the shore and sit in the surf together, his arm around her waist and her head on his shoulder. The tide laps at both of them, licks away the traces of the day that's just passed. They breathe with the crash of the waves.
Soon they'll start to tell each other stories again, sink back into the chores and routines and rituals that hold their lives together. Now, though, now they don't have to do anything. They'll listen. They'll be.