It is so hot that day that she imagines she can see heat waves coming off the pavement in the square. There are so many people that at first she can't find him, and she is terrified. It's her first reaping and she's starting to panic, but then she spots him and everything's okay.
She is so busy trying to keep her eyes on him that she doesn't have time to worry about her name being called. She misses the brightly-colored woman from the Capitol click-clacking over to the Reaping Ball and snatching a paper out of it. She barely notices when the woman says something and a girl walks hesitantly up the stairs to the stage.
In fact, she barely notices anything until it's the boys' turn and the Capitol woman announces the name and it's his name. He looks at her and then turns away quickly before getting up on the stage himself. The rest of the ceremony passes in a blur that she finds it difficult to recall later.
She's the last one to see him and has to watch his family go in and out of the room before they finally say it's her turn. He doesn't look at her right away, and she doesn't even think he notices she's there until she's standing next to him and he says her name.
"Don't say goodbye, Finn," She says, but he shakes his head.
"You know I might not come back, Annie." His words scare her, so to silence him she throws her arms around his waist.
"You're my best friend," she whispers against his chest. He hesitates at first, but eventually gives in and they stand there until the Peacekeeper opens the door and announces that her three minutes are up. She's walking out the door when he says it.
She turns around to glare at him for it, but he already has his back to her so she says nothing.
He's not sure at what point he realizes he loves her. Maybe it's when he comes home from the Capitol and she's the only one who isn't there to welcome him. She meets him at the beach later, and tells him she knew he wouldn't want to be in front of the cameras longer than he had to. She understands him.
Maybe it was then, but it's probably when she's seventeen. He's started saying no when the Capitol calls on him to sell his body. He knows it will have consequences, but if he thinks they'll leave her out of it he's wrong.
She looks so calm and collected when the Capitol woman calls her name, but he knows her better than most. He sees the fear in her eyes.
Being a Victor does award some benefits, so he isn't surprised when he's the first one to see her. The fear is still there when they let him in, so instead of speaking he just holds her and strokes her hair.
"You are going to come home, Annie," he whispers to her. He lets go and pulls back until their foreheads are touching, but she won't look him in the eyes.
"I know I will, Finn. In a box." She doesn't seem to realize how much her words hurt him.
"Look at me, Annie," he commands, and for once she obeys. When she finally meets his eyes, he goes on. "I am going to do everything I can to bring you home, Annie. Do you believe me?"
"I do, Finn. I do." She smiles slightly, and he wonders if that's the last time he'll see her happy. To avoid thinking about it, he wraps his arms around her again and she presses her face into his chest. They're still standing there when the Peacekeeper comes back and announces that he has to leave.
"Goodbye, Finn," she says when he's at the door. He looks around to tell her that she doesn't need to say it, but there isn't as much fear in her eyes as before and he can't bring himself to speak.
He tells himself he should have known she wouldn't be sleeping. He's been awake half the night, too, but he's more worried about what's going on inside her head than what's going to happen in the Arena. He's trying not to think about it when he gets up for a glass of water and finds her sitting in front of the window.
She doesn't speak when he sits next to her, and he finds himself thinking of the same night five years ago. When she turns to look at him he sees that the fear in her eyes is back in full force, and he isn't surprised. He doubts any of the tributes are sleeping soundly tonight.
Neither of them speaks, but he imagines that her taking his hand and resting her head on his shoulder is more telling than any words she could have said. They are still silent when she stands up to leave. He follows her back to her room and holds her tight before she pulls away without looking at him and closes the door.
He finally falls asleep, but all too soon it's dawn and the hovercraft is waiting to take her away. The silence from the night before continues when he arrives to see her off. He's resigned himself to the fact that his presence means nothing to her when the hovercraft touches down. She steps toward him and kisses his cheek, and he barely hears her words above the roar of the hovercraft before she walks away.
Before he knows it the tributes are in the arena and his duties as a mentor have really begun. When the cameras are rolling he tries to pretend that these aren't the hardest days of his life.
He knows her better than anybody, but even he is surprised at what happens when the boy loses his head. He was there with her when her parents died so he thinks he knows what grief looks like on her, but evidently he's never seen her go crazy.
Everybody in the Capitol keeps repeating the words "crazy" and "insane" until he thinks he's heading there faster than she is. They try to tell him that she's never coming back and that he's lost her, but he refuses to acknowledge it.
Even as he watches her slowly lose her mind in the Arena he's already making plans to get her back. He tells himself that he'll do it, that he'll bring her home. But the other tributes aren't wasting time, and he's beginning to panic when the dam breaks and the Arena's flooded.
Suddenly he's hopeful again because if there's one thing she can do it's swim. So he ignores everyone when they tell him that even if she wins she won't ever really come home. He tells himself he'll never lose her. Just this once, he refuses to say goodbye.
"From the existing pool of victors? This isn't a coincidence. It can't be!"
She knows he still worries about her, but she's never seen him this angry. She thinks he's about to start throwing plates across the room until she puts her hand on his arm and he turns toward her. All the hate seems to leave his eyes when he pulls her toward him and holds her so tightly she thinks he'll never let go.
They don't talk about it after that. Not until the day of the reaping when they both stand there in the enclosures that aren't as crowded as they should be and they watch the woman from the Capitol rummaging around in the Reaping Ball that isn't near as full as it usually is.
Then the woman calls a name, her name, but it's okay because she's not going. Mags is taking her place. She knows she should feel grateful, but she can't because the next name they call is his name.
She's the first one to see him this time, but only because she fights all the guards and Peacekeepers who try to stand in her way.
The door slams behind her and he's there, wrapping her in his arms. She rests her head on his shoulder as he buries his face in her neck until she feels something wet on her skin and realizes he's crying.
"Don't cry, Finn," She begins to speak but he cuts her off, covering her lips with his. It's not the first time they've kissed, but if she's ever doubted him she doesn't now. By the time they pull apart she's crying too. When he goes to wipe the tears from her face she grabs his hand and holds it to her heart, and he moves so that their foreheads are touching. When he says it this time there's no one but them, only them, and she doesn't mind.
She wants to be angry, because it isn't goodbye. He's going to come home; he's going to come back to her. But she lets him say it anyway.
She doesn't care about all the people watching. She runs for him and it's as if there's no one else in the room. There's only them, crashing into each other and holding on as if they'll never let go.
Everything after that is a blur of happiness. She's smiling and he's happier than she's ever seen him because they're getting married.
Then it all comes crashing down. They want to take him back to the Capitol. He tries to hide what's really going on, but she's not stupid. She doesn't know the finer points, but she knows the feeling because this is exactly how it felt when she stood in the square and watch him cross that stage.
When it's time for him to leave, she wants to speak. She wants to say goodbye, because this time she can't tell herself that he'll come back. She doesn't know, and the uncertainty is the most painful thing she's ever felt. But she's also trying not to cry, and the tears make it impossible to say anything.
So instead of speaking, they both stay silent and hold each other. She's starting to think they're forming a habit of not saying anything when normal people would say goodbye. Then he moves his lips to her ear, and she knows what he's going to say before he does.
The words nearly knock her over because this is for real. This is war, not a game that he can win by getting sponsors. There won't be anyone to look after him in the Capitol besides his own team. And even though she trusts them more than she trusts most people, she worries. So for once she allows herself to say the words back to him, because she knows that's what he needs to hear.