Disclaimer: The Hunger Games is not mine.

Note: This isn't quite what I planned on doing with the epilogue, but, once I started writing, I felt like I needed to go this route to tie into events in the next story. So ... here it is.

Thank you to everyone who submitted a tribute, and to everyone who didn't have a tribute involved but read, anyway. If you're reading For a Reason, then I'll see you on the flip side; I'm (finally) almost done with District Four. If not, it's been a fun ride, and thanks for sticking with this story.

The Death of Hope

Brennan Aldaine
Victor of the 25th Hunger Games

Only for an hour.

Brennan closed his eyes. Recently, it had become the only way to keep his gaze from straying to his wrist while he waited. Waited for that hour to be over.

Only for an hour, Silas had said. An hour to dwell on the Games. To remember. To grieve. At first, it had been a struggle. The hour had seemed to come and go in an instant, leaving him with more words he wanted to say, more tears to cry, more memories to relive.

Now, almost three months after the Games, an hour seemed too long.

Brennan opened his eyes and, in spite of himself, glanced at his watch. Thirty minutes. It had been almost thirty minutes. He had spent the first twenty talking to his mother. Talking about memories now months old. Wounds that were no longer fresh.

Brennan shook his head. The memories were starting to fade a little. The pain was beginning to numb. Part of him no longer wanted to sit alone for another half an hour, reliving old memories. He wanted to do something.

More than anything, he wanted to do something good.

Brennan's gaze strayed to his right hand, still tightly clenched. The Games had taught him what he could do, how far he could be pushed, what he would do when he had to. But he didn't have to any more. And, from now on, he wouldn't have to. What he had done in the Games – what he had become – he didn't have to do that. He didn't have to be that.

The trouble was, he had spent so long thinking about what he had to do. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do. But he knew he wanted to do something.

So he reached for the phone.

Silas Grisom
District Twelve Mentor

He'd never actually met Brennan's family.

Silas smiled warmly as he stepped off the train. Mr. Aldaine smiled back a little and shook his hand, and his wife quickly did the same. Whatever distrust or even distaste they might have had for Capitolities was clearly outweighed by the fact that Silas had brought their son home alive.

"Brennan wanted to come, too," his mother explained, "but he had a few last-minute details to finish up. He's been hard at work, you know, ever since…"

Silas nodded. It had been a little over three months since Brennan had called him and made his suggestion. Silas had done his best to see to it that everything Brennan requested was sent as quickly as possible, so that everything could be finished in time for the Victory Tour.

Silas followed Brennan's parents back to Victors' Village, where they found Brennan hard at work in the small makeshift workshop he'd created behind the house. The boy was seated at a bench, holding a small object in place with his right hand, painting carefully but still somewhat awkwardly with a brush in his left. "Almost done," he promised without even looking up. "I saved this one for last – never quite felt up to starting it. But now … done." He held it up for Silas to inspect.

Silas took a closer look. It was a small, wooden figure. Carefully carved, lightly painted. Silas nodded. "This one's for Blythe's family, isn't it."

Brennan nodded, setting the wooden rabbit down on the table to dry. Other objects lined the shelves and benches of the workshop – some large, some small, but each one carefully chosen for the family of a fallen tribute. Wood, metal, pottery, and even a few objects carefully folded from sheets of paper – daunting work with one hand, Silas could imagine. But, somehow, Brennan had managed it.

"Some of the victors wouldn't return my calls," Brennan admitted. "And some of them didn't know the tributes or the families very well. And some of the families are…"

He trailed off, but Silas nodded. Some of the tributes had no family. And some of the families might not appreciate a gift from the boy who had killed their son or daughter. But that hadn't stopped Brennan from calling each of the victors, gathering as much information as he could about each of the fallen tributes, and making a small memorial gift for each of them. Thirty-five gifts. Thirty-five apologies, or thirty-five messages of gratitude, for the lives that had been ended so that he could live.

Within a few hours, every gift had been carefully packed and loaded onto the train. Brennan's family came to the train station to see him off, but this time, there were no tears. This time, they knew he would return.

Once they were alone on the train, Brennan sank into a seat next to Silas. Silently, he donned a pair of gloves. Silas slipped an arm around the boy's shoulder. "Are you ready for this?"

Brennan shook his head. "Absolutely not."

Raelyn Ayers, 10
District Twelve

She didn't want a gift.

Raelyn sat curled up in a chair, watching the recap of the rest of the Victory Tour with her family. Most of the focus was on the gifts Brennan had made for the families of the fallen tributes. Little things, mostly. A bouquet of paper flowers. A wooden cat figurine. A bowl. A cup. A pair of candlestick holders for Grace's family. A small wooden badge for Elaine's.

Raelyn didn't want anything. Not from him. She just wanted her sister back.

But, soon, it was time to head for the square. District Twelve would be the last stop. So Raelyn, her parents, and her siblings dressed in their best clothes and made their way to their place in the square, next to Francis' parents and older brother.

Brennan looked tired when he took the stage. Maybe he wanted this to be over as badly as everyone else did. Tears came to Raelyn's eyes. Part of her didn't want it to be over. Because that would mean admitting that Blythe was gone. Forever. Her sister wasn't coming back.

And it was his fault.

He had killed her. Murdered her. Blythe had never stood a chance of defending herself. She'd been unarmed. Defenseless. And he'd killed her, anyway. He didn't deserve to be standing here, alive, in front of them.

But there he stood, with Silas by his side, holding two small objects, obscured from view. After a short, clearly scripted speech, Brennan took one of them in his left hand, his gloves doing little to conceal the fact that he still couldn't open his right.

She hoped he never could.

Brennan took a deep breath and approached Francis' family. "Francis was … perhaps not someone I would have called a friend, but certainly someone I grew to respect. He struggled with the decision every tribute faces at some point during the Games: weighing his own humanity against his own life, and deciding which was more important. In the end, he chose his humanity. He chose to stay and protect an ally when he could have simply run away. Something happened to tip the balance."

He handed over a small, carefully carved balance scale. Francis' brother nodded, accepted the gift, and even shook Brennan's hand. Raelyn looked away, wondering how he could be so calm. Of course, Brennan and Francis hadn't been allies. And Brennan hadn't been responsible for – or even had anything to do with – Francis' death.

Raelyn could feel her whole body trembling as Silas handed Brennan the second gift. Their gift. She could see it now – a small, wooden rabbit. What was he getting at? That, in the end, Blythe had been just like a cornered rabbit – shaking and terrified? That she had been easy prey?

Brennan couldn't even look any of them in the eyes as he began. He simply stared at the rabbit in his hands. "I know we're not supposed to say anything about what happens during the private sessions with the Gamemakers," he began hesitantly. "But, now that the Games are over, I don't think they'd mind. For our private sessions, we were asked to … instructed to kill a rabbit. I was scared, shaking, hesitant … but I did it. I did it because I wanted a good score. Because I wanted the Gamemakers to know I had what it took. And because I … I thought it would be good practice."

Finally, he looked up a little. "Blythe didn't. She thought, at the time, that she couldln't. But it was deeper than that. Anyone can kill, when it comes down to it. She chose not to. Chose not to take an innocent life simply to make herself look a little better, increase her chances a little by earning a higher score. She never wanted to kill. She never wanted any of this. I never wanted to…" He trailed off, tears in his eyes. "I'm sorry."

Raelyn looked up, still shaking. Trembling. Glaring. How could he stand there and talk about her sister like that, when he had looked her in the eyes and stabbed her, drained her life away with that terrible dagger of his? It was all she could do to keep from charging at him, maybe taking a swing or two before the Peacekeepers could stop her.

But then Iona, her youngest sister, stepped forward and took the rabbit.

It was over. Raelyn sank to the ground, tears streaming from her eyes. It was over. Blythe was dead. Her sister was gone. Gone forever.

When she looked up, Brennan was gone, too.

Miles Jacobi, 13
District Twelve Tribute
41st Annual Hunger Games

He didn't want to fight.

Miles looked up at Brennan through tear-filled eyes, hoping that his mentor would have something comforting to say. From the look on Brennan's face, he wished he had something to say. Wished he could say what Miles was hoping to hear – that, yes, the rebels had a chance. That maybe they were right. Maybe if enough of them banded together and refused to fight, they could make a difference. Maybe the Games could end.

Beside him, Lyta was still shaking. "Are you sure?" she asked one last time. "Are you sure we can't just … not fight?"

Brennan swallowed hard. "Of course you can. Once you're in the arena tomorrow, Lyta, it's all up to you. I can't tell you what to do. All I can do is tell you what I know." He leaned forward, placing a hand on each of them. "The year of my Games, there was a boy … a boy who spoke out against the Capitol. He cursed them at the reaping, then, later, tried to kill his mentor. Do you know what they did to him?"

Miles looked away. He knew. But Brennan said it, anyway. "They cut out his tongue. Made him an Avox. Made a fool out of him during the interviews, in front of the whole audience. But that wasn't the worst of it. Because when you go up against the Capitol … it's not just about you. It's about your family. Your friends. Everyone you care about. Everyone you love.

"After he died in the Games, they executed his family. His father. His brother. His little sister. Fourteen years old – not much older than you. Dead, because her brother couldn't keep his mouth shut. Couldn't play along. Because he refused to play the Game.

"So, yes, you can refuse to fight. You can join up with the rebels. You can hope they're right, even though, in the back of your mind, you know it's just a fool's hope. You can refuse to play … but there will be consequences. Not just for you. Your brother, Lyta. Your little sisters, Miles. Your parents. Grandparents. Maybe even your close friends. So … Is it worth it?"

Miles didn't answer. He didn't have to. The answer was obvious. He shoved Brennan's crippled hand away from his shoulder. "It's not fair!"

"No. No, it's not. And I'm sorry. Truly, I am. But there's nothing I can do. Nothing you can do. Nothing but play the Game."

Lyta looked up. "There is … there's something. One of my classmates told me that, at your shop, you … you make gifts for the families of tributes who…" She swallowed hard, choking back tears. "—who don't make it back."

Brennan nodded. "Call it a hobby. It helps, sometimes. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes they simply throw it back in my face. But I always try." He squeezed her shoulder with his good hand. "Is there something special you'd like?"

"My brother and I, we … we sometimes feed the dogs that live in the alleyway by our house. Not much, just … just what we can spare. There's one … we call him Shaggy. Arty and I always wanted to take him in, but our parents won't let us. Could you … could you make a collar for him, let our parents know that I wanted Arty to have him if … if he can't have me?"

Brennan drew Lyta into a hug. "Of course. Of course I will." He held her for a moment, rocking gently back and forth, before Lyta finally disentangled herself from his arms and quietly dried her eyes. "Miles?" Brennan asked. "Is there anything…?"

Miles shook his head. He wanted to think of something. Something clever or meaningful. Something that would comfort his family. But he couldn't. He couldn't think of anything but how scared he felt. How much he wished that he could just go home.

"It's all right," Brennan assured him. "If you think of something, let me know. If not…"

He left the rest of the sentence off, but Miles could hear it, anyway. If not, I'll come up with something. Because there was no doubt. They could talk about 'if' all they wanted, but they all knew the truth.

Neither of them was coming home.

Brennan Aldaine
District Twelve Mentor

"At least your tributes listen to you."

Brennan sank down in a seat next to Nicodemus. "No luck with yours?"

Nicodemus shook his head. "Same as ever. Stubborn. Determined. Idealistic." He took a sip of his drink. "Doomed."

Brennan nodded. He wasn't particularly surprised. The rebels' numbers were growing, but it was well-known that the tributes from Six and Eight and the boy from Three were the core group. It was no wonder District Six's tributes wouldn't budge.

Brennan signaled for a drink. "What about their families?" He hated playing the they'll-slowly-torture-your-loved-ones-to-death-if-you-don't-go-along-with-this card, but it had the unfortunate virtue of being undeniably true.

"Family," Nicodemus sighed. "They're siblings. And believe me, I tried, but their family's in on it. They're convinced their family's willing to die for this, if need be."

Brennan shook his head. It was amazing how many people thought they would be willing to die for something. When it came down to it, though, he doubted they would go so quietly. Brennan sighed. "What do we do now?"

Nicodemus shrugged. "Hope they're right."

"They're not."

Nicodemus took another drink. "I know. But hope is strange like that. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender." He smiled a little. "Something I read in a book."

Brennan glanced over at Glenn, who sat scribbling in a corner. He didn't have to ask what book.

And it sounded good. Sounded true. It was something Grace would have said. Something Blythe would have believed. Something Elaine would have fought for. But they were gone. And he was still here.

And he no longer believed it.

"There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers or principalities. It is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril, we can never surrender … The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain."