Katniss thinks of Peeta’s behavior before and during the Games. She realizes the feelings he’s expressed for her have given an advantage to them both. Before going to sleep for the night, she thinks of the remaining tributes and decides the real threats are Cato and the girl from his district. In the morning, Katniss looks for Peeta. She knows he needs water to survive, so she follows the stream until suddenly she hears him calling. He is lying on the ground, camouflaged in mud. Peeta’s skill frosting cakes has paid off. His leg is badly cut, and he can barely move. With great difficulty and care, Katniss cleans him up, stripping off most of his mud-caked clothing, and treats the infected wound as best she can. They need to move, but Peeta can’t walk, so Katniss helps him to a cave where he’ll be hidden. Peeta starts telling her what to do if he doesn’t survive, but Katniss tells him not to talk like that. She kisses him, thinking of how they’re supposed to be in love. She steps outside, and a new gift from Haymitch arrives. It’s a pot of hot broth, and Katniss realizes Haymitch wants her to play up the romance.
Katniss spends the night caring for Peeta, who is feverish because of the infection. In the morning, he keeps trying to be playfully romantic, but Katniss won’t play along. Later that day, Katniss sees that Peeta’s leg is getting worse. The infection is spreading. When Katniss returns from gathering food, Peeta asks her to tell him a story, and Katniss tells the story of how she got Prim a goat. Because she doesn’t want to get other people in trouble by connecting them with her illegal hunting, she says she got the money for the goat by selling her mother’s old silver locket, but in reality she and Gale killed a large buck and sold it at the Hob. On Prim’s birthday, Katniss went back to the Hob to buy dress materials when she saw an old disabled man selling a goat that had been mauled by a dog. The goat was to be sold to the butcher, but the butcher said she no longer wanted it. Katniss haggled with the old man. If the goat lived, she was getting a great deal, but if it died she would have thrown away her money. She ended up taking the goat. Prim fell in love with it immediately, and she and her mother were able to treat its injury and save it. Katniss says the goat more than repaid the cost of saving it, and Peeta says one day he’ll do the same.
The trumpets sound, and the announcer, Claudius Templesmith, declares that there will be a feast. Katniss isn’t interested at first, but Claudius Templesmith says there will be a backpack waiting for each person containing something they desperately need. Before Katniss can speak, Peeta says she’s not going to risk her life for him. They argue, with Peeta swearing he’ll follow her if she goes. Katniss heads down to the stream to wash up, and while she’s thinking that Peeta won’t survive without medicine, a new gift arrives from Haymitch. But it’s not the medicine she needs. It’s sleep syrup, a common medicine in the districts, and Katniss realizes it will knock Peeta out long enough for her to go to the feast. Katniss mashes some berries and mixes the syrup in. She goes back to Peeta and tells him she has a treat for him. He recognizes the flavor of the overly sweet sleep syrup too late, and after a moment he is completely unconscious.
While waiting for the feast at dawn, Katniss thinks about the people in District 12 watching the Games. She wonders if Gale wants Peeta to survive, and if he has any romantic interest in her. Thinking of the audience at home, she gives Peeta a lingering kiss and pretends to brush away a tear before she leaves. She makes it back to the Cornucopia, where the feast will be, and just as the sun rises, a table comes up out of the ground with a few backpacks and one tiny pack that Katniss assumes must be for her. Foxface runs out of the Cornucopia immediately and grabs her backpack before anyone else reacts. Wishing she had done the same, Katniss sprints to the table, and just as she gets to her backpack, a knife clips her forehead, spilling blood down her face. Clove, the girl tribute from District 2, slams into her, knocking her down. Clove pins her, taunting her all the while, and says they’re going to kill her like they did her ally, Rue.
But just as Clove cuts Katniss’s lip, Thresh, the boy from District 11, grabs her. He asks Clove if she cut up Rue like she was going to cut Katniss, and he crushes her skull with a rock. He turns to Katniss and asks what Clove meant, calling her Rue’s ally. When Katniss explains, he says he’ll let her live, but now they’re even. As Katniss runs off, she turns to see Thresh running away with two large backpacks and Cato kneeling beside Clove’s body. Katniss doesn’t stop running until she reaches the stream. She’s terrified and dazed from her wound, but she suspects Cato will pursue Thresh, not her, since Thresh took the backpack meant for him. She makes her way back to the cave and crawls in, then dumps the contents of the small pack. It’s a hypodermic needle, which she injects into Peeta’s arm. A few moments later she passes out.
The intimacy between Katniss and Peeta increases dramatically in this section. Because Peeta is so severely injured, he is unable to care for himself. Katniss becomes his caretaker, treating his wounds, feeding him, and even telling him a story to soothe him. Through her actions, Katniss reveals how much she cares for Peeta, and the emotional intimacy between them, which had waned before they entered the arena, reaches a new level. Moreover, Katniss must also remove all his mud-covered clothing, creating a physical intimacy between them that they had never experienced before. This physical intimacy only increases throughout the section as Katniss and Peeta share their first kiss, and later in the section, share a sleeping bag for the night. As a result, their friendship, which had previously verged on the romantic because of Peeta’s honesty about his feelings for Katniss, essentially leaves the realm of friendship and does finally become romantic, even if Katniss’s feelings are mixed.
Notably, when Katniss kisses Peeta, it is clear that she does it for the cameras rather than out of a genuine romantic interest in Peeta, and internally she still feels conflicted about him. Katniss thinks about how she and Peeta are supposed to be in love as she kisses him, and she also points out that she realizes Peeta’s feelings have actually been to her benefit. Their relationship has attracted a great deal of attention, which in turn means more sponsors. Haymitch has continually reminded her of this trade-off, and Katniss at times exploits this leverage, even pretending to wipe away a tear as she prepares to leave for the feast. But Katniss clearly feels ambivalent about her relationship with Peeta. When Peeta keeps behaving affectionately toward her as she nurses him back to health, for instance, Katniss appears uncomfortable. Moreover, Katniss thinks about Gale and wonders how he is taking her intimacy with Peeta. Though she and Gale don’t have a romantic relationship, she wonders if Gale would be open to the idea, suggesting that what romantic feelings she has lie with him. Katniss, however, feels compelled to keep up the pretense of romance with Peeta because of the strategic advantage it provides, whether she’s romantically interested in Peeta or not.
The story Katniss tells Peeta to soothe him actually offers a good summation of everything that makes Katniss feel good. Peeta doesn’t ask Katniss for a specific story, so that Katniss chooses this story suggests that it is what would make her feel better. The story starts with Katniss and Gale hunting together, though she doesn’t mention this part to Peeta. From Katniss’s previous descriptions of her time spent with Gale, it’s clear that she enjoys his company, and being in the woods with him is the only time she feels she can be completely herself. The day she describes is a particularly successful one. They take down a large buck that Katniss knows will fetch a good price at the Hob, a detail that Katniss remembers with a sense of pride, and the buck brings them more money than they’re accustomed to. For Katniss, who acts as the provider in her family, this trade means both that she will be able to feed her family and she’ll have money left over to buy Prim a present for her birthday. Katniss, using her wits, is then able to buy a goat, which further helps her provide for her family. But more importantly, as Peeta points out, it brings Prim a great deal of joy, and from her story it is clear that Katniss counts making Prim so happy among her top achievements. Katniss’s mother, meanwhile, is notably absent from the story, suggesting she is not someone who generally makes Katniss feel good.
The feast called by Claudius Templesmith creates a new set of dramatic conflicts for Katniss. Katniss knows the Gamemakers have called the feast as a way to bring the remaining tributes together with the goal of drawing them all into a fight. Going to the feast could potentially mean her death, and initially she waves off the notion. But when Claudius Templesmith announces that the tributes of each district will get something they desperately need, Katniss is faced with a difficult problem. Peeta’s wound is badly infected, and she knows without proper medicine he will die. It seems likely that the item at the feast for District 12 will be the medicine Peeta needs, leaving Katniss with a difficult choice: She can go to the feast, which will put her life at risk but could save Peeta’s if she survives, or she can avoid the feast, keeping her safe but meaning Peeta’s certain death. Peeta protests and says he’ll follow her, and Katniss, knowing it’s his only chance of survival, ultimately decides to drug him and go to the feast, demonstrating her courage and her sense of loyalty to Peeta.
At the feast, Katniss, who has previously managed to avoid any direct fights, barely escapes alive from her first real battle with another tribute, and what ultimately saves her is her compassion, something she had previously thought a liability. Earlier in the Games, Katniss had fought other tributes indirectly, as when she dropped the tracker jacker nest on the tributes waiting at the base of the tree she was in, or she struck from a distance, as when she killed the boy who stabbed Rue. Here, however, Katniss ends up in a hand-to-hand fight with Clove, and she essentially loses the fight. Clove has her pinned, and it is only because Clove takes too long taunting Katniss (a trope common in commercial action movies) that she isn’t able to kill Katniss. Thresh, the boy who came with Rue from District 11, pulls Clove off and kills her by smashing her head with a rock. The scene marks the first time Katniss has been in immediate danger of dying, as well as the first time that Katniss’s abilities and resourcefulness fail her. What prevents Thresh from killing her is the friendship she had with Rue and the way she mourned Rue’s death, or in other words, her compassion toward Rue. Ironically, it was this sort of compassion that Katniss thought might get her killed when she and Peeta began to develop a friendship. Rather than hamper her, however, it proves advantageous.