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.