Katniss and Peeta both spit out the berries, rinsing their mouths with water from the lake as cheers from the people in the Capitol play over the loudspeakers. A hovercraft drops ladders for them and, once on board, the doctors take Peeta away to begin surgery. Katniss feels like she's watching her mother and Prim work on someone from the mines. She calls out for him and desperately wants to get to him. As she waits, she finally understands why the loved ones of the dying can't pull themselves away, why they have to watch. It's because they, like Katniss, have no choice.
They're taken back to the Training Center, and Katniss is sedated. When she wakes, it seems that days have passed. A restraint prevents her from getting out of bed, but she's calmed by the sight of the redheaded Avox girl who brings her food. Katniss asks if Peeta is alive, and the Avox girl nods. Katniss thinks about how she can't wait to get home to Prim, her mother, and Gale, how she's ready for the victor's banquet and to move on with her life. Still, she remains in her recovery room, cycling through periods of wakefulness and unconsciousness. She hears a man's voice shouting, presumably Haymitch, and she feels protected. Then, one day, she wakes and is no longer restrained. She changes into fresh clothes and gets to meet her team again: Effie, Cinna, and Haymitch. She runs to Haymitch first. They explain that the Gamemakers want to save her reunion with Peeta for live television; then Cinna takes her away to prepare her for her next public appearance.
Katniss' body has been polished, her skin smooth and free of scars, and her hearing has been completely restored in her left ear. She's very skinny, and the dress that Cinna gives her has padding in the breasts to give her curves. He explains that the Gamemakers wanted to alter her surgically, but Haymitch wouldn't allow it. The dress is yellow and makes her glow as if she's candlelight. Still, Katniss knows this look has been chosen specifically for her, how it makes her look innocent and very much like a young girl. She can tell, although Cinna can't say it outright, that the dress has been chosen to satisfy the Gamemakers, the Capitol, and the audience.
Just before Katniss goes before the audience for the homecoming banquet, Haymitch gives her a hug and whispers that the Capitol is furious with her for making them look like a joke. Her only defense can be that she was so madly in love with Peeta, she didn't care how her actions might reflect upon the Capitol. Katniss understands and asks if Peeta's been told about this, but Haymitch says he doesn't need to tell Peeta because "He's already there." As Katniss readies herself to take the stage, she realizes that, although she has made it out of the arena, the most dangerous part of the Hunger Games has begun.
Katniss used to believe that once she exited the arena, her life would be easy and that she would be safe. Now, she understands that her stunt with the nightlock has placed her and, even worse, her family and all of District 12 in danger. The Capitol cannot afford to look weak or ignorant in front of its districts. Somehow, they will expect Katniss to pay for what she's done, and she knows this, as do Cinna, Haymitch, and Effie. Cinna selects a dress that will make her look innocent, naïve, and youthful. Again, appearance is being used to mask the truth, which is that Katniss outsmarted the Capitol and used their Hunger Games against them. Her success, like the mockingjay symbol, is a slap in the face to the Capitol, and now she must continue to act as if she is madly in love with Peeta in order to save herself, her family, and her district because the Capitol can choose to punish any of them in any way at any time. Her actions, and the actions of those around her, are still very much motivated by the Hunger Games and by the Gamemakers and Capitol, who continue to view them simply as pieces in their game.
This chapter also shows that Katniss and Haymitch share a strong connection, no matter how much she previously believed that he hated her. Haymitch is there to protect her and will continue to look out for her now that the Games are over. In many ways, their relationship is only just beginning.
Haymitch realizes that Katniss still isn't convinced that she's in love with Peeta and knows that he must remind her of the relationship she established with Peeta and the audience while in the arena. When Haymitch says that Peeta is "already there," that he didn't have to tell Peeta anything, she wonders if Haymitch means that Peeta has already figured this out without Haymitch's help or if Peeta is truly in love with her.
She considers her feelings for Peeta again but can't sort them all out. Where before she had continually questioned Peeta's motivation, she now questions her own. She doesn't know what she did as a part of the Games, what she did out of anger for the Capitol, what she did out of consideration for the audience — and particularly the people in District 12 — or what she did out of true affection for Peeta. These are all questions that she'll need to sort out after she gets home, but, until then, she must address the Capitol and try to placate them, which will require more masking of her true feelings. Even outside the arena, she must continue to play along with their games, realizing that she's entered the most dangerous phase of the Hunger Games so far: the aftermath.