Hatter stood looking across the fire at Alice for longer than he ought. He watched as she took off his jacket and laid it carefully next to her. He saw the pink tinge come to her complexion as the fire warmed her porcelain skin. He noticed the exact second that she stopped fiddling with a random twig she had picked up and started to stare at the green tattoo clinging to her forearm.
He was startled from his concentration by a loud snore from behind him. Charlie had volunteered to take first watch—which meant he was curled up in the hammock with his teddy bear.
Hatter sat down quietly next to Alice, so close that their legs and shoulders touched. Gently, he took her arm in his hand. Alice looked up at him with eyes so sad they literally took his breath away for a moment.
"It's not so bad," he said as he covered the mark with his other hand and rubbed slowly along the affected skin.
"It's horrible. You said that Oysters don't escape from the Scarab, but it was the Scarab's light that marked me this way. So how do other Oysters end up marked?"
"Well, I've never seen it m'self, mind you, but I guess it's like an assembly line. They go down the lot and give everyone a quick shine before they're brought into the casino. The mark tells the suits where to put 'em."
"What do you mean?"
"The Queen's made quite a business out of draining emotions, right, but different people are better at different emotions. The men, for instance, generally have a monopoly on the lust. Younger folk tend to be better with the honestly and innocence. These different lines and swirls" –here Hatter started lightly running his index finger over Alice's arm– "could get you a ticket into the main floor of the casino or they may get you sent to another special room." Hatter had also heard that some Oysters, deemed only to excel in negative emotions like anger, rage, and greed would be quickly disposed of, but this was not something he was going to share. He shrugged. "Like I said, don't know all the details."
Hatter continued to move his finger in delicate looping circles along Alice's arm. She sat still, leg and shoulder pressing more firmly against him, simply watching his hand. Again, Hatter couldn't stop looking at her face. He could feel that her breathing had become shallow, little pants escaping barely parted lips. The rosy glow from the fire had intensified.
"What does mine say?" Alice looked straight up at Hatter. When her gaze met his, Hatter was thrown off balance, like the bottom of his stomach had up and gone on holiday. The moment stretched.
"Pardon?" he finally croaked out.
"My mark," Alice nodded her head downwards. "Can you tell what emotions I would have been, um…harvested…for?"
"Oh, um, well let's take a look." Hatter's voice felt too bright and forced. He cleared his throat and worked to keep his voice low and steady.
"My, my, you'd have been quite a catch. Here," he touched a long thick curve, "is your independence. Here," his finger pads stroked a series of coils, "is your great capacity to love. And here," he lightly tapped a series of dots near her wrist, "is hope. That one is rarer than you'd expect."
Hatter moved his touch from her arm and squeezed her hand. His body felt tingly and tight just from being near to her, from a few light caresses of her skin. Alice's eyes were dark and wide in the low light and he realized that the color in her face had little to do with the heat from the fire.
Alice's gaze darted from Hatter's eyes to his mouth and back again and again. Hatter could only stare at her beautiful mouth as he bent his head to hers.
"Hey nonny NONNY!!" Charlie shattered the still in a loud burst of song. He was sitting in the hammock, eyes open and unseeing. After a moment pause, he snorted and fell back asleep.
Hatter let out a small sigh. He knew the mood had been broken and he felt edgy and unfulfilled in ways that had nothing to do with the pleasures of the flesh (and some, of course, that did).
"Well, um, we should get some sleep." Alice smoothed her dress nervously as she stood.
Hatter stood too, turning his back to her to shield his body's reaction to her.
"Right, of course. Charlie said you should take the bed," Hatter nodded his head back over his shoulder without turning around.
"Where will you sleep?" Alice asked quietly.
Hatter's voice came out slightly manic and giggly. Not cool. "Oh I'll pull up a bit of ground over here. I ought to relieve Charlie from his watch anyway."
"Okay, sure. Good-night, Hatter and thanks…for everything today."
Hatter walked several paces into the shadows and settled himself against a not-particularly-comfortable tree. He watched over Alice until sleep finally took him as well.