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Ultramarine

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The strap on Dolores' paint box breaks as they're riding over the ridge. The sound surprises all of them, even Dolores' sweet buckskin mare, who boggles at the flying silver tubes of paint and brushes as if she's never seen the like. Teddy finds his gun in his hand, even before he's thought about drawing.

"Oh, hush, now," says Dolores, running her hand down the mare's neck. "There ain't nothing can hurt you up here. Nothing but the sky above to watch over you."

Teddy grins and jumps down. The strap has worn through up high against the buckle where it's hard to see. "Reckon I've got a piece I can replace that with," he says, and goes to his own pack.

Dolores, meanwhile, is gathering her supplies. "It's my fault," she says with a handful of brushes, watching him. "I cram too much in. Don't want to be out there and miss catching that beauty, just because I weren't prepared." She smiles at him, holding the brushes splayed out like a bouquet. Everything she does is beautiful, every gesture is perfect. Sometimes, Teddy thinks that he'd like to hide inside her like a painting, and never see the ugliness he knows is in the world.

Teddy fixes the box so it will hold secure again, and helps her gather up the paints. He stops to read a tube, and finds the words surprising: iron, copper, lead. "They put metal in these things?" he says. He's seen a few of Dolores' pictures: soft, dreamy images of the land she loves, gentle and welcoming. Iron and lead'd be the last thing he'd expect on those canvases.

Dolores smiles again, her mouth open enough that he can see the tips of her teeth. "Oh, Teddy, don't you know? There's a little bit of metal inside all of us." She nods to the sky as she remounts. "Comes from up there, makes us strong." She turns to face him with a mock-stern expression. "Helps us do the things that scare us," she says. Then she's riding fast towards home, her dress fluttering in the wind.

Teddy follows her. He knows she's talking about her father, and how Teddy really needs to take hold of his courage and speak with him. Somehow, though, the back of his neck is prickling. When he wipes his hand across his brow, he realises he's expecting to see blood on his palm, but instead, there's a bruise-blue streak of paint the colour of Dolores' eyes.