Welcome to this fun little collaboration between Melolabel and BellaMadonna, with heavy input from our awesome beta Sweetthunder. . . .

"The Marksman"

Disclaimer: Twilight Characters, not ours. But we sure do like taking them on a wild west adventure...

So, sit back, relax, and allow yourself to experience the heady splendor that is ….

~*~ Westward ~*~

The Marksman

Chapter One -- Buckskins and Petticoats

Middle of Nowhere, Arizona, June 1875

The blood dripped from his nose landing softly in the loose dirt and sand below. He reached his bound hands up to plug one side of his nose and blew hard, expelling a bloody clot onto the ground. Once he could breathe better, the throbbing in his battered head became nearly overwhelming. He was so close to passing out again he almost didn't notice the inverted position he was currently in.

He could feel the scorch of the noon-day sun on his bare feet and the skin of his ankles were rubbed raw by the coarse rope that was holding him strung up-side down on this infernal tree. His eyes were almost swollen shut and from all the blood he could taste, he was pretty sure a tooth had been knocked out. He needed a mirror and a bucket of water to make any further observations.

The soft moan coming from next to him forced him to pry open one puffy eye and, to his great displeasure, take note of the woman next to him. His vision was hazy and the heat was rolling off the dirt below him in waves, between the blood and sweat trickling down his face he could barely make her out, but there was no mistaking who hung next to him. Cursing under his breath, he lamented the misfortune of having to spend his last living moments with the craziest female he'd ever met!

He cursed again, loudly, when she groaned, "Eddie? You still alive?"

The thought of ignoring her was appealing, but now that she'd heard him, she would never leave him in peace. "Confound it woman, I have told you more than once, my name is not Eddie."

The tree branch began to shake lightly as the woman grunted and twisted her body. "Now don't you be so cross mister, I knows my Eddie." She was likewise strung up by her ankles and desperately trying to keep her skirts out of her face. And she was trying even more desperately to not think about how her bloomers were on display to the whole world.

The beaten man craned his head a bit so that he could get a better idea of his predicament. He winced as a sharp pain streaked through his chest. He added a broken rib to his mental tally of injuries. The ominous creak of the tree stilled the man but didn't seem to affect the writhing woman one bit. He couldn't tell exactly how far off the ground they were swinging, but he was sure it wouldn't be a pleasant trip down.

"If you don't quit squirmin' around you're gonna get us both killed," he hissed.

"But Eddie, I can't see, and I don't want anyone lookin' at my never-you-minds," she huffed.

"Hold still, no one is looking at your drawers because no one is here," he roared, "and for the love of everything holy, stop callin' me Eddie!"

For several minutes he relished the silence, it was almost peaceful listening to the breeze, or the occasional cry of the hawk. He was even slightly distracted from the pounding in his head that came from being up-side down for so long. His respite, however, was short lived when the despondent wails of the woman next to him broke through the air.

She was blubbering almost incoherently about how she was just trying to fix her skirts, and why'd he have to be so mean, and that he didn't love her anymore. She continued rambling on and on as she choked her sobs out into the hot desert air.

There were only two things in the world that he couldn't handle. The first was injustice; the second was a crying woman. And this poor lady was a bawling mess. They'd only met in town a handful of times, but she had somehow convinced herself that he was her "Eddie", and had latched on to him like a thistle burr in a dogs tail. He was more of the loner type, the last thing he wanted was anyone latching on. People were just problems, especially people like her. It's just the way it always was for him.

But here she was cryin' like a baby and he had to stop it before the sound made him crawl right out of his skin. Now, he wasn't sure if the posse had meant for the hangin' to be his punishment or the lunatic of a woman by his side.

"Hey," he soothed, with a voice like honey, "hey, I...I didn't mean anything by it. Just stop your fussin' and we can figure something out."

She sniffed loudly and calmed a bit, but waited a while before answering him. "What did you have in mind?"

In his mental inventory he realized that they'd forgotten the small blade he kept sheathed in the back of his buckskin pants. He gently twisted toward the opposite side in an attempt to avoid the pain in his ribs, but failed. He fought the ropes that bound his hands over his head, but it was no use. Whoever had trussed him up was serious. In a quick motion, he tried to jerk the joined hands around to the back of his breeches but the sharp pain in his torso cut him short.

The tree groaned in protest to his thrashing about, stilling his movements once again. He blinked a few times trying to clear the sweat and bloody haze from his eyes so he could focus on where she was swinging.

"Hey Love, do you think you can reach the back of my pants if you gave a little swing?"

She sighed and giggled a bit, bunching her skirts into one hand, "Oh Eddie," she said all dreamy-like, "you know what it does to me when you call me that."

Yes, he did in fact know what it did; it made her even crazier than she already was!

"But you are out of your cotton-pickin' mind if you reckon' I'm puttin' my hands down the back side of your britches. How can you even think like that at a time like this, here I am with every creature in God's good world lookin' at my bloomers, and you want me to do what?" She let out an indignant "humpf" and let her arms dangle, allowing her skirts to once again fall around her head.

"Now I'm not tryin' to be fresh; I have a knife hid there, but I can't reach it. If you can grab it, then I just might be able to cut us down." As much as he disliked the idea of traveling anywhere with this woman, the gentleman in him wouldn't allow even a crazy lady to die in the desert. Their only hope would be to get to some kind of shelter before the buzzards and coyotes showed up.

She pushed her skirts out of her eyes again and looked sideways at his swinging torso. She truly wouldn't mind getting a firm grip on his backside. In fact, it was one of the nicest buckskin clad backsides she'd seen ever. But she still had to maintain some level of propriety, even if he was her Eddie. She considered her options for a brief moment. She may have been crazy but she was not dumb!

"Fine, but don't be tryin' any funny business," she warned. He snorted and responded, "I think I should be givin' you that warning."

The branch creaked louder and she quickly realized that her window of opportunity was small to begin with, and getting smaller all the time. It was helpful that he was mostly facing the right way to begin with. Hopefully the branch wouldn't break before she had a chance to grab the knife.

"Hurry now, we ain't got much time," his strained voice urged.

She tucked her skirt into the bodice of her dress to keep it out of her face and she chuckled to herself as she figured she probably should've done that a while ago. She reached her tied up arms toward her hanging partner and then back away slowly, building up the momentum needed to reach her target: His butt! His cotton shirt had fallen out of the waist of his trousers exposing his lean back and angular hips. He was covered in sweat and grime and his tanned skin was just starting to get a slightly pink glow from the sun. And she just couldn't help but lick her parched lips a bit at the sight. She needed water, to be sure, but she was parched in more ways than one.

She pushed her arms back and forth one more time before she was able to grab on to the back of his pants. Her wrists chafed against the rough rope and she let out a most un-lady like grunt as she fumbled for the sheath. After a minute of carefully feeling all along his waistband, she could feel where the knife was hidden. She caught it in between the tips of her fingers and gently extracted it from its hiding place.

"Don't let go of me. I'm gonna turn and hold on to you while you cut my wrists loose, alright Darlin'?" Her joy at hearing him call her Darlin' caused her to release her grip on his pants and she swung away from him, desperately trying to hold on to the knife in her fingertips. He cursed under his breath. When she swung back towards him a sharp crack could be heard and the man cursed again quite loudly, she noted this was becoming a habit that just wouldn't do. She gasped as he grabbed hold of her skirts and ordered her to cut his bindings.

Using her teeth, she removed the sheath and awkwardly began cutting his ropes trying not to knick his skin to many times, but his hands were like tough leather gloves. Once he was free he snatched the knife from her and dispatched the ropes around her wrists in a like manner. He let her go slowly, trying to avoid any more unnecessary shaking on the branch.

He sucked in as much air as he could with his broken rib and with a labored grunt he reached up to where his feet were bound and grabbed onto the rope. He sawed his way quickly through the knots around his ankles and then realized suddenly that he was hanging twelve feet above the ground! He made a desperate attempt to grab the limb with his hands but his weakened grasp began to slip and he tried to prepare himself for the fall.

He crumpled to the ground with a deadened thud and rolled to his good side groaning.

"Eddie? Eddie! Are you hurt? Say somethin'!" her voice was filled with anxiety.

"I'm fine, jus' gimme a minute." He couldn't find any new injuries from the fall so he attempted to stand but fell back to the ground, his head spinning from having been up-side down for the better part of the morning. While he was gathering his thoughts and wits, he could see that a few vultures had started gathering above, and a few snakes and scorpions below.

After a few deep breaths he was able to stand up without falling and began contemplating how he was going to get her down. But the way she was carrying one and wailing, perhaps he should just leave.

Fate made the decision for him though when the branch groaned and he heard another loud cracking noise. He could see that the weak point where the branch met the tree was already split and giving way. He squinted up into the bright sky and tried to position himself under the woman enough that he could catch her or at the very least, break her fall.

Like a crack of lightning, the branch completely split from the tree and she was screaming bloody murder as she fell. He bore the brunt of the fall and managed to roll them both out of the way just before the heavy wood landed on top of them.

They both lay on the parched ground breathing heavily, his face was dripping with sweat and her hair was a tangled mess. He lifted himself up slowly and picked up the knife he'd dropped a moment ago and set to work removing her ankle bindings.

The sun was directly overhead, and the heat was only going to get worse. They'd taken his boots and he noticed that her shoes were gone as well; they'd even made off with his hat, the filthy scumbags. He looked down at her skirts and lifted the edge of the dust covered blue silk. She slapped his hand and made an irritated tsk noise at him, but he'd already discovered what he wanted to know.

"Take off your petticoat."

"I beg your pardon?"

"You heard me."

"Of all the low down dirty rotten things! I thought I could trust you." She could feel the tears welling up in her dry eyes and made no attempt to try and stop them. One lonesome tear streaked down her dirty face leaving a moist trail in its wake. She had thought that he was honorable. Now it seemed she had her proof that he was just like all the other toughs in the town coming after her left and right. She turned away and lifted up her blue skirt and untied the petticoat letting it fall around her feet.

She'd give him the petticoat, but if he thought for one minute he was getting anything else, then he had another thing coming!

She kicked it towards the man with a fiery defiance in her eyes. He smirked and picked up the fabric taking his knife to the seam, tearing the fabric in two. She gasped and watched in horror as he made mincemeat out of her underskirt.

"Sit down and give me your foot."

"You ruined my skirt. How could you do that?" It was her very best petticoat, and he tore it to shreds like it meant nothing.

"If you'd like to walk through hell in bare feet be my guest." He grabbed a handful of the strips and began swathing his feet with the cloth. She sat dumbly and watched as he carefully bound his feet, putting extra material on the bottoms and covering the wounds around his ankles. He tied off the last band and looked over at her.

"Well?" He asked her, cocking an eyebrow in her direction.

She swallowed her ridiculous pride and thrust her foot at him while staring off in the other direction. He wrapped her feet in a like manner and then hopped up. She reached her hand to his and stood up, wobbling a bit, still trying to recover her balance. He cut one more large piece to tie around his head and wrapped the wrest in a ball and handed it over to her. "Well it's not much use to me now, is it?!" She said as she tried to push the destroyed petticoat back at him. "Trust me, when it gets dark and cold out here and we have to start a fire, it'll do you plenty good." He shot right back.

He surveyed the landscape trying to locate any familiar points of reference but came up empty. She, on the other hand, closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. She stretched out a pointed finger and began to turn slowly in a circle. After a few steps she stopped and opened her eyes. He gave her a curious look, but was taken aback by the confidence in her eyes.

"We should go this way," she stated calmly and began walking with determination, barely giving him a glance. Not having a better idea at the moment as to which way they should go, he shrugged and started walking after her.

"Thank you Eddie," she said so softly he almost didn't hear it.

"You're welcome. But lets get somethin' straight once and for all. My name is Ward Masen so quit it with the damned Eddie business."

Of it's own accord, her hand slapped his cheek with a vicious sting, sending him staggering backwards. Never in his life had anyone ever struck him like that and never had he been more tempted to raise his hand to woman than at that moment.

The fury in his eyes was evident and for a short second she regretted her actions, but she'd tolerated his rude and debauched mouth long enough. Instinctively she shrunk back as he advanced on her, shaking his fist. But her steeled resolve kicked and she straightened back up staring him down. They were nearly nose-to-nose both huffing and puffing like a charging bull.

His mouth began working but not a single intelligent word came out. She narrowed her eyes and spoke with measured precision. "I may be crazy but I'm still a lady and I won't have that kind of talk anymore. And I know your momma raised you better than that." She turned on her heel and resumed her march into the desert.

He stood there dumbfounded and raked his hands through his hair threatening to pull it out by the handfuls from the effort it took to hold in his frustration. She continued to walk on in the direction she'd pointed. Closing his eyes, he blew out a breath and muttered a string of curses too quiet for a lady to hear. He quickly caught up with her and they walked side by side in silence for a time.

He'd tried to ignore the town folk, tried not to pay any mind to the stories he'd heard about her, but now his curiosity got the better of him. He just had to know.

"So why exactly do they call you 'Crazy Izzy', and just what do you think you know of my momma?"

Mel: Hey Belly?

Bel: Yes Melly?

Mel: What do you think people will say?

Bel: I don't know, but I hope they leave lots of reviews so that we can send them a teaser for the next chapter.

Mel: Me too, reviews totally rock my world, almost as much as Westward does.

Bel: Oh, my, he is really hot! Come on, let's go check our emails and then go dream of Westward.

Mel & Bel: * Sigh *