A Family Affair

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Summary: A Magical Melodies story. Sometimes, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. Unfortunately, Meet the Parents Day has been known to kill many a stronger man than Alex.

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Alex stood on the doorstep of the Blue Sky Ranch, one fist raised and inches from the heavy wood of the door, frozen in utter terror.

This was ending up one of those things that seem like a good idea at the time, but closer inspection proves to be extremely unwise.

If he was going to do it, now would be the time; he had just received word from Martha that Ellen was in the Café with her, and he had just seen Blue outside in the fields, while experience told him that Hank would be inside at the front counter, alone.

He might not get another opportunity this perfect for weeks.

And the Blue Feather was burning a hole in his pocket.

Had been, right from the day he'd climbed that damned mountain to get it, leaving these painful scrapes and bruises all over his arms and legs.

And forehead; it had been a bad day.

But easily worth it, for a girl who had been like a sweet little sister to him almost from the moment he'd been scared to death when a particularly noisy cow had startled him out of deep thought while on a walk through town, and he'd noticed a madly giggling little brunette perched on the fence a few feet away.

A strange way to make a new friend, but from that day, she had made grudging peace with the concept of doctors, and he found himself more and more often wandering past the Blue Sky Ranch, in hopes of a cheerful shout from the pasture, and a little brown and yellow and red streak bounding over the fence, apron strings flying the breeze.

By the time an inkling had finally come to him that she was something significantly more than a dear friend, he'd already been so deeply in love with her that Theodore had been twinklingly unsurprised when he showed up at the manor and requested permission to go after the feather.

All that time and worry would go to waste if his courage failed him now.

Not to mention, he'd never be able to look Gina in the eye if he returned to her joyfully expectant so you did it, only to confess that no, he had bolted like a scared little bunny-rabbit at the last second. He was becoming increasingly afraid that his sweet, warm-harted little assistant, recently engaged and so happily so that she was anxious for everyone to experience the same joy, would eventually make good on her threat to march straight over to the Blue Sky Ranch and do it herself, if he didn't get it done soon.

Knowing Ellen, she would giggle madly over it, and consider it a wonderful story to tell their children someday. Daddy was so scared to propose to Mommy, that he had his nurse do it for him! And then, just to tease him, she would probably march a startled Gina back to the Clinic and tell him, feigning tears of joy, that she and Gina were to be married, and she wanted him for best man.

And while it might be interesting to see if Kurt's protective instinct extended to other women flirting with Gina, the whole thing would lead to far more embarrassment than he particularly wanted right now.

Best to just do it himself. Hadn't he been long aware of the universal truth that if a man wanted something in this old world, he just had to reach out and take it? Grab at the pert little bow at the back of her apron, and hope that it might be somehow attached to the rest of her clothes in a way that would send them all sliding to the floor.

So, perhaps that was something more specific to his case, but nevertheless, he would never have the nerve to propose to her if he couldn't even summon up the spine to ask her father for permission to do so.

And so, here he went. No more stalling.

Five motionless minutes on the doorstep later, Alex prepared to turn back toward the path away from the farmhouse, praying that maybe Hank was non-traditional enough to forgive him for leaping right to proposing to Ellen.

Or at least, that he might be drunk enough at the time their engagement was announced that he would neither understand, nor care.

Just as the dark-haired young man, nerves almost audibly snapping, turned away from the door, it swung open, and a loud, cheerful sort of grunt made him leap back with a terrified shriek.

"Hey there, Doc," Hank greeted in his friendly, rustic manner, so down-to-earth as to be nearly subterranean. "What's yer business here today?"

"I, ah, had something I'd like to discuss with you, Hank," Alex tried to say resolutely, hoping that perhaps a little lunch-hour imbibing had already made Hank unable to notice the quiver in his voice. "It's about Ellen."

Hank's smile vanished as he recalled all the trips his daughter had been taking to the Clinic lately.

"She's not sick, is she?"

"No, no, nothing like that!" Alex assured him hurriedly. "Listen, I have to ask you something, but I'd rather not ask out here."

Bushy eyebrows nearly bristling with curiosity, Hank escorted the town's young doctor inside and shut the door.

"Take a seat, Doc," he said cordially, gesturing to one of the three chairs set at the kitchen table.

Alex sat accordingly, and gave a startled yelp as something sharp sent a jolt of discomfort through him. With an expression of annoyed confusion, he reached under him and pulled out what appeared to be a pair of clippers.

Hank laughed uproariously.

"Thanks, Doc, I been lookin' for those!"

Alex whimpered slightly. This would be a long afternoon.

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Fifteen minutes later had not disappointed.

As much as young Alex liked his intended father-in-law, and ordinarily enjoyed his easy, relaxed, meandering way of telling a story, at this moment, when he was (hopefully) minutes away from revealing just how badly he wanted to make the aforementioned intended father-in-law's little girl a woman, it was grating, to say the least.

"…Then the silly cow, in labour, just laid right down at the top of the hill, and gave us this look, if you want this calf, you come and get it," Hank finished with a chuckle and a wistful shake of the head at the sweet memories. "That was when Molly was still alive, Harvest Goddess rest her. Lord, I thought she'd never stop laughing. She had the prettiest laugh."

"You must have loved her very much," Alex said lamely. This was the most earnest he had ever seen Hank about anything.

"I still do."

"Does Ellen resemble her mother?"

Hank laughed.

"Ellen's the prettiest little girl for three counties; d'you think she got it from me?"

"I'm sure your wife thought you were perfect."

"Well, I was a damn sight prettier in those days," Hank sighed. "Nothin' like you, Doc, but not like this."

Alex said nothing. Hank chuckled.

"Sorry, Doc, you were here to talk about something something."

The young man drew in a deep, resolute breath and straightened up in his chair.

"Mr. Gallagher, may I have your permission to marry your daughter?"

Hank watched his guest for a long moment, expression inscrutable.

He's going to kill me, Alex thought resignedly. He's going to grab those clippers, and clip me into tiny bits.

The older man, meanwhile, was rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

"I'll be honest with you, Doc. I've never been much for the idea of a father giving away his daughter, like she was cattle."

"Uh..."

"So you'd best be asking Ellen, not me. Shoot, I don't wanna marry you," he grinned.

Alex gave a weak little laugh, and Hank slapped him between the shoulder blades.

"And if I know my little girl, there'll be wedding bells before long."

With his first genuine smile in what felt like days of agonizing worry of will she, won't she, will she, won't she, the dark-haired young man took his future father-in-law's hand and gave it a firm shake.

"Thank-you, Sir."

Hank suppressed a laugh at the boy's formality.

"Glad I could help, Son. Whiskey?"

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It was several hours later, after a long, giggly gabfest with Katie and Lyla – and unexpectedly, Dia – had finally come to a close, that a little brunette in the plain garb of a ranch-girl but with beautiful big brown eyes, snuck back into the farmhouse, wincing in expectation of the talking-to she would get for disappearing for so long without giving Papa any indication of where she was disappearing to.

Time had just got away from her; to the end of her days, Ellen would swear that the Callaway Cafe had some kind of time warp thingie existing around it, where you could stay a few minutes, and when you went back outside, hours had passed.

And then, Dia had been so anxious to keep her there today. It was strange; normally, she was so quiet, but every now and again, she would feel a desperate need for social interaction.

And since Katie, Lyla, and Ellen were all far more than willing to oblige on that front, an hour had turned to two, then three, then five, before Carl's easygoing nature had finally given out and he had prodded his pretty girlfriend into sending all her pals home so they could finish closing up.

Tiptoeing through the main room of the shop, Ellen stopped short in the doorway to the kitchen, and stared at the curious sight before her.

There, passed out cold at the kitchen table, which seemed to contain an empty bottle of whisky, was her father – which was not generally so curious, although his doing it at home instead of at Duke's was a little strange – and Alex, the young town doctor, who disapproved of excessive drinking in others, and really disapproved of any drinking in himself.

Alex's arm was draped over her father's back, and his other hand tightly clutched a bottle of beer. His face was slightly smushed against the table, and Ellen spent a difficult moment veering wildly between wincing in sympathy at how much his back was going to hurt when he woke up, or giggling quietly at how cute and silly he looked.

It was nice to see him looking relaxed – he'd been so tense for the last few days about something, and he wouldn't even let her rub his shoulders for him. He jumped a foot in the air when she tried! And neither Gina nor Dia, or even Martha, would tell what it was all about, even though she knew they all had to know something.

Well, for now, she would leave her two favourite men in the whole world to sleep. She gave Papa a quick kiss on the cheek, and leaned over to repeat the process with her special new best friend, when a flash of something blue caught her eye.

Very carefully, she lifted the edge of his lab coat, and barely suppressed a squeal of joy as the silky tip of a Blue Feather was revealed.

Then, as he stirred slightly and murmured, before falling still and silent again, she quickly let his coat fall back into place, and scurried upstairs to wait.

Hopefully, he wouldn't make her wait too long.

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End Notes: Hi!

Also, the plan at the moment is for two more chapters, each focussing on a different bizarro (yet fiendishly cute) alt-pairing, whether or not that will end up happening in the face of either my extreme wordiness, or equally extreme laziness.