Pushing the door of the banqueting suite open AJ manoeuvred himself inside, hoping to avoid as much attention as possible. The last few months had seen him have his fill of cameras, attention, shouting and people fussing around him. He'd never realised what being the full on face of the company would demand of him, not that he'd change that now he was doing well financially, the sponsorships and commercials coming in steadily. Between a bulging bank balance and the knowledge that his position as a main eventer was solid for at least the next year or so, AJ felt as if he could finally release the deep breath he'd taken the first day he set his foot in an indie ring.
He checked the seating plan for the fourth time, still not sure where he was supposed to be showing everyone to, intimidated by the heaving throng of people congregated at the back of the room. Most were now in possession of a glass of something and chatting away happily. In his mind though it were as if he had to steer a herd of buffalo without the assistance of a whip or another half dozen ranchers to help him. Taking a deep breath he grabbed the microphone and after clearing his throat, started to talk into it. However, in his nerves he'd forgotten to turn it on and cursed himself quietly, finally finding the switch and starting his spiel all over again.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to invite y'all to stop proppin' up the bar over there and take your seats. We're about to welcome the happy couple so make sure your glasses are full and get ready to give them a good warm reception. I'm in charge of gettin' you all in the right place so if y'all pass by me I'll tell you where t'go."
Clicking the microphone off again he dried his damp palms on his dress trousers and cursed the slightly dark and damp finger marks doing so had left behind. He knew he wasn't really cut out for being best man, MC, usher, bachelor party organiser; none of it. What he did know is that he owed the success he'd had lately to the man who'd asked him to be all those things and so he hadn't wanted to say no, not even for a second. More so he just didn't want to disappoint Ric on his big day, not that it wasn't just the most current in a long line of Flair 'big days'.
He found it hard enough cutting promos sometimes when everything was scripted and any errors resulted in a re-shoot. There were going to be no re-shoots today. Luckily the early part of the day had gone off without a hitch. The bachelor party had taken place two weeks ago between tapings so he'd had no worries that morning about hauling Ric out of jail or scraping his white hair off a foreign hotel room pillow as he drooled the way he did when he was passed out drunk. AJ had spent last night with Ric in the luxurious suite he'd booked at the hotel and they stayed up talking late into the wee small hours. The topics were all kinds of everything from work to love to the future, in fact whatever came to their bourbon and brandy soaked brains. The last thing he'd heard as he'd tumbled into the adjoining room was Ric's slurred voice calling after him.
"Hey...hey AJ! For the rec-, for the record if you didn't have a...ummm... a pair 'a nuts or if I was a fairy like you, pal we'd make a real nice pair. Here's your new world champing, shamming, champy, yeah, that's it, your champy, AJ Flair. Wooooo..........."
AJ laughed as the trademark noise faded into a loud snore. He'd always viewed Ric as a father figure and never once thought about 'going there.' He knew that Ric on the other hand would probably try and snag Taylor Swift if he thought she was worthy of his attention. Time had faded the looks but not the lust. That was the reason there had ended up being yet another Flair wedding in the first place.
He smiled as he remembered some of the pearls of wisdom Ric had to offer last night, but knew ultimately he'd do well to heed some of them. His mentor could legitimately say "been there and done that" to just about every aspect of the wrestling business and that kind of experience simply couldn't be bought.
The service had been a more touching affair that he'd imagined considering the groom was someone who seemed to say "I do." more than most serial bigamists. The celebrant was a flashy Vegas type, a far cry from the preachers and ministers that AJ had been subjected to in his younger days. The moment he'd left home and moved the short distance to Atlanta to train he'd dropped his churchgoing like a hot brick. It wasn't so much that he didn't believe, more that he wanted to believe in his own way that didn't make him feel as bad about the feelings he'd harboured since his early teens. Today though the vows had been simple, the full-on God bothering kept to an absolute minimum. AJ thanked his God for the fact that the JC the preacher was more interested in was Jack 'n' Coke rather than Jesus Christ.
Whilst Ric and the new Mrs Flair had gone to make their second costume change of the day AJ started to direct people to the relevant tables, doing his best to ensure that the complicated seating plan was adhered to as far as possible. He didn't recognise many of the people that passed him by but the ones that he did were some of the familiar faces of their industry from way back when.
That's when he saw them. Towards the back of the thinning queue were the two guests who were going to be seated at the top table along with AJ and the newly-wed Flairs, David having been unable to make it and the other children having refused the invite much to Ric's disgust. The seating plan had revealed that one of them was going to be sat right at the side of him. Clearing his throat AJ shrugged his shoulders back and tried to make himself look bigger and more composed than he really was. First to reach him was Hunter, mid way through tipping a beer down his throat, gently cradling a fragile and suddenly very small looking champagne flute in his other hand.
"Styles! How you doin'? I see the old man got a new best man! Shit, me and Shawn got tired of the taste of his wedding cakes a few years back. Great bachelor party by the way. Those were some smokin' hot babes you got to 'attend'."
The leer in Hunter's voice was clear and it made AJ shift in his starched shirt uncomfortably. He'd taken the advice of those attending the bachelor weekend that had been to one before and acquired the services of some less than moral ladies to entertain the guests. A few of the guys had chosen not to partake, himself included, but Hunter especially had taken full advantage and been very vocal in his appreciation of the talents the hostesses were able to demonstrate. It was much to AJ's relief that Ric's second son was seated on the other side of the table from him.
After guiding Hunter on where to go and sit the last person was finally before him, evidently ready to take instructions as to where his perch for the evening was, not withstanding the fact that there were only four empty seats left in the entire room.
"Good to see you kid. How's Naitch doing? Did he keep you up yabbering till sun-up like he did that time with me?"
The kindly smile that spread across Shawn's lips made AJ's heart skip a beat. No matter how many times he'd been introduced in passing to the man who'd made him want to join the wrestling business at such a young age the thrill had never worn off. Today he looked better than ever, tanned, happy, relaxed and immaculately dressed. His denims were complimented by a white button down shirt, a black linen jacket and a matching cowboy hat. Finishing the look were a pair of snakeskin boots in a tan brown, polished to the point of causing glare and tapping on the parquet flooring as he'd moved across it.
"I'm good thanks Shawn, Ric's doing ok too. I managed to keep him off the brandy and on the soft stuff at least half the night. He woke up a little rough but some sausage and pancakes soon got rid of the heavy head and sickly belly."
AJ smiled, pleased with the lack of a tremble in his voice and the ease with which the short conversation had flowed so far. Shawn was smiling back at him, the twinkle in his eyes making them sparkle and light his face up. It had the power to make AJ incredibly goofy and it was only when he heard the noise of a throat being cleared that he came back to the room.
"Kid, we better go sit down. You know Ric will want to steal the show. We're holding his moment up and I don't want him to kick my ass or yours."
The steady, gruff tone had a gentle good nature to it and Shawn cupped his hand around AJ's elbow, steering him in the direction of the aisle between the tables that led to where they'd both be sitting, side by side. Only moments after reaching their destination did the main doors to the extravagantly decorated room swing open and Ric, accompanied by his rather juvenile looking bride, swept through the doors. Everyone gave them more of a standing ovation than a round of applause and the happy couple made their way to their seats, Ric shaking hands with people as he near-strutted up the carpet that had been laid out.
On reaching the head table he embraced Shawn first, holding him in a bear hug and whispering quietly into his ear. He then shook hands with AJ and congratulated him on everything he'd done, moving finally to Hunter who engaged Ric in much mutual hugging and manly backslapping. Once the pleasantries were over the meal was served and the room came alive with the softly played music in the background, a lot of loud chatter and the scurrying of the silver service staff who were busy catering to the needs of the guests.
Shortly after came the speeches and thankfully AJ got through his with the necessary amount of laughter to make it a success, no major errors, no deathly silences and a rousing round of applause at the end. After the reading of the telegrams and a brief address from the bridegroom the live band started playing and the newlyweds took to the floor for their first dance. Around the room people were enraptured by the way they stepped out their routine and AJ found himself with a pang of sadness that he would never get the chance to do something like that himself. He would freely admit to those who knew him that he often wished he was straight, that his life was 'normal' as even he termed it himself. Even if he had someone to marry he didn't know that many people in his life that wanted to come and gawk at two tuxedo clad guys dancing together.
Slowly the guests filtered out onto the dancefloor and over to the bar, the party getting started when the band kicked it up a notch with their renditions of the hits of decades past, from She Loves You through to Chain Reaction. AJ felt as if his duties were just about over for the day. Surveying the scene he could see that Ric was drinking hard with Hunter close by his side, their memories being picked over and examined through the bottom of a couple of Jim Beam bottles. His bride had gone up to get out of her designer gown and the waiting staff had cleared the room of all but the full glasses that perched on every table and nestled in every hand in the room. Grabbing his own beer AJ smiled, relieved that he had made the day go smoothly and decided to retreat to the courtyard where hours earlier he'd been forcing a smile for the dozens of photos he'd not realised he 'needed' to be in. There was a quiet corner of it he'd spotted earlier and he liked the idea of escaping the hustle of all the people who wanted to shake his hand and tell him yet another wild story about one of their escapades with Ric, most of which he'd already heard over the course of the last few months.
The cool summer night air brushed his cheeks as he left through the side door, the beat of the band dulled as the door closed. He took a welcome deep breath full of the aroma of the night scented jasmine that grew around the archway into the more secluded part of the gardens. AJ slackened his tie and undid the top button of his shirt, thankful that his jacket was still in the room gracing the back of a chair. He ambled slowly down the short flight of steps that led down to the seating area and as he planted his weary body down onto the stone bench he lifted the glass bottle to his mouth and drained half of the beer, wiping the residue from his lips with the sleeve of his shirt.
"You know kid, with how much that shirt cost daddy-o in there you better not be making marks on it...."
Looking in the direction the voice was coming from AJ found the image of Shawn smiling at him. His jacket was draped over the low stone wall he was perched on the edge of, topped by the hat he'd discarded with it. In his hand was a glass of orange juice that AJ knew would be free from the taint of any alcohol. He knew that Shawn was the most straight edge person in the business despite some major league bragging from a certain someone.
"H-hey Shawn. What are you doing down here? I thought you woulda been the star turn in there y'know, what with retiring an' all."
Shawn simply nodded and smiled. He had been badgered and bothered from the moment he'd drifted away from the security of the top table until the minute he'd headed out of the side door, not knowing or caring where it led him to. Discovering the secluded spot had been a bonus and he'd sat there for almost an hour alone, picking over his thoughts and enjoying the fact that for one of the first waking hours since he'd retired nobody had asked him if he was going to go back and if not, what he was going to do with his time instead.
"I was, that's the reason I'm down here. I, ahh, I get sick of talking about me real quick. These days I don't do a whole lot with my time and I don't have a lot to say when people ask me. Same as when they're askin' me when I'm coming back, if I'm going to your neck of the woods, all kinds of craziness. I wind up feeling like a parrot with about 4 different lines it can say. So I decided that I'd enjoy Ric's wedding in my own way. So, what's your story? You get tired of shaking hands and getting introduced to pretty but vacant daughters and grand-daughters?"
With a soft laugh AJ half-nodded. He had noticed everyone looking at his ring finger as they spoke to him, and there was no doubt that the room was full of attractive and immaculately presented women. The only error the matchmakers made was introducing him to the wrong gender. There were only a select few in attendance that had any idea about him, Ric being one and he was fairly sure that Hunter and Shawn had both been let in on his secret. Some of the older TNA guys knew but most had turned down the invite, preferring the money that they could make from the travelling house show to spending more than they'd earn that night on a new suit and a room at the high-end venue.
"Last time I walked around the room there were 'bout half a dozen practising signing checks with my last name instead of their own."
AJ made the joke and prayed for a change of subject. He was pretty sure that Shawn knew but he didn't want it to become an awkward topic of conversation.
"Get used to it kid. You got a baby face and they love ya for it. Drive 'em crazy and make their money while you can before you end up busted up and a tired wreck like yours truly. I remember every night walking down that ramp and I coulda crooked a finger at just about any damn woman in that arena, and a fair few of the guys too, and never heard the word 'no' uttered once. Sure is flattering walking round knowing that you're liked but you're the draw, whether its your ass or your armdrag that made 'em pay to see you. Same goes in a room full 'a vultures like there is up there. You're lucky you made it out without someone booking the church already!"
With a knowing nod Shawn took a long drink of the sweet orange juice and looked at AJ's face. He saw so much of his own story sat right in front of him and it was a mixture of happiness and sadness that sat on both their features. He'd been like AJ once. Ambitious, headstrong, determined and 'the man' to be and to beat. He'd also taken his advice from Naitch and to be honest, he wasn't sure just what kind of stead that had left him stood in.
He'd always drunk before he got tagged onto the end of Ric's entourage and the partying literally never stopped. After the drink came the drugs and after the drugs his soundest state of mind since childhood. The thing that struck him most is that he'd moved on, gotten clean and lived reasonably well. It was hardly a hedged bet that he'd be able to go back to the dancefloor and find Ric with a glass, if not a bottle, of champagne in his hand, eyes wild and his tie nothing more than draped around his neck or that of the nearest nubile blonde.
"Oh, they don't get far with me. I use my manners and make my excuses. They're not quite as rabid as they were for you back in the day. Maybe I don't got the same appeal as you, in fact if I dressed like I was the missing member of the village people then maybe I'd get hit on more. I might punt that one to Ric and see what he says."
AJ smiled at Shawn, knowing full well that the mild insult he'd thrown was one that Ric had wheeled out himself at points in his friendship with Shawn. It was only when he saw the faint look of disappointment that crossed the older man's face that he worried about what he'd said.
"Shawn, look I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by it...its just Ric...well he says it all the time and I didn't think you'd mind so much...."
Shawn had barely realised his face had changed at all. He was too busy listening to the curious twang in AJ's voice to be truly listening properly to what was being said. He got the gist but the only words he'd really picked up were 'Village People'. In their earliest days of knowing one another Ric had tormented him tirelessly about his clothes, his hair and his choice of bed warmer.
"Look kid, I had a lot of things wrong in my life back then, I did a lot of crazy stuff. The drink, the pills, the people...well none of 'em really did much for me till Hunter came on the scene. And that includes Ric. Sure I went through it and I forgave him but he let me down the same way he will you. You keep one eye on your own back and one on that devious old bastard's hands. Having said that though he's better on your side than off it."
He knew his tone was serious but he could see the same adulation for Ric in AJ's eyes that he'd one seen in his own. It was all ok up until Ric had found out Shawn was not as pliable as he first thought. He wouldn't drop matches he was asked to by Ric and slowly realised that his alliance had to be with Ric but not directly beside him. Over a drunken brawl one night outside a bar in Nashville their bloodied lips had finally parted with words indicating that they were willing to agree to disagree. From then on they'd gotten along fine, operating on the basis of a mutual respect as opposed to an idol and admirer basis.
AJ nodded, indicating that he would bear the advice in mind. Truth was that he would make an indelible mental note of it. There was no way that someone like Shawn Michaels would be calling out one of his lifelong buddies if it wasn't warranted. The only thing Shawn was better known for than his drug addled past and Christian epiphany was the integrity with which he conducted his affairs in the last eight years since his return. Ric told great tales about the hell raising days and was all too disparaging about the "God job" Shawn had "had done on him" but AJ silently defended Shawn's ways, knowing that inside him he too had a spiritual side that he chose to keep mainly private. He'd struggled for so long to acknowledge what he really was in cold contrast to the way he'd been raised. He'd always been told what was right and what was so beyond wrong it couldn't even really be given the title of something as mild as 'sin'.
Wandering over to sit down beside the younger man Shawn looked into the bottom of his almost empty glass and took a deep breath. No matter how many times he had this talk with some of the new guys, the guys who were touted as the next big thing but were so wet behind the ears it was like they'd just been born, it never got any easier. The guys who didn't realise just how hard it could be to try and be themselves no matter how big a man you had in your corner.
"AJ, – I can call you AJ right?"
"Sure, no problem."
"Thanks. Well, all I wanted to say to you is that, well, I know."
AJ's tone was as innocent as the question he was asking. He hadn't picked up on the subtleties of Shawn's body language, didn't get what the next logical step of their conversation seemed to be to Shawn.
"I know that you're kickin' with the other foot, Ric told me. And I guess he told you why he told me, right? He always gets a little loose lipped on the Crown Royal."
As his face flushed to crimson pink AJ couldn't bear to look up from the cracked pebble on the floor that was suddenly the most interesting thing within a ten mile radius. So fascinating that it was almost stopping his breathing.
"No he didn't, but I've got an idea now. Shawn, I truly had no idea...I mean, I know there's been talk but there's talk about most guys. And Ric never said a word to me. So I'm guessing you're...?"
"Bi. But don't get your hopes up cos I'm real picky."
Shawn's laughter was light and airy and for a moment it broke the tension of the conversation that had built so rapidly. The stunned silence AJ sat in weighed heavy on his shoulders to the point where he could feel them ache. It was fair to say that if he could've offered a limb up to be able to take back his smart comment about Shawn's attire then he probably would've done.
"So you told Ric about...you...and you think somehow I should be concerned that he told you about me? I mean, he's still talkin' to you after all this time and he's been real good to me so he can't be totally against it surely."
AJ asked his question in earnest but he had a feeling that the sage advice he'd received so far wasn't going to end there. Neither did he want it to if it was going to offer him some kind of hope about his circumstances.
"All I'm saying kid is just make sure that you're careful who you get mixed up with and make sure that you can really trust them before you tell 'em about what you are. See, Ric shouldn't be telling anyone anything about me, or you as it stands, but the old bastard can't help himself at times. Especially if he's been on the bottle."
Shawn shook his head slowly and remembered some of his less glorious coming out moments; the ones where the bigger guys would come and try to shove their hands down his pants just because they'd found out from an liquored-up Ric that he was amenable to such things. He'd thrown a few punches to get out of some of the hairier situations and one or two in Ric's direction for the favour of spilling his guts to half the roster.
He'd heard a lot about AJ's potential and was sure Ric had asked for the intro rather than being selected to be the man that pushed him into the spotlight. He'd asked for Shawn in the same way. In his more curious moments he couldn't help but wonder if Ric had a swing in his sexuality somewhere but he'd never seen proof of it other than those ridiculous robes. It made him smile fleetingly to think that someone like AJ who wore that crap would feel able to ridicule his past ring gear. Shawn had never intended to get involved with AJ's personal issues but as the chance had presented itself he'd felt compelled to say something.
AJ raised his bottle to his lips as he listened and drained the rest of the beer away. After almost wiping his mouth on his sleeve again he stopped and did it onto the back of his hand instead. He finally looked up from the pebble and stared off into the distance.
"Well thanks for the advice Shawn, I mean, its been tough but I've got my head screwed on pretty tight and me and a few of the guys are close and watch out for one another. Comes with being part of the furniture over there nowadays."
He smiled widely as he turned to look at Shawn. What he saw stopped the gentle laughter that came with his smile. The illuminating glow from the hotel coupled with the moonlight made Shawn's natural good looks even more noticeable, his hair a deep blonde and his eyes glinting with the catchlights that starred across his pupils. AJ felt his heart start banging hard inside his chest. He'd always thought Shawn to be attractive for an older man but he'd never felt anything much for him other than admiration and, over the course of what could now be classed as their first proper conversation, appreciation for his willingness to care, to take the time.
Feeling the spark was something that took Shawn by surprise too. He was just being friendly, trying to stop the kid making the same mistakes he managed to foul his life up with. After getting clean he'd gone on his walk and followed it so strictly that he'd made himself every bit as miserable as when he was out of his mind every night for years on end. It came to a head one day and he finally accepted that as long as he stayed on the general path he could actually walk his own road and be happy.
It had been a long time since anyone even came close to catching his eye and it scared him to think that his good intentions had maybe turned into something different altogether towards AJ. Shawn blinked to try and right his brain but AJ was still there, still staring at him intently and still looking good with a dazzling grin plastered across his face. For the barest second he considered leaning in, testing the water to see if he was reading the reasonably obvious look the right way.
He realised that he needed to get out of there and go and clear his head. If he did kiss AJ now it would look calculated, like he brought the subject up just to try and get in his pants and he wanted the kid to take the advice seriously. He might want to get into AJ's pants in time too but his days of random encounters were over and he didn't want to mess up a potential friendship just because he couldn't control himself.
Clearing his throat Shawn looked away and the moment passed. He watched as AJ went to try and drink from the empty bottle and blushed as he realised that he'd forgotten that it was already finished. Shawn stood and walked over to get his coat, reaching into the pocket and grabbing a pen and some paper. He scribbled his number on it and slipped the pen back into his jacket.
"I'm gonna make tracks kid, I'd like to say I've got an early start but I'd be lying. Truth is I can't face another 4 hours of Hunter telling me to come back to the business and Ric telling me to come to the dark side in Orlando with you guys. Its been good talk and if you'd like to hook up again sometime, grab a coffee or something just hit me up. You're a good kid and I...I know what its like to need all the real friends you can get in this game."
AJ watched as Shawn extended his arm and proffered the slip of paper with his number on. He took it and stared at the writing, wondering if he'd ever have the nerve to actually call him. It wasn't as if he'd asked for the number and Shawn was just being polite so maybe the connection between them he'd sensed was right. He was torn between leaping up and just grabbing Shawn to drag him into the kiss he thought they both wanted and doing exactly what he was doing, sitting there and just staring up into the handsome face that appeared to tower over him.
"Thanks Shawn. I'll call you next time I'm back in your neck of the woods. You know how it is with all the travelling and stuff. Be good to talk properly. You can tell me more about how to keep the upper hand with Naitch cos God knows, I'm gonna need it when he gets back from his honeymoon."
With that AJ rose to his feet and moved towards Shawn, extending his hand out to offer a cordial handshake before they parted. He saw Shawn's eyes drop to where it floated and then shake his head.
"We're not cuttin' a deal kid, c'mere."
Shawn pulled AJ close to him and hugged him in the same way he hugged Ric; not with stiff joints and awkwardness but not quite with the comfortability of a lover. The faint smell of the beer filled his nose and it reminded him of being close enough to another human, another man, to pick it up. It had been too long, of that he was sure.
Settling into the embrace of the more slightly framed man AJ tentatively placed the flats of his hands on Shawn's back and applied the lightest of pressure until he felt the arms around him tighten slightly and the familiar thud of his heartbeat pounded in his ears. He was sure Shawn would also be able to hear it or feel it. He closed his eyes and for the longest minute of his life found himself torn between controlling his breath and allowing himself to actually enjoy being held by another man rather than feeling a horrible sense of guilt and shame. This man was different because he understood, because he knew all too well the conflict between faith and desire.
Both knew that they had connected. Both also knew that they'd rather slip away from the celebrations and go grab a coffee in some late night cafe and tell tall tales and anecdotes until they couldn't talk for laughing. Both suspected that the other wanted things to go a step further already, to seek that first kiss just to see if what they felt was real.
Slowly they disentangled from one another and Shawn patted AJ on the shoulder and then turned to walk away, no further words between them needed. As he climbed the short flight of stairs he hoped that someday soon the phone would ring with the call, be it for a chat or a meet up. Behind him AJ was watching the ascent of the older man and feeling somewhere between dumbstruck and shellshocked at the loss of the closeness. He followed less than a minute after, knowing he should go and show his face again at least.
Eventually they both re-entered the room unaware of how long they'd been gone or if their disappearance had been noted. Shawn went to claim his final hug of the night from Ric and Hunter then slipped away through the grandiose entrance doors. AJ retrieved his jacket, grabbed a couple of bottles of beer from the bar and headed for the table where Ric sat surrounded by old friends, potential gold-diggers and a heavily inebriated Hunter with one of the loose women perched on his knee.
He stooped to speak into Ric's ear to let him know that he was beat and ready to call it a night. Ric pulled his face close and planted a wet kiss on his cheek followed by a few strings of slurred words to thank him for all he'd done over the course of the day.
AJ sloped off towards the lobby and the elevators that would deliver him closer to his bed and finally to some much needed rest. As he leant on the wall he glanced around to pass the time and his eyes settled on a man sat in the bar with a cowboy hat on. It made a smile cross his lips and he thought of Shawn. The bell rang to say the elevator had arrived and as he stepped inside it he put his free hand in his pocket and sought the slip of paper, sliding it carefully against his fingers. When he felt it he wondered if he would ever find the courage to call but as his eyes closed and he thought about how good it had felt just being close to Shawn the question slowly turned from if into when.
A/N: Soooo this is not what I wanted. I wanted a full blown either PWP or hot Shawn/AJ moment. And I failed super hard at that. I just can't make it work in my head and if I even think about them making the sexy time both faces just turn to anime characters in my head :S I think we can safely assume that won't be happening any time soon then sadly!
I'm also twisted in that I like the inadvertent hint at flair!fam with having his 'sons' at the top table instead of absent!David - that gets a big mwa hahahaha from me :)
All reads and reviews appreciated as ever :)