Chapter 28 – Toil and Trouble

Sookie’s little house was an amalgamation of so many smells, I almost wished I could eat.  By far my favorite scent was hers.  There was a little adrenaline mixed into it, but even before I could smell it I could feel it: she was nervous.  She had spent the night before preparing everything for tonight’s meal, and had barely let me help her.  Surely I could do more than peel a potato.  She felt bad letting me help, since I wouldn’t partake of the food.

I got dressed quickly in the little spare bedroom, and snuck out the window.  It would be better if the people already gathered at her house didn’t know exactly where I had come from.  Sookie answered the door after I rang the bell, and she threw herself at me, almost spilling the drink she had in her hand.  Whenever I told her I missed her, I truly meant it.  What I wouldn’t give to be able to sleep like a human so I could sleep with her, with the vague knowledge that she was nearby.  Her body in my arms was all I needed in this world.  She would never believe me if I told her.

“I’m so happy you’re here,” she said, as if I would be anywhere else.  She looked up and saw my confused expression.  “I mean, this is my first Thanksgiving without Gran, and she used to cook so good, and I’m trying so hard, and I don’t know if they’ll like it…” she stopped talking when I put a finger on her lips.

“Your brother and friends are not here simply to eat, Sookie.  They’re here to be with you.  Come on.”  I steered her back into her kitchen, watching the way that new dress hugged every curve of her sumptuous figure.  It was the little number she’d worn to go to Josephine’s, the one I hadn’t had a chance to admire properly.  I was admiring now, but had to tear my eyes away from her swaying hips when we reached the kitchen.

“Eric, you remember my brother Jason,” Sookie pointed at the ashen man who was setting the table, “and this is my friend Tara and you know Sam.”

Sam was the only one who walked forward to offer his hand, so that the others would follow by example, I supposed.  I had never shaken hands with Merlotte, since he knew our customs well.  Sookie’s female friend was next, and she looked as scared as if she’d seen a phantasm.  Her brother wasn’t any better, but he had a legitimate reason.  Thankfully my hands didn’t feel the need to strangle him this evening.  Sookie was beaming at our civility.

We made small talk, something I excelled at whenever the need arose, and found out that Tara was dating a fairy man, though she did not know.  Sookie shot me a look.  I knew she disapproved of the relationship, but not enough to say anything.  What could she say?  She couldn’t explain to her friend that fairies were notorious for their sexual escapades, not unlike Tara’s ex-fiancé.  The only reason for them to be away from Fairy was to make money and screw.  I’d filled Sookie in about the finer points of her fae kindred, just in case she still had any vague notions that they were remotely benign.

“What about Claudine?  She really is a very nice person,” Sookie had argued.

“She might be working on becoming something else, if that is the case,” I said to her.  She’d pursed her lips and dropped the subject.

The next time the doorbell rang, I went to get it.  It was Pam, and she had brought flowers and a bottle of wine.  I arched an eyebrow at her thoughtfulness.  Sometimes my child still had the ability to surprise me.

“Dear Abby says it is polite to bring a hostess gift.  I didn’t know what to get Sookie, but I knew the flowers would be well received.  The wine is for dinner,” she explained as she walked through the house to the kitchen in the back.  I wondered what she would say if she knew I’d peeled potatoes the night before.

Sookie admired the flowers and hugged Pam tight.  A sudden feeling of jealousy invaded me, but not because Sookie was hugging her sibling.  Sookie had hugged me and Pam, and probably her brother and her friend.  She had also, in all probability, hugged the shifter.  I stamped down the feeling so I wouldn’t make a scene.  Lately my jealousy had become nearly impossible to contain.  It had all started since Sookie’s sudden concern for Compton.  There was nothing in her that sparked my jealous streak other than her need to treat people with compassion.  She considered vampires people.  I had to remember that was why I loved her.

If everyone cared as she did…

Sookie sidled up to me, hugging my waist.  She had started welcoming the public displays of affection, and I was sure it was as a response to my jealousy.  She looked up at me, her eyes sparkling with thinly veiled desire.  I bent to place a careful kiss on her lips, something suitable for the present company.  It was chaste, to say the least.  I couldn’t help that my hands had found the spot where the small of her back met her gorgeous ass.  The present company would have to forgive me.

I knew Thanksgiving dinner was supposed to be a smorgasbord, but I don’t think I’d ever realized how much food a single human could consume.  The lack of magic made them hungry, and apparently expanded their bellies during special occasions.  Sookie didn’t seem to be able to eat more than her usual, but she said she was going to “make room” for dessert.  All she did was sit back in her chair, while the rest of her guests continued on.  Her friend Tara, who was thinner but taller than Sookie, was sure eating her weight in sweet potato, while Sam and Jason seemed to be having a contest.

“Sam, I thought you said you were going to Texas for Thanksgiving,” I asked, too curious to hide it any longer.  Why was he here?

“My mother and stepfather went to visit his family, and I don’t know them very well.  I decided to stay,” he explained, without looking away from his plate.

His answer made sense but it was incongruent with his reaction.  I’d never known Sam to avoid looking someone in the eye.  I looked at Sookie, and she was slowly rubbing her stomach, focusing too much attention on it.  If I hadn’t lived as long as I had, perhaps I could have overlooked the subtle signs: Sam’s eagerness to shake hands, his avoidance of looking me in the eye, and Sookie’s way of trying to ignore it all, so as to not draw attention to him.  I felt something akin to rage that I tried to rein in immediately because both Sookie and Pam turned to look at me wide eyed.  The only difference between the two women was their feelings to my reactions.  Pam’s was confusion.  Sookie’s was fear.  She was hiding something.

Dinner couldn’t be over soon enough.  When everyone moved to the living room to watch football, I grabbed Sookie and kept her in the kitchen.

“What’s going on?” I asked, trying to keep my tone level.

She looked up, at least, trying to figure out what to tell me, or how.  Her eyes began to fill with tears, though she was trying to hold them back.  “The morning after my abduction, when Sam came over, he…”  She stopped talking, and I thought I would go mad needing to know what he did to her.  Did they have sex?  Was that why she was rubbing her stomach?  Was she hoping she was pregnant?  I imagined all the things I would do to Merlotte before Sookie spoke again.  “He kissed me,” she whispered, resigned.  The reality didn’t hurt as much as what I had been imagining, but it was painful nonetheless.

“Why do you tell me this now?” I asked, not knowing exactly who to be mad at.

“Because he apologized and swore never to do it again.”

“Why is he here?”

“Because he’s my friend, first and foremost.”

“He doesn’t seem to think of himself as just your friend,” I said, trying harder than ever not to tear something apart.  Right at that moment a shifter was looking like a good target for my rage.

Sookie let a few tears escape.  If there was one thing I couldn’t take, it was Sookie’s tears.  “Eric,” she took a deep breath to steady herself.  “I don’t have that many people in my life who I can count on.  You’re my husband and best friend, but what happens when you’re not available?  I would like to be able to say that I only need you in my life, but I can’t.  My brother is… well, my brother.  Tara needs me more than I need her.  Pam is only available when you are.  I barely know Claudine.  Sam is the only person who I can trust with all the secrets, who I can talk to without having to censor myself.”  She took the handkerchief I offered and dabbed at her eyes and nose.  I could feel how the sadness crept within her.  “I will not see him again if it’s going to cause a rift between you and me.”

I was speechless.  She offered me what I wanted, but I couldn’t take it.  I wondered if that had been her true purpose, but the sadness that had invaded her was definitely the only thing inside her.  She was not the kind to manipulate anybody, least of all me.  That did not deter from the fact that she had hurt me and I was mad.

“What am I supposed to do, Sookie?  Forget it happened?” I hissed, trying to keep my voice down.

She shook her head and looked down, finally unable to look at me.  “Do what you have to do.”

“Eric.”  I turned to see Merlotte at the door to the kitchen.  I almost broke his jaw right then and there.  That would teach him to kiss my wife.  “It wasn’t Sookie’s fault.  We can take this outside and you can do with me what you will.”

“Who do you think I am?  Or what?” I asked him.  I was the law, damn it all.

“You are Sookie’s husband and you have every right to do with me what you will,” he repeated.

I studied the man, small but powerful, a soldier, a businessman.  A lonely man who was enamored of Sookie’s many charms, just like everyone else.  “Please leave my house,” I said, pointing at the door to the back porch.  Sookie turned away rather than watch him leave.

Pam joined us.  “You made Sookie leak again.”  It wasn’t a question, and I knew she’d heard everything that had occurred.

“This does not concern you,” I said to her.  I was mad enough without her defiance.

“Of course it doesn’t.  I just wanted to point out that Sookie told you the truth when you asked; therefore you know that she did not encourage the behavior or she would have denied it from the beginning.  You’re both on the same side, here.  There is no need to drag this out any longer.  Kiss and make up.  The game is getting good.”  Pam turned and walked away.

The absurdity of Pam’s reason for making up, and the sudden release of tension, made Sookie start laughing through her tears.  My heart softened once more, and I was tempted to follow Pam’s suggestion.  I walked closer to Sookie, pinning her against the counter where she had been leaning.  She stopped laughing immediately and her fear of me attacked her again.

“Nobody touches or kisses you but me, Sookie.  Understood?” I asked her, my eyes lingering on her mouth.

She nodded before saying yes aloud.  I reached for her face, tracing my thumb over the lips that held me – as well as fucking Merlotte – in awe.  I knew better than to deny her the friendship with Sam.  If I did, she would seek him and hide the relationship.  That simple concept was not lost on me.

I bent to reach her lips, to touch mine to hers, to erase whatever memory she had of Sam’s kiss.  Her breath was hot, inviting, and sweet with the lingering memory of the dessert she had eaten.  I wanted to taste her, to see if her mouth was as sweet as I imagined.  She parted her lips, allowing my entrance.  I was careful not to hurt her with my fangs, but she courted danger by running her tongue over them.  At the same time that our tongues tangled in a seductive dance, she reached up to tangle her fingers in my hair.  I lifted her to sit on the counter, her skirt giving and rising as she wrapped her legs around me.  I pressed my erection against her, hearing her sigh softly.  Wanting her like this would be my undoing.  It didn’t help that make up sex was so exquisite.  I’d never had to make up with anyone before.

I could hear her brother walking to the kitchen, but I didn’t care.  Maybe he’d take the hint and turn around.  We were resolving issues and needed a few more moments.

“Ahem!”  He wasn’t subtle at all.

Without letting go of Sookie, I turned my head to look behind me, where he was standing at the door.  Sookie held me tighter, not wanting her brother to see the raging erection she had provoked.  I couldn’t have cared less if he saw it.  We were a healthy couple.  What did he think we did?  Play house?  Besides, from what Sookie had told me, he was a player worthy of his fae heritage.

“Can we have a minute here?” I asked, cross.  Sookie was shaking with giggles.

The man blanched, probably at seeing my fangs fully extended, turned around and left.

“I guess I’m being a bad hostess,” she said, fixing my hair.  I didn’t have a ready answer, nor did I care that she wasn’t paying attention to her guests.  Pam was at home here, her brother was too, and the other guest had been her friend since elementary school.  They could spend some time alone.  Not that they weren’t enjoying each other’s company.  I could hear Pam pretending to know football so she could yell obscenities at the players, like Sookie’s brother was doing, and Tara was laughing at both.

“Wait until they’re all gone,” I whispered in her ear and felt her shiver.

I had to hand it to Jason.  He earned a little of my respect when he stayed to help Sookie clean the kitchen and put away all the food.  I suspected it had to do with the leftovers he got to take home.  Whatever his motivation, he was acting like her brother for once.

“He was happy to see me happy with you,” Sookie said when Jason left.

“I thought you didn’t read your family’s minds.”  I remembered she’d said that.

“I’m tired, and he was thinking kinda loud,” she said, waving her hand.  Well, at least it had been a good thought.

The doorbell rang and Sookie closed her eyes.  She tended to do that more often now, checking who was nearby, what they were thinking, whether they were friend or foe.

“Vampire,” she declared.

“Sookie!  It’s Bill Compton!” yelled Pam from the living room.  She was watching the highlights of all the football games.  She hadn’t opened the door; she simply knew it was him.

Sookie looked up at me with a question in her eyes.  I shrugged, knowing his motives as well as she did, which was not at all.  I led the way to the front door, making a motion for Sookie to stay far away.  Pam stood beside me as I opened the door.

“Sheriff.  Pam.”  He bowed to both of us.

“What can I do for you, Bill?” I asked, truly curious about his motives.

“I would like to speak to you and Sookie, if possible.  I owe you both an explanation,” he said.  This I had to hear.

“Sookie?” I said her name and the question was implied.  Ultimately, she was the only one who could admit him in the house.

“Come in, Bill,” she said, but stood behind me, my smart girl.

Pam, Sookie and Bill all took seats.  Sookie was sitting as far away from Bill as the small living room allowed, with Pam sitting next to her.  I doubted Bill would attack, but I still remained standing.  I was his ruler and I did not want him to forget.

“The King of Arkansas, Peter Threadgill, sent me here to see about Sookie.  He did not know that I was Sophie-Anne’s subject.  I am loyal to her.  I still need to tell her what Sookie is, and make it look to Threadgill that I’m working for him.  This marriage they’re trying to work out has them spying on each other’s assets,” Bill said.  I knew about Sophie-Anne’s upcoming nuptials, but would have to verify Bill’s status with her.  Definitely her wish to have Bill returned lent credibility to his story.

“Why are you telling me now?  Are you even allowed to tell me?” I asked.

“It was at my discretion what to say and what not to say.  But,” he looked at Sookie, “I am grateful for what you did for me.  I felt like I owed you a full explanation, so that you would not be mad at me anymore.”

“You don’t owe me anything, Bill,” Sookie was quick to point out.

“I do.  I understand that my discretion leaves much to be desired,” Bill turned to me.  “I apologize for my behavior, Sheriff.  I should have trusted you before now and I am sorry I did not.  I am grateful that I am free of my maker,” he nodded to me, “and for the care you bestowed upon me, which I had no right to hope for,” he nodded to Sookie.

Pam arched an eyebrow.  “Why did your maker call you?  What did she want?”

“She wanted my work, the work that Eric is protecting.  It was commissioned by Sophie-Anne, and once it is completed it will be highly profitable for our state,” Bill explained.

After Katrina and the oil spill, we definitely needed all the money we could get.  But so did Mississippi.  I suspected Lorena had been working on her own.  In her demented state she thought herself a one-woman enterprise to fill her King’s coffers.  We had gotten extremely lucky that she had not said anything to Russell, or he would not have been as willing to hand Bill over.

“Come to the bar tomorrow to retrieve your computers,” I said to Bill and stood aside.  It was time for him to leave.  He had caused enough problems, and I did not care if they were his fault or not.  In trying to keep up pretenses for the King of Arkansas, he had led the three cocksuckers to Sookie.  Later he had invaded her privacy, and even tried to separate her from me.  Not to mention that he had gone after the men who attacked Stan Davis’ house without as much as a backwards glance to ascertain our wellbeing.  The only reason he remained alive was Sophie-Anne’s high regard, much to my bewilderment.

“Thank you, Eric.  Sookie.  Pam,” he nodded to the three of us and left.

“I rescind Bill Compton’s invitation to this house,” Sookie was quick to say as soon as Bill was on his way.  “I think I did my job as a Christian to the best of my ability.  I’m good,” she said, meaning she was done with the whole situation with Bill.  She stood up and stretched, pushing out her breasts as she did so.

“It’s time for me to go.  Sookie, you and I should go to a football game, just us girls,” Pam said, standing up too.

Sookie blinked.  “I didn’t know you liked football.”  Evidently she hadn’t heard Pam’s yelling earlier that evening.

“I do now.  Your brother was most willing to educate me on the finer aspects, and I love the uniforms.  He said you sometimes go to the high school games.  Will you take me?” asked Pam with her usual stoic demeanor.

Sookie smiled, and I was about to do the same.  “Sure!  They have a game next Wednesday night.  If the boss gives us the night off…” Sookie and Pam both looked at me, waiting for my answer.  Of course I agreed.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The bar felt odd with both Sookie and Pam missing.  I did my best to focus on the matter at hand: a proposal for an all-vampire condo building in Shreveport.  I could see how that would be a safety hazard for the vampires who would live there.  It would be like trying to protect the White House.  We would need a large enough perimeter set up around it so that no unauthorized vehicles or persons could get close enough to blow the place up.  After the events in Dallas, the possibility that some lunatic would target large groups of vampires was real and chilling.  I was vetoing the proposal, but I had to write down the reasons, and back them up with evidence to present them to the board.

“Sheriff, a woman is asking for you,” Chow said.  The door to my office had been open, so he’d had no need to knock.

I couldn’t imagine what woman would ask for me that Chow would feel the need to interrupt.  “Who is she?” I asked curtly.

“She says her name is Hallow and that she is a witch, but she smells like Were to me,” Chow explained.

I frowned.  A Were witch.  Not unheard of, but quite rare.  “What is her business?”

“She is adamant that she wants to speak with you,” he said.  Chow tended to be more superstitious than most.  Perhaps it was a function of his heritage.

“Very well, escort her in.  Bring Thalia with you,” I said, not wanting to bother with the witch, but not wanting to incur her ire either.  As for Thalia, her lack of self-control notwithstanding, she was the strongest and wisest of my people.  She could shine a light on this Hallow person.

“Eric Northman,” said a tall woman at my door.  This had to be Hallow.  She was tall, svelte, with long curly brown hair and dressed in white, head to toe.  I already felt uneasy.  She smelled of Were, of magic, and of vampire blood.  I was sure it was too faint for a young vampire like Chow to pick it up, but I could see Thalia was just as wary of the witch as I was.

“How may I be of service?” I asked, standing up behind my desk.  I was not in the habit of being the shortest in the room.  I pointed to a chair across from my desk, inviting her to take a seat silently.

Before sitting she looked me over with obvious appreciation.  I was used to it, but since Sookie entered my life those looks from other women were not welcomed, therefore I did not return them like I would have otherwise.  Hallow noticed.

“My name is Hallow and I’m here with a business proposition.  I’m new in town, low on funds, and I need a little help,” she said.  This could not go well.

“What is it you propose?” I asked, trying to move things along.  She obviously didn’t know how to deal with vampires, and went about her business in a roundabout way.  If I let her she would talk my ear off all night.

“Half of your earnings from Fangtasia for the next year so I can keep your club safe,” she said, her face opening up with a smile.

Fucking tremendous.  Now I was being asked for protection money from a witch.  “And if I refuse?  Half the earnings would leave me with nothing to run the business properly,” I lied.

“You can refuse, but be prepared in case your dance floor develops cracks or bumps and people fall and sue you, or if your bathrooms overflow and cause a flood.  I’m sure you want your liquor and blood to taste like liquor and blood as opposed to bayou water.  Think about it, gorgeous.  I’ll give you some time to talk it over with your partners.  You can come up with the money up front, of course.  I will return for your party on New Year’s Eve.  I hear it will be amazing.”  Hallow blew me a kiss and walked away.

I turned my eyes to Thalia who was shaking her head.  “She is bad news, Master Eric,” she said, stating the obvious.  “She is definitely a Were, and she is also high on vampire blood.  There is no telling how much stronger her magic is with all the cumulative power.”

“That’s what I thought,” I said.  It was time to call the Queen.  A problem like this required resources that I simply did not have.

Thalia and Chow left and I called Andre, who answered after the first ring.

“Northman, always a pleasure,” said the kid.  “How is your wife?”

“She’s perfect, thank you.  I call to inform you that a witch has come to my area and demanded protection money from me and my people,” I said, short and to the point.

“This hardly seems like a problem for the monarchy to address,” he opined.

“I would not have troubled you if that was the case.  This witch is also a Were that drinks vampire blood.”

There was silence on the line.  “I will let the Queen know, and perhaps try to find someone to help in Area 5.”  He hung up.  Hopefully he meant another witch would be sent to help.  I did not know of any in my area, but there were several in New Orleans who could take on the job.

As I returned to my earlier work, my mind was filled with Sookie and how much or how little I should tell her about this incident.  She tended to worry too much, and it affected her sleep.  If nothing came of this, then her worry would have been for nothing.  She had made me promise to tell her things right away, but this development hardly affected her.  Against my better judgment, I decided to keep mum.  If things got out of hand, I would tell her everything, but I doubted it would come to that.

Sookie and Pam were sitting in the den watching football highlights on the flat screen when I got home.  Sookie was explaining the nuances of the game, while Pam argued about the calls from the referees.

“He did so catch it before his foot went outside the line,” she shouted.  She was quite animated.

“It doesn’t matter what you see with your super vampire vision.  What counts is what the ref sees, and they almost never go back on calls,” Sookie explained.

“Maybe they should have vampire refs,” Pam pouted.

“That would only be feasible for the night games.  What are you going to do about the day games?” Sookie asked.

“They should have them all at night if that’s the way they’re going to make calls.  It sucks!”  I can honestly say I had never heard Pam use that word.  Sookie snickered and started giggling.

“Pam, I believe it is time for you to go home,” I said, none too subtly.

“Fine, but this isn’t finished.  I think I’ll start a campaign,” she mused.

“Did Pam behave?” I asked Sookie when we were alone in our house.

She giggled before answering.  “That was the most fun I’ve ever had at a game, I think.  Pam is a force of nature.  She wanted to eat the cheerleaders from the other team, although I’m not sure in what sense,” she said laughing.

We were sitting on the sofa in the den, with the football highlights still playing softly in the background.  Her laughter and her tight jeans ignited my love and lust, in that order.  Time spent without her was a slow torture and I needed her.  I pushed a lock of hair behind her ear so I could touch her face unimpeded.  That simple touch made my gums itch as my fangs lengthened.  Sookie bit her lower lip and I caught a glimpse of that pink tongue.  The things that tongue could do to me.  I grew hard at the many memories that featured that tongue.  I brought her close, to taste her lips and suck on that tongue.

Her hands fluttered before settling on my shoulders.  I took one and placed it over my eager erection, giving her the unmistakable hint that I wanted her to do other things as well.  She understood immediately, and pushed me back, getting up and kneeling on the floor between my legs.  Her smile was wicked yet had a hint of shyness.  Her nimble fingers undid my pants and pulled them down.  She was trying to be gentle, which I always found endearing.  She stopped being gentle when that pretty pink tongue started licking my inner thigh, making its own path until it reached the bottom of my shaft.  She laid her hands splayed on my hips and began kissing and licking her way up to the tip of my hard cock.  I wanted her to ride me, but I was enjoying this too.  It didn’t matter.  When she slipped my cock into her hot mouth I was undone and a feral growl ripped itself from my chest.

Sookie moaned, sending vibrations up my body that heightened all my senses.  Her sex must have been dripping wet, and I had the sudden desire to taste her, to please her, to see her come under my mouth.  I lifted her under her arms, and switched places.  She was quick to take off her own sweater and bra, knowing my affinity for ripping garments off her delicious body.  I took off her pants, enjoying the feel of her soft naked skin under my hands and how the smell of her arousal filled the whole room.  I pulled her hips to the edge and buried my face into her warm wet folds.  She moaned again, caressing my hair as she let her head fall back in pleasure.

“Look at me, my love,” I purred into her.  She watched enraptured as I licked a path like she had done to me, circled her clit, and slipped a finger inside her.  Her breath started coming faster and trembling in her chest.  Her ecstasy flavored her blood in a way that her fear never could.  I could hear the blood rushing, pooling; its heady scent was intoxicating.  I turned my head and bit her thigh, letting the sweet blood spill into my mouth as Sookie convulsed and called out my name.

I closed the wounds quickly so I could enter her.  My cock could no longer bear her absence.  It was a living creature that sought solace within the confines of her tight sheath.  I moved slowly at first, watching as Sookie writhed and gasped beneath me, playing with her clit to see if it would elicit some more delectable moans from her mouth.  When it did I knew I wouldn’t last much longer.  I moved faster within her, enjoying the slapping sound our hips made when they met with each stroke.  I lost control of my body as it sought release within her.

“Eric, Eric,” she called my name and shook her head as one long orgasm overtook her, her muscles clamping down around me and milking me.  I burst inside her, grunting a prayer as I spilled my seedless seed.

I collapsed, and Sookie took my weight.  I remained buried inside her, and she did nothing to encourage my removal, on the contrary: she ran her fingers softly over my back in a soothing motion.  She was peaceful, happy; her love glowed within me and lit the dark world I’d been living in until I met her.  As much as I liked my life before, I loved my life now, because Sookie was a part of it.  She was my own honey-colored ray of sunshine.

Next Chapter

Advertisements

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s