Soulbound – Book 1: Chapter 7


The Connections Trilogy_Soulbound_1


The First Connection

Chapter 7

Cast out of Hell. Was it divine intervention? True love? Successful battles? The truth of our Warrior’s return to this plane of existence is unclear even to the Powers that Be. If Chaos erred by its interference, then all may be well. For now the Warrior is reunited with the Seer-to-be and the Chosen One even if it is on a parallel course rather than one planned for their fate. Another variable could tumble their future back into darkness and take the world with it or converge it with the proper path. Oracles to the Powers that Be, we watch and wonder at the outcome.

“Did you say Cordelia called this Scooby Meeting?” Xander questioned Willow as he sat down at the library table.

Nodding, Willow explained that Cordy had called from her cell phone. “Buffy was with her. They wanted me to call everyone else.”

“Cordy and Buffy together? Calling a meeting?” That gave Xander the wiggins. “I sense another apocalypse.”

“What did you say about an apocalypse?” Wesley Wyndam-Price stepped through the doors of the library. “The Watcher’s Council have no record of any prophesies indicating world destruction anytime this week.”

Willow smiled at the Watcher, trying her best not to laugh. “No apocalypse. Just Cordelia and Buffy. They called the meeting.”

“Oh, dear!” Wesley sounded petrified by the idea. “Perhaps I should check other sources. This could indeed be devastating news if those two are in on it together.”

Giles emerged from the library office that would be his until the end of the school year. “I suggest we be prepared for anything from the Hellmouth opening to a ghastly shortage of nail polish.”

There was running in the hallway, the sound of clacking heels swiftly approaching the library. The sound stopped just outside, but the doors didn’t open. Mumbling voices came from the other side. Giles gestured to Wesley and each man took one door, swinging it open to see Cordelia and Buffy fixing each other’s hair and makeup.

“Been down to the Army Depot again?” Xander asked Cordelia. It might not be the red leather mini, but that dress certainly came close.

“Just the Bronze,” Cordelia swept into the room with her head held high hoping that the mascara stains were gone.

Buffy followed hopping up on the table next to Xander and Willow. “Let’s get right to the point.”

“There’s a point to this meeting?” Xander quipped.

“Right!” Cordelia glared at him. “If you don’t shut up, you’ll be ‘meeting’ Mr. Pointy.”

Nodding at Buffy, the cheerleader indicated that she had the floor— or the table as it were. Buffy pressed her lips together then let out a slow breath. She could do this. Really.

“Cordy and I have good news.”

Xander was holding his tongue in check.

“Angel is alive.”

“What?!” Xander jumped off the table, turning to stare at her. Good news, she’d said.

Willow screeched in delight and hugged her blonde friend. “Angel is back! Angel is back!”

Rupert Giles said nothing, just looked at his Slayer. He wasn’t certain how he felt about Angel’s return. He was only curious as to how such a return was possible.

“I say!” Wesley looked intrigued. He had done a lot of research on Angelus prior to coming to Sunnydale. His arrival had just missed the vampire’s descent into hell by a short period. There were dozens of questions— hundreds— the Watcher wanted to ask.

Then Buffy explained that she had found Angel at the mansion three weeks ago. It came as an even bigger shock to them than the announcement of the vampire’s return. She told them a modified version of her reasons for keeping the information to herself.

“At first, I thought I was protecting him,” Buffy said. “He was so scared. He didn’t even know who or where he was. I thought I could help him. I needed to help him.”

“Buffy, we would have come to your aid,” Giles told her even though he figured that he knew the reasons why she had not come to them sooner.

With a small smile, Buffy nodded. “I know. That’s what Cordy told me. I wasn’t so sure of it at the time.”

”When did you find out?” Xander asked his former girlfriend.

“Tonight.”

“So you convinced Buffy to spill her dark little secret?” The boy was angry. Not only that Buffy had lied or that Cordelia was involved, but just because fate had screwed him once again. Angel was back in Sunnydale.

Hands on her hips, “No, Xand. Buffy felt it was time. It seems that Angel has made some progress, but he’s still not quite up to par.”

Realizing that Cordelia was avoiding the reason for Angel’s progress, Buffy knew that it was one secret that she could not keep. She was worried, not only for selfish reasons, but also for Angel and Cordelia. Buffy explained to the group how she had found the vampire in a feral state at the mansion. That he eventually came to recognize her but kept falling back into a state of confusion. A state where he kept crying in need for— Cordelia.

“It’s Angelus!” Xander headed over to the weapon’s locker.

Cordelia stepped directly into his path. “No. It’s Angel. Don’t you think that I know the difference?”

“He’s a murderer, Cordy!”

“It’s Angel,” she stressed. Grabbing at Xander’s arm as he reached forward, “He can’t be held responsible for what he did after his conscience was ripped out of him.”

Xander pulled his arm out of Cordelia’s grasp. “You’re still under the spell! Can’t you see that? Obsessed with that vampire.”

“It’s more than that,” she whispered as Xander walked across the room to sit on the steps to the upper level.

The cheerleader fell silent, looking about the room with a measure of self-pity. That was a feeling she never thought to associate with herself, but it was a fact nonetheless. “Angel loves Buffy. That is what matters. It’s more than magic.”

Buffy wanted to protest that she knew Cordy’s feelings for Angel extended beyond the reach of Willow’s spell.

“This is all my fault,” the witch let out a whimper. Though Xander and Cordelia had both forgiven her, she could see this issue going on forever. It was not as though she could take the spell back— after countless attempts she had given up. “Just look on the bright side like Cordy is trying to do. Now that Angel is back, he can be with Buffy again.”

“Not so fast,” warned Giles drawing their attention. Gently, he reminded, “Buffy, you cannot be with Angel— physically. The Kalderash curse restored Angel’s soul. Reliving your time together will endanger us all. Angelus could return.”

“He won’t!” Willow sounded certain. “I fixed that— I think.”

“What?!” Now Buffy was off of the table, staring at Willow as if the girl had just offered her a million dollar jackpot. “Angel’s soul is— fixed?”

Giles and Wesley moved up closer. “What do you mean, Willow?” The former Watcher asked the girl. “Are you saying that you tampered with the soul restoration spell?”

“I-I may have tweaked it a little,” admitted the redhead with a weak smile.

“My word!” Wesley gasped. “That could have untold consequences.”

Buffy could think of one consequence she wouldn’t mind in the least. Angel. She could have Angel again and this time make things right. Where they would wake up together and cherish the memory of their lovemaking. Not like the last time. Where she was left abandoned in Angel’s bed only to have Angelus return and mock her.

Striding over to the lockup, Giles pulled out his key. Willow nibbled on her lip as she realized what the librarian was doing. He shuffled around inside the cage for a couple of minutes before calling out in an angry voice, “Willow! Where is the tome containing the Mortivaricus Incantations?”

A low mumble was all the response he got.

Slamming the cage door, Giles walked up to the girl. “I’m waiting for an answer.”

“My locker,” she peeked up at the infuriated man. “I brought it from home yesterday. I was waiting for the right chance to return it.”

Even Wesley was shocked. The idea of a young girl delving in to the magics found in that particular tome. No wonder the Watcher’s Council had replaced Rupert Giles. He couldn’t even control his own books, much less the Slayer. Not that Wesley himself had much luck in that regard presently.

“Get it now,” Giles ordered, pointing her in the direction of the doors.

Eep! “Yes, Giles.”

“Try not to be so hard on her,” pleaded Buffy. “She did it for me. To make me happy.”

Xander figured that he was the only one with common sense around this place. Every one else was in la-la land. “Buffster, you’re still obsessed with Angel, Cordelia with Angelus, and Willow—”

“— is so over you, Xander Harris,” huffed Cordelia, “so don’t get a swelled head.”

“I was gonna say that Willow is obsessed with magic.” Xander looked a bit hurt by the idea that his Willow might no longer think of him that way. “Her hands are dipping into that little cookie jar of spells way too often.”

“It is not the magic itself, but the type of power she is accessing,” Giles countered with a sigh. “Not to mention the fact that she keeps casting those spells on her friends. We’re lucky she hasn’t turned anyone into a rat by now.”

Buffy and Xander shared a look. Some things were better left unsaid. Bursting back into the library, Willow returned with the stolen tome and the demonology book. “This is it, Giles. Honest. I don’t have any others.”

“I believe you, Willow.” Then as she moved to sit down, “I think you still have the spare key.”

Dipping into her pocket, Willow held it out to him. “Oops!”

“I believe there will have to be more of an explanation than that,” Giles told her. “First, I suggest we figure out what changes you’ve made to the spell and look at the potential outcomes.”

Frowning, Willow realized that she did not like being questioned this way. Not by Giles. He had always trusted her before. Besides, she only intended to help Angel. “I told you. I just tweaked it a little.”

“What part did you tweak?” asked Wesley looking over the original spell that Giles now kept on file in his office. Then he took the printout Willow extracted from her bag. After a few minutes of study his concerned look deepened into worry. “Oh dear!”

Buffy did not like that sound. “What is it?”

Instead of answering, Welsey handed the documents over to Giles. “Read here and here.”

“Willow!” Giles thrust the papers back into the younger Watcher’s hands and moved away to clean his glasses. “Your interference with the restoration spell appears to have worked.”

The witch was confused. “That’s a bad thing? The reason for ‘Oh, Dear’ and snapping at me is that my spell tweaking worked?”

“Sit down,” Giles put his glasses back on. “Everyone, please sit down. This is going to take a little historical background and time to digest. Not everyone at this table is going to be happy about the results, perhaps none of us.”

“Are you sure we want to know?”

“It’s necessary, Willow. This may even affect Angel’s well-being.” Giles waited until they were all seated. He chose to stand, preferring the ability to pace through this dreaded discussion.

Willow trembled in fear and glanced over at Buffy who was not at all looking pleased that Angel’s health might be in danger. She had just gotten him back.

“What we know of Angelus comes primarily from the Watcher’s Diaries,” Giles revealed to them. “I have kept these entries from you in the past because it would not have been fair for Angel who was at that time acting as our colleague.”

Cordelia exchanged a look with Willow. Both knew that the cheerleader had borrowed the books in order to read the writings on the vampire.

“Though Wesley was not here at the time that Jenny revealed herself to us as a Kalderash gypsy, he has done extensive research into Angelus’ history,” Giles continued. “He is as aware as I of the true nature of this dangerous vampire. With Acathla, you witnessed the extent to which he is willing to go when threatened. He would plunge the world into Hell itself— he nearly did.”

“But Angel is different.” Buffy defended.

“Oh, yes,” Giles admitted. “He has a soul. A tenuous link to the pain and anguish of the human plight. A reminder of what he has done during his undead existence.”

He paused, noting that they were all alert and listening. “As Jenny explained that day, the vampire’s soul is linked to his suffering and guilt. As long as he remembers who he is, the soul remains intact— unless the vampire is distracted from that self-awareness.”

“We already know that part,” Xander complained. “The vamp gets a happy and wham he turns into Cordelia’s not so sweet obsession.”

Glaring at the boy in silence, Cordelia turned her attention back to the two Watchers.

“Now we get to the revised spell,” Wesley realized what came next. “Willow, tell us your thinking when you came up with this particular wording.”

Noting the lines of the incantation, Willow still did not see the problem. “I-I wanted to be able to secure Angel’s soul. To fix it so that Buffy could be with Angel. Without Angelus popping up again.”

“Go on,” Wesley knew there was more.

Willow fingered the words on the page, wondering where she had gone wrong. At least in their eyes. This was still their theory. It hadn’t been tested yet. “The demonology book I borrowed was full of fun facts about vampires and their family structures.”

The others in the room did not find her research quite as fun-filled as Willow. “Though it did not go into too many details, it did talk about the importance of a vampire’s mate on their own life-force. I figured that making a connection for Angel that linked the security of his soul to his mate, that a little happiness would be possible— as long as Buffy and Angel were together.”

“So the spell made us soulmates?” Buffy looked at her friend with love in her eyes. The witch was certainly on her side in this. “Why is this a problem, Giles? It seems like it’s a perfect solution.”

Looking back at his Slayer, Giles’s heart was full of woe and pity. “Willow’s one error in creating this addition to the spell of restoration was that she created a connection between Angel and his mate. Not specifically you, Buffy. His mate.”

Giles gave a solemn pause before turning away from the Slayer. Addressing, “Cordelia, I think it is time for you to tell me the extent of your encounter with Angelus.”

All eyes slowly turned to the brunette who sat in shock at the Watcher’s words. She lifted a hand to the reopened scar on her neck. Was Giles suggesting what she thought he was? That the claim Angelus had made was more than just a warning to other vamps?

Giles had gotten the watered-down version of the tale after the incident. Now he realized the girls had left out most of the details. “You told me that Angelus used you as a lesson for the Slayer. That he seduced you, bit you, and dropped you off at Buffy’s house.”

“More or less,” the cheerleader muttered, drawing looks from Buffy and Willow.

Pursing his lips, the former Watcher pointed out, “I’ve already heard the ‘lesser’ version. I think ‘more’ would now be appropriate.”

Walked into that one! Explaining this to Giles was worse than talking to the others. Even Xander had been easier, though he didn’t know everything either. “That is really all that happened. Just what you said. We did it. He bit me. He dropped me off at the Summers’ place.”

Holding up a finger in the air, Wesley indicated to the older man that he would like to try. “Cordelia, I believe there is one aspect of this encounter upon which we must be totally clear. After Angelus bit you, did you take any of his blood in return?”

Cordy squirmed in her chair. “Hello, I am so not a vampire. I don’t bite.”

“Not with her teeth— usually.” Xander guffawed. “It’s usually her acidic tongue that carries the Cordelia bite.”

Wesley’s eyes narrowed at the boy’s inappropriate interruption. This was serious. Not something to be laughed at. “That is irrelevant. The power is not in the vampire bite, but in the blood.”

“Power?”

“The power of a claim,” Giles clarified.

Persistently, the younger Watcher asked again, “Did you consume any of the vampire’s blood?”

Thinking about it, Cordelia admitted, “I’m not sure. Maybe. The first time—”

“What?!” Giles yanked off his glasses and started cleaning the lenses on his vest. “First time? Meaning there was a s-s-second time?”

Blushing, Cordelia ignored the question in favor of continuing with her original answer. “The first time, I don’t know. He took a lot of my blood. I was dizzy. All I remember was him asking— something to do with wanting him or being with him or belonging to him. He kept using the word ‘mine’ a lot. Then I passed out.”

The Watchers exchanged meaningful glances. Wesley realized that this discussion had far surpassed the bounds of polite conversation. It was a necessary evil to dredge up certain details for the sake of their investigation. “Did Angelus actually seduce you or were you a willing participant?”

“I let him,” she admitted softly.

Willow was next to cough up a confession to the two Watchers. She explained about the spell cast upon Cordelia to make her respond to Angel rather than fear his vampire traits. “It was when Angel was Angel,” she stressed. “I was jealous of Cordy and Xander. Angel would never want Cordelia— just Buffy— so I figured that would be one way to get back at her. Nobody thought Angel would lose his soul! How was I supposed to know that Cordy would jump at the chance t-to—?”

“Bone Angelus?” Xander’s quip sounded harsh.

Wesley nodded with understanding as the pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place. “I see. As a result of this spell, not only did Cordelia willingly accept Angelus’— advances, she accepted his claim.”

“What does that mean?” Buffy demanded.

“We’ll get to that in a minute,” Wesley waved her off, still collecting data.

Buffy glared at Cordelia with a growing realization that there was indeed some kind of bond between the cheerleader and the vampire. It seemed obvious when Angel started to call her name, pleading for her presence. More obvious earlier when Cordelia and Angel were practically— mating— in front of her. Was that what Wesley and Giles were trying to figure out?

Please, no! Buffy kept silent as the Englishman went on with his line of questioning. “It seems certain that you accepted whatever the vampire asked of you, Cordelia. The spell would probably prevent refusal. What remains unclear is whether there was an exchange of blood.”

“You mentioned a second time with Angelus,” Giles cut in, having put his glasses back on. Trying to remain in a scientific frame of mind, he asked, “How about then?”

Cordelia reluctantly nodded. “Maybe. There was lots of kissing; his fangs cut my lips— and his tongue— just as he put it in my mouth I tasted blood. It might have been his.”

“Yes, in other words.”

Shrugging, the girl explained. “Well, I wasn’t sure about that time, but the next couple of times I— Giles are you okay?”

“Thank you, Cordelia,” the librarian sighed deeply. “I believe that you have sufficiently answered the question.

“I thought it was just a vamp thing,” she commented nonplussed. “Goes with the fangs.”

Clearing his throat, Wesley responded dryly, “Yes, Cordelia, it is a ‘vamp thing’. Ritual bloodplay is significant to vampirism and is always involved when claiming a mate.”

Once again, Cordelia’s hand drifted up to her throat. The others, especially Buffy, looked thunderstruck. Despite the fact that her friends seemed disgusted and distraught by it, she felt a strange rush of pleasure at the idea. Only one problem. This was not Angelus they were dealing with, but Buffy’s Angel. That was how Willow Rosenberg always referred to the vampire: Buffy’s Angel. It was difficult for Cordelia to think of him in any other way.

Giles’ wry expression signaled a warning. He was about to say something they would not want to hear. “As we all know by now, Buffy’s— gift of her virginity to Angel happened on the same night that Angelus appeared. He seduced or was seduced by Cordy who was under the influence of Willow’s spell. The ensuing bloodplay and consequential claim completed the mating ritual. Thus, Willow’s alteration of the restoration spell created a bond between Angel’s soul and Cordelia’s rather than Angel and Buffy’s. That seems to explain the reason for the vampire’s need to have her with him.”

“No, it can’t be,” Willow stared bug-eyed down at the floor. “You have to be wrong. He is Buffy’s Angel, not Cordelia’s.”

“This spell, Willow,” Wesley shook his head. “There was never a chance for Buffy to be the one. Angel is a vampire. They claim their mates in ritualistic fashion. Through blood. The fact that Cordelia was taken when Angel was without his soul makes a stronger link between them since Angelus is the vampire in his purest form.”

Xander saw that the three girls were all in some state of shock. He was feeling it himself, though not to that degree. Though he thought he understood what the two Brits said, there was still a need for clarification. “Cordy and Angelus are soulmates?”

“Angelus doesn’t have a soul, Xander,” Wes pointed out. “Angel does.”

Willow suddenly ran to the nearest trash can and expelled the contents of her stomach. It was a horrible mistake that couldn’t be taken back. Buffy! Oh, poor Buffy! There had to be a way to fix this.

Buffy slowly lifted herself out of her personal pit of misery to speak. “I-I think that it all makes sense now.”

“What?!” Cordelia blinked at her. That wasn’t the expected reaction. A broken nose was closer to it if not the necessity for complete hospitalization.

“The reason Angel kept calling out for you,” she explained quietly. Her voice was barely above a whisper as she tried to control her tears. “He needed you, Cordy. Angel needed his mate— and it wasn’t me!”

“Angel loves you,” Cordelia stressed. “Maybe I am— his mate, but its all just there on paper as part of Willow’s spell. You’re the one he wants.”

“Pfft!” Buffy couldn’t believe that the other girl was even trying to get away with that lame excuse. “Angel was all over you tonight in a way— geez, now that I think about it, he even wanted to claim you that night at the Bronze. When I told you he was a vampire. He had you in some kind of vampiric thrall baring your neck for him.”

Cordy denied that ever happened. “That was a mistake.”

The ache in her chest wasn’t going away, but Buffy had to hash this out just for the sake of her own sanity. “No, it wasn’t.”

“Yes, it was.”

“Wasn’t!”

“Was!”

Buffy tossed her hands up in the air. “Now I’m starting to sound like you two. Arguing back and forth like a ping-pong ball.”

“I’m sorry, Buffy,” offered Cordelia with as much honesty as she could afford at the moment. Somewhere, deep down the idea excited her.

“Yeah. Me too.” Somehow, Buffy would have to learn to live with it.

Getting out of her chair, Cordelia paced a bit until she finally paced directly into Wesley. When an idea hit, she grabbed onto the perfectly pressed edge of his suit jacket. “I’m like the ex-girlfriend, right? Being his mate doesn’t mean I’m stuck with him for the rest of my life. I mean— can you imagine me as some eighty-year old grandmother whose mate is still a young hottie?”

“Uh!” Wes pointed out, “I doubt a vampire would give you an opportunity to reproduce with another male, Cordelia. They’re a bit possessive of their mates. When they share, it is usually with members of their immediate family.”

“Eew!” Xander held up a hand to ward off the image in his head. “I did not need to hear that.”

“I was just making a point,” Cordelia told the young Watcher. “There is no ring on my finger. Nothing to tie me to Angel in the eyes of the law. Why shouldn’t Buffy and Angel go for the same relationship they had before her birthday?”

Buffy perked up a bit at the idea and thought of the Claddagh ring. Her rival was trying to be noble. It still sounded like crumbs compared to what she wanted, but the Slayer was willing to take them. “I don’t know if it is possible,” she admitted. “W-we tried not to be together, but it was too difficult.”

“Oh.” Thinking about it, Cordelia completely understood. “What if I was there? Like double dating— only with the three of us.”

Having Cordelia as a chaperone would certainly put a damper on their romantic midnight strolls through the graveyards. Not to mention their kissing and groping sessions back at the Smythe Family mausoleum.

Giles wondered if the cheerleader realized what she was offering. Apparently not, by the sound of it and frankly he really did not want to think about the possibilities. Discussing mating and the sexual proclivities of vampires was enough of a flammable subject, much less describing the possible solution that Cordelia Chase had so innocently put forth.

There was one piece of misinformation Giles felt needed to be put to right. “Cordelia, it is important you realize that being linked to a vampire is nothing like being an ex-anything. A bond has formed between you because of Angelus’ claim, but that bond is now linked by a stronger connection because of Willow’s spell.”

The witch in question was still on the floor, holding onto the trash can like it was her best friend. She sobbed silently, thinking that as a best friend it was probably the only one she had left after tonight. Then Xander moved behind her to help her to her feet. He took her back to the table, sitting next to her with his arm around her shoulders offering the silent comfort that best friends sometimes do.

Giles struggled over the next part. He wasn’t certain how to tell Cordelia that Angel’s state of ill-health stemmed not only from the length of time and distance separating them, but also the fact that he had not taken in her blood during that time. The blood was not a necessity for the link, but it provided something innately vampiric in its nature that kept the indulging party stronger. Usually, both were vampires and each consumed the blood of the other.

The Watcher had no doubt that over time— soul or no soul— that Angel’s demon nature would result in Cordelia’s eventual death and rebirth as one of the undead.

The words never came. He could not tell the girl that Angel would turn her. Wesley did it instead, speaking when Giles would have kept him silent. Cordelia Chase surprised them both with her soft acceptance, “I know.”

“What?!” Xander looked appalled at the thought.

Cordelia ignored him. Instead, asking Wesley, “Angel seemed like himself again for a while after he drank my blood. A little later, he was starting to act— different. Almost a little like Angelus. I wouldn’t have expected— some of what he said or did.”

Darting a wide-eyed look in the cheerleader’s direction, Buffy tried to suggest that there were some things that should remain private. Fortunately, Wesley did not ask for details. He pointed out that the transition between dimensions can be hard on the mind and body. Also, there was no telling how long the vampire had been there. “Time runs differently in these other realms. He might have been in that hell dimension a few hours or decades.”

“Will Angel recover?” Buffy asked.

Giles did not know for certain. “Your own experience tonight suggests that he responds to receiving Cordelia’s blood— uh— apparently the blood of his mate. It may be that his recovery is dependent upon it.”

With honesty, Cordelia had to say, “I don’t really like the idea of being the main course at the dinner table.”

“Did it seem like feeding?” Asked Wesley, intrigued by the idea.

Cordy shook her head. “Not really. It was more— like sharing.”

“Orgasmic is more like it,” corrected Buffy under her breath. No one seemed to hear.

The young Watcher frowned at Cordelia’s description. “Strange. I thought you would describe it as sexual in nature. That is what I have read in some of the Watcher Diaries.”

Blushing, Cordelia let him draw his own conclusions from the slow smile that crept onto her face. “What happens next?”

“I suggest that you and Buffy continue to care for Angel until he is well enough to have other visitors,” Giles suggested. “Use your own judgment about supplementing his diet. Just be careful, Cordelia. He is still a vampire. Angel remains the demon garbed with a soul.”


SOULBOUND – BOOK ONE – THE FIRST CONNECTION: CHAPTER LINKS

Book One Chapter 6                    Book One Home                    Book One Chapter 8


 

Leave a Reply

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 )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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 )

Connecting to %s