#9 – Addiction
The beeps were the worst part. They went off every second and jarred his nerves. The beeps, when added to the whirring sound, the incessant clangs, and a dozen other bells and buzzes, made Thanatos downright miserable.
"Turn it off, Aeryn."
Aeryn didn't lift her eyes from the small, lighted screen in her hands. When she spoke, her voice was distant. "In a minute."
"Now, Aeryn." Thanatos resisted the urge to tear the electronic device, a gift from a faithful if a bit eccentric peoples, out of Aeryn's hands and crush it between his palms. After two days of listening to Aeryn eagerly play the infernal device, Thanatos had the sounds memorized. The whirring sound signified the start of a new game. Clangs were small bumpers hitting a metal ball. A particularly low-pitched buzzer meant that Aeryn would be cursing and hitting the button that would start the whirring. He should have struck down the priest who'd handed him the machine.
"In. A. Minute."
Thanatos growled in frustration. Just as he steeled up the courage to risk Aeryn's wrath, the crystal around her neck lit up. He'd never been so happy to have to do his duty before. "It is time to go to work."
Aeryn glanced down at the blinking crystal. "Damn. I'm on a roll here. Can you go without me?" She hit a button on the machine and raised hopeful eyes. "Please?"
Pouting but wise enough to know when to back off, Aeryn shut off the device. Thanatos waited for her to set it on the coffee table. He could distract her for just a moment and destroy the device. His suffering would finally come to an end. His heart sank when she stuffed it into the front pocket of her trousers.
"Give me the game, Aeryn."
"What?" Aeryn patted her pocket protectively and glared. She took a step backwards so that she was just out of reach. "I don't think so."
"It is an offering that was made in my name."
Aeryn rolled her eyes. "And when the nice priest gave it to you, on a gold platter mind you, you gave it one very disdainful look and handed it over to me. It's mine now."
Thanatos envisioned his hands wrapped around her lovely neck. There were times she truly tested his patience. Any other man, god or not, would have throttled her long before now. "It is a child's toy."
"No. I mean, yes, it is. But it's not as easy as you think it is. There's a lot of hand-eye coordination involved. It's addictive." Aeryn slipped a finger under the chain around her neck so that the crystal dangled. "Don't we have somewhere to be?"
It only took half a second for Aeryn to determine that the man whose soul they were there to retrieve did not require any comfort. He was heavily sedated and unaware of his surroundings. She gestured for Thanatos to move along and dug the device out of her pocket.
Thanatos stood over the mortal, hands spread out over his chest. He sucked in a deep breath and prepared to retrieve the soul. The words were on the tip of his tongue when a familiar, dreaded whirring had him spinning around.
Aeryn's head shot up. "What?"
Thanatos attempted the breathing exercises Hypnos had taught him. They were no help. He weighed his options. Aeryn's anger was something he generally tried to avoid, but like most storms, it could be weathered and would eventually pass. His sanity, however, was in serious jeopardy. When all else failed, there was always bribery.
"Give me the game and I will allow you to skip the next dinner my mother invites us to."
To Thanatos' astonishment, Aeryn hesitated for three heartbeats. Blowing out a heavy sigh, she reluctantly held out the plastic and metal device. He thanked her quietly and slipped the device into his pocket.
Later that night, with the retrieval complete and Aeryn visiting Hypnos, Thanatos found himself curious. He pulled the device from his pocket and stared at it. There was nothing special about its appearance. He could detect no magical residue emanating from it. What made this machine so special?
He depressed a large red button on the front of the machine and the whirring sound started. After a bit of trial and error as well as more than a few curses, he understood how the machine was supposed to work. The flashing lights, the erratic behavior of the small ball, and the concentration required had him entranced.
After losing the ball three times, he pressed the button beside the words High Score. Aeryn's name filled the screen. Thanatos assumed that the numbers beside her name were her scores. A companion scoring higher than her god in anything? Absolutely unacceptable. With renewed vigor, Thanatos set about keeping the little ball bouncing and replacing each and every one of Aeryn's entries.
"What are you doing?"
Thanatos nearly dropped the device onto the floor. He had not heard Aeryn and Hypnos return. Hypnos hid a smile behind his hand while Aeryn, hands on her hips, scowled. She lifted one eyebrow expectantly when he did not immediately answer.
Thanatos smirked as he held up the device. "Beating your highest score, Aeryn Flynn."