Laughter and animated conversation drifted out as the door opened. The mouse in the doorway grinned at the latest arrivals. “Hey, Alex! Hey, Rollie! C’mon in and get set up, you’re the last ones here.”

“Hey, Jake.” The fox on the doorstep shifted one hand free of his burden long enough to give the mouse a friendly cuff on the shoulder. “Haven’t been waiting too long, I hope?”

“Nah, it’s all good, Rollie. You’re still early. Hope you’re okay with the spots that are left, though, it’s getting kinda crowded in here.”

“Just go wherever, Rollie,” said the red panda following on Rollie’s heels. “I don’t take up much space.”

“Wait, what? You’re jacking in?” Jake laughed. “Why the fancy hardware? This is just a friendly game, Alex!”

“I know, I know, but the neural rig is all I’ve got, Jake,” Alex protested. “Look, I’m here for the co-op campaign anyway, remember? I won’t be getting an unfair advantage over anyone in the tournament.”

“Sorry.” The mouse winced. “Okay, you two get set up, and I’ll see to the snacks, okay? I’ll get you your own bowl so you don’t have to worry about where the food’s at, Alex.”

“Thanks.” The panda grinned.

Aside from that momentary hitch, things settled in easily enough. Rollie squeezed in among the two rows warming up for the tournament, while Alex, to general amusement, took an actual comfortable armchair off to one side, with a bowl of chips on the end table beside him. Once his computer was running and connected to the jack on his left wrist, he pulled a stiff glove over it to keep it in place and out of sight, put some mirrored glasses over his eyes, and leaned back.

He was still aware of what was going on around him; while he was effectively blind in full-immersion mode, the neural interface didn’t replace his hearing, it just added its own feed to it. The glasses were mostly so everybody else didn’t have to see what his eyes were doing; if he wanted to, he could turn down the alpha and see through the glasses, albeit darkly.

At any rate, even as he and the others on his team ran through a few rounds, the excitement of the tournament built, swelled, and came to a conclusion. Conversation picked up after that; that was much as he’d expected.

He certainly wasn’t expecting someone to start rubbing over his shorts just as the action built up to a boss fight.

His hesitation did not go unnoticed. “You okay over there, Alex?”

By the amusement in Sarah’s voice, she knew full well what was going on, and was waiting for him to stop and see just who was doing it.

He swallowed. “Y-yeah,” he managed as his unseen benefactor undid his fly and reached in. “I’m good.”

It wasn’t as though he wouldn’t have gladly got it on with any of these people. They were all friends, good friends; he was glad to be among them.

If he’d known at least one of them actually thought him appealing – and the stroking he was getting was every inch a handjob, not a tease – well, maybe he’d have made more of an effort to come and hang out.

He managed to get through that fight, in spite of the rush as whoever it was swallowed his load in the middle of it. But by the time he turned his vision back to the real world, whoever it had been was out of reach, and innocent smiles surrounded him.