Thank you all so much for your support and patience. I've been having a hard time filling out the gaps in this story after mapping out the major events, so it's hard to get updates going (that, and all of my other WIPs). Just getting out this little snippet is important for me because I don't want anyone to get the impression that I abandoned this. I have a big arc and an ending I'm not willing to waste!
"You saw it, too?"
"Yeah, was that really Mikan's ex? She was really with a woman once?"
"Yes! Hiyoko said it, herself, but that's not the point. Would Mikan really be with someone like that? She commited all of those crimes and she doesn't even seem regretful."
"I mean, she is pretty hot, though…"
"That doesn't really matter, Kazuichi!"
Nagito had overheard his neighbors talking again while he was sifting through the mail. In such a quiet neighborhood, there was no guarantee of a private conversation. That, itself, acted as an invitation for him to waltze up to the duo and ask, "G'morning, fellas. I couldn't help but overhear about Mikan having a special someone in the past," in a playful tone to disguise his curiosity.
"Wait, you mean you don't know?" Kazuichi replied.
"Hey, come on, Kazuichi, that's really none of our business…" muttered Hajime, beginning to reach out to pull him back.
"But everyone already knows," countered the redhead.
Nagito chuckled, "Everyone except me, I guess. So who is it? Ibuki? Chiaki? I could definitely see her being an item with either."
"Nope, no one who lives here," blindly answered Kazuichi as though the conversation were normal, "It's a felon named Junko-something."
Nagito took in a sharp breath, accidentally inhaling a bit of saliva and falling into a coughing fit.
Kazuichi worriedly patted his back with his open palm, saying, "Whoa, whoa! You good? Wrong pipe?"
Nagito nodded frantically, his face quickly reddening as he struggled to clear his throat.
"I know you're surprised," chuckled Kazuichi, "Everyone was! But at least Mikan let go of that crazy chick before she flew off the handles and showed the world her true colors, am I right?"
Nagito forced a small laugh of his own, tears brimming the corners of his eyes from both the coughing fit and the weight in his chest.
"Well, she's not the only person being interviewed that night," awkwardly wedged Hajime in an attempt to switch subjects.
The men ended up discussing the sensationalized criminals that would be appearing on the popular talk show that week, peppered in with Kazuichi's anxious responses to their crimes and Hajime's appropriately cynical critique of the fame they were getting.
Nagito's contributions to the conversation appeared natural and genuine, but when the men exchanged their goodbyes and parted ways, he didn't remember a word of what they'd discussed. It didn't matter to him. His heart was still pounding as a panic attack swelled within his body. He had been able to keep it at bay during the half hour that he had spoken with Hajime and Kazuichi, but at this point, the world around him started to spin and contort.
"Should I call Mikan? No, I don't want to burden her with this. The doctor? What if I break while talking to the secretary?"
The young man's thoughts raced as his trembling hand struggled to get the key into his door.
He accidentally dropped the mail when he reached out to steady the hand holding the jingling keys. The clumsy action made him flinch, but he didn't stop to pick up the discarded papers. All of his energy had been put into opening the door and entering the safety of his home.
Thankfully, when he succeeded, his doormat was there to cushion his fall. The subtle odors of grass and dirt wiped from his shoes over the past months disgusted him, but he didn't have to endure it for a second longer when his consciousness swept away.
"With your condition, a panic attack like that could have easily made you pass out," said Dr. Hogai, "Did anybody find you? It sounds like your neighbors are outside a lot."
Embarrassment burned my ears when I thought about that day. "Yeah, Sonia," I answered, "She was just walking her dogs when she saw me coming to. I was still really shaky, so she helped me inside and got some water to calm down. She even let me play with her dogs."
Dr. Hogai smiled and nodded. "She sounds like a good friend. Maybe you could even talk to her and her husband about getting a therapy dog some time."
I swallowed, remembering what happened to my first dog. Even though I was far away from those people, the fear that I'd fail to protect another dog under my care crept in on me. Judging by the experimental tone and expression Dr. Hogai had, the same thing was on his mind.
"Sorry, but I'm not ready for that yet," I told him.
He shrugged. "Don't be sorry, Nagito. You do what works for you," he said, "Now, did you confront Mikan about Junko?"
"No," I admitted, "I don't think it's worth bringing up."
"It'll just bring up unnecessary pain."
"Can you explain what you mean by that?"
I gave a small sigh, feeling tired already. Even though Dr. Hogai would always help me put my feelings into words, it was still tough.
"To tell your partner that their ex used to be your abuser…" I started, rubbing my face in thought, "I haven't even told her about the cult. It might be too much for her."
"You don't know that for sure," said Dr. Hogai, "You say Mikan is a delicate woman, but she may be stronger than you think."
I wanted to believe that, but the image of her trembling hands fumbling together or tears in her shaky eyes overwhelmed my mind. If hearing about a cult didn't frighten her, then she might somehow feel guilty about dating Junko. I couldn't burden her like that. If that meant swallowing the pain of what happened before in order to shield her from the truth, then I-
"Think about it."
Dr. Hogai's voice yanked me from my swirling thoughts. I didn't realize that I hadn't replied to him yet. An instinctual apology pushed at my lips just before he spoke again.
"She trusts you with her trauma. Don't you think it's fair that you trust her with yours?"
This is a callback to that part in SDR2 when Nagito talked about how "fussed" he felt over not knowing who Mikan's "beloved" was after her trial. I know it was just supposed to be foreshadowing, and not actually Nagito implying that he liked Mikan in the canon, though.