I'm sorry I haven't updated in a long time. School has gotten somewhat hectic lately and I'm falling behind in updates. Given the number of days I have left... I doubt I'll be able to complete the 100-themes by September, but I do not plan to stop--you needn't worry about that. Regardless of how long it takes, I do plan to finish the challenge and hopefully I'll be able to do so by the end of 2009. Wouldn't that be nice?

Regardless, here is number 11 of the themes. It isn't as heavily SoujixNaoto as some of the others, but it gets the point across.

Silence. The sound Souji had somberly gotten used to opening the front door to for over a week. He no longer heard the warm, happy voice of his cousin who greeting him with a warm "Welcome home, big bro" and a smile, or the--on the rare occasion that it happened--"Hey there" from Dojima.

He'd quickly adjusted to it, of course. He had simply moved to a new house for the time being, this was just another transfer and instead of his parents sending him to a family friend or relative, he was using an apartment in a small city temporarily until they returned from overseas again. At least, that's what he tried to tell himself whenever the silence pressed too close and became too loud to stand.

Still, despite knowing that it was hopeless, Souji couldn't help but glance into the living room hopefully each time he walked through the door. As if the warm voice might greet him again-- as if he'd see Nanako's warm smile as he came home after a long day, and it would have all turned out to be a bad dream.

But it was false hope and he knew it.

When he arrived home Saturday evening, after a long day of work, he glanced into the room out of habit rather than hope. He turned around and locked the front door behind him before proceeding upstairs into the bathroom where he showered and changed into his nightwear. There wasn't anywhere to go tonight--there never was, not now.

A quick glance at the screen of his phone told him that another day had passed and no one had bothered trying to contact him. It was hard to decide if he was grateful or hurt by this. He didn't want to deal with the constant questions he knew his friends were holding back, yet he couldn't help but wish that--at least one of them, anyone of them--might leave a message asking why he hadn't been in school since Nanako was taken to the hospital.

At first, he'd just assumed they'd been giving him space, but after several days passed and no one made the effort to contact him, he couldn't help but wonder. Did they care? Did they have any idea just how badly this was effecting him? Were they happy that he was gone? He couldn't imagine why. After all, it was them who elected him leader and them who constantly turned to him for strength... but where was he to turn when he needed someone most?

He wasn't asking for pity--he didn't want that at all. Perhaps it was just the recognition that someone knew he was in pain. To know someone cared that he was suffering. He wasn't asking for a shoulder to cry on or for someone to suddenly sweep him into their arms and baby him. He just wanted... wanted... He didn't know what he wanted. The thought that he might be losing his control on the situation--to think that he was slowly breaking down into a shell of what he once was... the thought scared him.

But the empty cell phone was worse. What it symbolized--or at least what he had allowed his mind to believe it meant--scared more than anything.

Had his friends forgotten about him?

It made sense, didn't it? None of them had bothered contacting him. No one called, no one visited. Not a single person made any effort to make sure that he was okay or gone off and done something stupid. The only people he'd been in contact with were the people who came to pick up the envelopes he folded and the translations he worked on as his at-home jobs--and they didn't have any idea what was going on.

There was the occasional person who knew him by face who said hello when he'd leave the house to go for a walk. That was how he spent most of his time lately when he wasn't working--walking. He'd follow the back roads and alleyways of Inaba, not wanting to risk the main roads where someone who knew him better might ask him why he wasn't in school--or a classmate to demand an explanation as to why he hadn't been in school. It wasn't worth the effort--nothing seemed to be anymore.

He went back downstairs and walked into the kitchen. He didn't have the energy or will-power to bother making anything. It wasn't worth the time or effort... and he wasn't hungry. Thinking about it, he hadn't been hungry for a long time. How long had it been since he last ate? Two days? Three? He'd stopped counting. Water was enough for him to survive on--at least for a little while longer—then he'd drag himself down to Junes and pick up something small. Most of it would end up in the trash anyway.

The loud, shrill ring of the doorbell broke through the silence of the room, nearly causing Souji to drop the glass of water in his hand. He set it down and walked toward the door, but before he'd so much as raised a hand to open it, the barrier was thrown open and a cold breeze filled the entryway. Whatever had happened between the door opening and finding himself sitting in the living room with food in front of him was still a mystery to him—he couldn't remember anything, but he didn't bother asking about it.

How Naoto had managed to open his front door, he didn't know—though he suspected that if he took a closer look at the lock, he'd see evidence that a lock-pick had been used. After all, she was a detective. The thought of asking why she hadn't called him before coming slipped his mind--although he vaguely remembered her mentioning that Rise would be paying for her new cell phone after 'accidentally' dropping it in the river a few days prior.

He didn't speak a word while he ate dinner, none would come, but Naoto didn't seem to mind. A simple blink, nod of the head or shrug of his shoulders was enough of an answer to keep her speaking when she stopped to ask him a question. She'd always been quite skilled at catching everything that he didn't—but wished he could—say. He could read her like a book and he was no more confusing to her then a children's math problem.

Souji couldn't remember the last time he'd heard Naoto talk so much without being pushed to do so, but he found himself listening to every word she said. What'd they'd been doing in school, Yakushiji managing to nearly burn down their kitchen after falling asleep while making dinner, Rise and Yosuke's constant teasing of Kanji and his reactions. Most of it was completely random and held little to no connection with Souji himself, but the silverette was ever the more grateful that the conversation didn't sway towards him.

Of course, the sleuth had asked how he was doing and demanded to know if he'd been taking care of himself, but all it took was an averted gaze and small sigh for Naoto to figure out what had been going on. She didn't press the subject—she knew he didn't want that. She simply refilled his empty plate and urged his chopsticks back into his hand before she continued speaking about 'day-to-day' life again.

Be it that Naoto had enough sense to avoid the subject of Nanako and Dojima or that she simply sat there as he ate or that she was simply talking with him as if nothing had changed—never once expecting an answer in return—Souji wasn't sure. It was just something about her voice—her presence seemed to break down the barrier that the silverette had been shoving everything behind since they'd brought Nanako back from the TV world. Though she never once showed it with constant questions of worry or offers to help him with anything he needed, just by speaking with him like this, Naoto was giving Souji everything he'd wanted—and needed—for weeks on end without realizing herself.

He didn't remember finishing the meal, or Naoto taking the plate from him as she cleaned up. He vaguely remembered the feeling of something warm going down his throat and the cool taste of fresh juice washing everything down. The meal hadn't been in a take-out box, he remembered that too, but he didn't ever have the chance to ask her if she'd made it herself or not. The next thing Souji knew, they were both on the couch and he was clinging tightly to her slender form, shoulders trembling with his face pressed against her shoulder.

Slender arms wrapped themselves tightly around his shoulders and her soft, soothing voice whispered softly in his ear, continuing to tell him about everything he'd missed—occasionally slipping in a few words of comfort—before she'd continue with whatever story she'd been telling. The last thing he'd been able to register properly was a story the detective had been telling him about Chie chasing Yosuke down the hall over something about steak, before exhaustion finally caught up with him and he slept through the entire night without a single disturbance for the first time in almost two weeks.

The next morning Souji woke up on the couch with a blanket draped over him and his clean uniform folded neatly on the table with his bag on the floor nearby. Next to his uniform was a—still warm—plate of eggs and toast next to a glass of milk. He blinked slowly and sat up, picking up the plate of breakfast and gazed at it in confusion. His eyes flicked back toward his uniform and the corners of his mouth twitched as he silently ate the food left for him and downed the milk in two gulps. Grabbing his uniform, he quickly dressed in the downstairs bathroom and readied himself, tossing his pajamas at the foot of the steps to take upstairs when he returned home.

He returned to the living room and picked up his school bag, tossing the empty dishes into the sink and headed for the door, raising an eyebrow as he noticed a second bag he didn't recall seeing the night previous near the entryway. The flap was open and curiosity got the better of him as he lifted it with his foot. It was filled with several pairs of clothes as well as two Yasogami High male uniforms. He frowned and blinked again, noting that the clothes were far too small to be his own.

Just as he was about to bend down to examine them more closely, the door opened again and Souji looked up, silver eyes meeting a pair of pale-blue. Naoto's mouth moved, but he didn't hear anything she said, he simply stared at her trying to register the shock he felt as he realized the clothes he'd found were hers and that she hadn't left the house all night and had only gone outside to get the newspaper that was in her free hand—which she was now holding out to him.

He took the paper and tossed it into the paper basket near the door, effectively surprising them both when he moved forward quickly and enveloped the sleuth in a tight hug. She was warm, he noted absently as he felt her arms awkwardly return the unexpected embrace, tightening their grip as she adjusted herself to the feeling. She was very warm—the fresh, warm breath of spring that had come to end the everlasting ice of winter he'd cast himself into.

Stepping back, Souji took her hand tightly in his as they slipped outside. The door was shut and locked behind them as they made their way down the walk and across the road, starting the short walk to Yasogami high together for the first time in far too long.

As they reached the four way crossroad that lead to the main street students used to get to school, Souji stopped, tugging lightly on Naoto's arm to gain her attention. Looking up in confusion, the detective raised an eyebrow in question silently waiting for Souji to indicate what he wanted. It was soft—almost impossible to hear—but the sleuth's trained ears picked it up as the silverette opened his mouth, his voice weak and hoarse from not using it in weeks.

She smiled, eyes sparkling as she saw his mouth curve into the first smile anyone had seem from him that month. Her hand tightened around his and he returned the gesture as she turned away, pulling him across the street just as the crosswalk changed. She didn't say anything back—she didn't need to—Souji already knew the words she wished to say before she spoke them. Everything was only going to get better from here, it didn't seem like it, as with every turn something else seemed to go wrong, but between the two of them, they just knew. Everything was going to be alright and all it took was the simple reassurance of not being forgotten.

"Naoto… thank you."