This is for Sleepyreader13. Today is her birthday. Sleepyreader13 is one of the best writers I know, and is an amazing friend. She always knows what to say, and she unknowingly helps me go through my life with a smile. I'm dedicating the longest story I have EVER written in my entire life to her because she truly, completely, utterly deserves it.

So go check out her stories. Or else.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY SLEEPY! :)


I watched outside my window as the snow came down in a heavy powder. Each snowflake—every single clump of ice crystals—that fell helped to cover the bare earth. They stacked atop one another to do so. Soon, three inches had fallen. It was an intriguing scene, and I watched as the darkness of the night sky contrasted so distinctly with the still-falling snow. It fascinated me, but it made me want to act. Something about the scene I was currently viewing from my window called to me. I wanted to go outside.

I stood suddenly from my perch on the windowsill, my parents glancing up at me for a moment, my moving form catching their attention as I rose. I made my way over to the door, grabbed a jacket, pulled on a hat and turned to them. "I'm going out. I'll be back soon." This was such a common occurrence in my household that my parents paid me no heed, and simply nodded at me as I pulled a pair of gloves on and stepped out the front door.

Once outside, I stopped, freezing in my tracks. What was it I was supposed to do out here in the snow? What was my reasoning for coming out here? Tucker was sick with a nasty bout of the flu, so I couldn't start a snowball fight with him as was traditional on the first snowfall of the season for us two. That left Sam. Surely she would join me, right?

I began to trudge through the snow, ignoring the cold sensation of slush inside my shoes. I wasn't necessarily immune to cold as many may believe with me being half ghost and all, but when I wanted to, I found it much easier to ignore lower temperatures than most.

Such a beautiful scene was laid out in front of me. Snow, albeit in thick, heavy clumps, was falling all around me, highlighting the features of everything in the darkness. The clusters of houses scattered about town created the illusion that I was walking through some kind of fairy tale village comprised of magical cottages. In that instant, I had nothing to worry about, no reason to be anything but optimistic. It was a pleasant change.

I found myself in front of Sam's luxurious home not long after stepping out of my own home. Her house seemed to come from the box of a make-it-yourself gingerbread house. The snow had piled up in a neat, thin, even blanket on everything—the roof, the decorations, the shrubbery. The holiday lights set up around her house glistened against the fallen snow, changing the color of the icy white blanket to bright, whimsical colors. I jumped up the three steps leading to her door, an idea forming in my mind as I rang her doorbell.

Sam answered the door, smiling a small smile when she saw me. "Hey Danny," she said. "What's up?" She leaned casually against the doorframe.

A small smile of my own spread across my face as I let my idea become reality. I formed loose, powdery snow in my palms, raising them, turning them and uncurling my fingers over Sam's head, letting the snow fall on her in a curtain of white. It was as much of a contrast against her dark hair and clothing as it had been against the night sky.

The snow melted on top of her as she looked at me with a stunned expression. I felt myself smile more widely as I told her, "It's snowing."

Her expression stayed stone still for several moments, the now melted snow dripping off her and drenching her dark hair, causing it to lay plastered against her head. During this time, I briefly wondered if this had made Sam furious, but then...

"You, Daniel Fenton," her voice was sharper than I had expected, and it seemed to confirm my latest suspicions, "are in for it now!" She was smiling.

This was the desired effect, and I let my smile widen even further and the laugh escape my lips as she moved fast as lightning, shoving on a coat and gloves as I stumbled down her front steps. She yelled, "Mom, Dad, I'll be back after I bury Danny in a mountain of snow!" A mischievous smile lit up her face as she slammed the door shut, jumping off the top step to land on the snow covered ground. She scooped up a small handful and ran at me, throwing it with deadly accuracy. I laughed as it found its target, and threw four of my own snowballs at her at once. The look of utter astonishment stood out on her face for an instant before she dodged all of my small clumps of ice. When I found myself resorting to intangibility to avoid her own snowballs, she yelled and screamed about unfairness and smacked me in the face with a particularly large chunk of snow. Smiling evilly, I formed one of my own and didn't miss.

And so the war had begun.

We unintentionally chased each other across town, laughing and dodging and throwing as we ran. Everything in that moment was perfect. For the first time in a long while I wasn't stressed, I wasn't playing hero, it was just me and Sam and the snow that continued to fall around us and gather on the ground. But, this is me we're talking about. Nothing in my life can remain perfect. It will forever be full of perfect moments screwed up because of my rotten luck. Unbelievably, laughter was what alerted me to the fact that this moment of perfection would soon be destroyed by something horrible.

Sure, Sam and I were laughing and having the most fun we'd had since I gained my ghost powers, but the laughter that stopped me in my tracks wasn't Sam's breathy, lighthearted chuckle. This was a laugh I had come in contact with constantly for months, but the voice itself was foreign to my ears. There's nothing like the sound of bitter, sinister laughter to ruin the moment completely.

We were in the park when I realized that Sam had gone off to hide in order to catch me by surprise. She'd already done this three times tonight, but this time I wasn't just accepting the challenge of finding her before she buried me in snow as I had done earlier tonight. I needed to find her, make sure she was safe from whatever was about to happen.

"Sam!" I called urgently. "Stop! I heard something." Her voice was carried to me, her reply seemingly coming from nowhere and everywhere at once.

"Not falling for it, Fenton!" Sam's statement was accompanied by a small, not-really-evil "Mwahaha!" Shortly after, though, a truly evil laugh belonging to the mysterious voice met my ears.

"No, Sam, this is SERIOUS!" I screamed, hoping she'd understand that I really wasn't kidding around. If anything happened to her...

A snowball smashed into the back of my head, the snow exploding everywhere and sending ice water down my spine. I yelled, "Not funny!" even though my smile had reappeared as I spun in a circle, looking for her. A howl of laughter came from not far off to my right. That's when it hit me: Sam was probably laughing the strange laugh to make me paranoid and let my guard down. Honestly, what ghost would come after me during a snowstorm in the middle of the night?

The sudden cut-off of Sam's laughter wiped the smile right off my face, my reassuring thoughts vanishing as if they had never formed in my mind. She wouldn't have done that on purpose.

Then, a terrified and muffled, "DANNY!" came from the same direction as her voice had just moments ago, and suddenly, impulsively, I was sprinting toward the sound, the world dead to me except for that one location. I phased through all objects—trees and fountains alike—uncaring if anyone saw. I had to get to Sam.

"DAANNN—" Her voice cut off with a muffled sound.

The fact that she wasn't able to complete my name caused me to run even faster, using a large amount of flight to move more efficiently over the foot of snow that had accumulated. When I got to where I thought she'd be, I saw her, a glowing arm around her, and then the world around me evaporated into a landscape I'd never seen before.

Moments before, I had been standing in the park. The ground had been covered in snow, it was bitingly cold outside, and trees and shrubbery had surrounded me. In a single instant, all this had been replaced by concrete. Glowing concrete. It was a roof over my head, an impenetrable wall on my left and right sides and right in front of my face. It was stuffy and hot, and I began sweating in my winter coat and hat. I whipped around, and in the gloom, I saw a small passageway. What was happening?

I changed to Phantom, and attempted to put a hand through the concrete wall. I yelped as it sent a small shock running through my arm, then spread out to send a dull throb of pain throughout my entire body.

The same eerie voice that had produced the menacing laughter echoed through the confines of the concrete passageway.

"Danny Phantom," came the voice from before. "I am The Puzzler. I heard so much about you and your greatness," he said "greatness" as if he doubted that it even applied to me, "that I had to come test you. I've done this before. I've tried to test people and ghosts alike who don't want to take my test. So, now I do things the hard way. You pass my test, you and your little friend come out with no harm inflicted, no evidence that you ever took my test. You fail, well, my previous statement just isn't going to be true, now is it?"

Anger boiled inside me. "Where am I? Where's Sam?" I made no attempt to hide the poison and ferocity to my voice. "How do I 'win'?" I put air quotes around the word, even if no one could see me do so.

"You," came the slick voice of "The Puzzler", "are in a maze of my own creation. These walls are completely ghost proof. Not even your little ice trick can break them."

I narrowed my eyes and put my hand against the wall, watching as the ghostly ice I tried to coat it in turned to water when it made contact with the concrete. I growled, deep in my throat. "Where. Is. Sam." It wasn't so much a question, as it was a command and a threat wrapped into one.

"You have to find her to win, little ghost. And to motivate you, I have little tricks of my own."

I blinked, about to question him as to what he meant, but before I could even form the first word of my question, a scream echoed around the hard walls of the maze. It was a terrified, tortured scream that cut through the air, sending chills running up my spine and causing the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up. The worst part of it all: it was Sam. There was no doubt in my mind that Sam had produced that mind-numbing scream. And it hit me like a blow, causing me to stumble backwards into the wall. I jolted forward, though, when the ghost-proof wall sent an agonizing shock running through me.

"Oh, and here's my favorite part!" said the ghost, his voice full of a sick enthusiasm that I was ready to strangle out of him. "You have three hours. With each hour that passes, you will receive one hint. Your first one is this: she's in the middle of the maze. Have fun!"

Five minutes later, I was standing in the same spot, still trying to comprehend what was happening. It was too shocking, too much of a blow to be real. It was like one of my worst nightmares come to life. The second scream brought the reality of the maze back into focus, sharpened my mind, knocked the shield of shock away. Sam needed me, and I wasn't going to sit around and mope. I WAS going to find her, even if I had to destroy this maze wall by wall, particle by particle. "The Puzzler" wasn't going to get away with this without wishing he'd never had an afterlife in the first place.

Not that there was anything I could do about any of that at the moment. For now, I was at the mercy of the creator of this maze. I found myself walking along the passageway I had forcibly been shoved into, hoping I'd be able to find the middle of the maze soon and let all this be behind me. But where was I supposed to go? Where exactly was the middle of the maze? How could I walk through this maze, navigate it, figure out where the middle was in just three hours?

Another scream ricocheted off the glowing walls, cutting through my brain and scrambling the small amount of coherent thought I was beginning to gather. Instincts kicked in, screaming, "Where is she? Find her, help her, quick quick quick!" I wasn't completely sure when I had begun sprinting through the long, winding corridors I was trapped in, ignoring the pain that arced across every nerve ending in my body when I made contact with the walls. My feet pounded against the floor with a slapping sound, my heart thumping wildly and my breath coming in short spurts. I had three hours to do this. I had no idea how big this maze was, or if I would even be able to reach her in time even if I came to know this maze like the back of my hand. I was at the mercy of this demented, sick ghost, and I had no idea what to do. I was lost. I was scared for one of my best friends in the world. She could die if I didn't get there in time.

But... I'm Danny Phantom. I've saved Amity Park from the wrath of the ghost king, Pariah Dark. I defeated my evil future self. I've kept the one person alive who could probably take over the world at bay for the time being. Navigating a maze should be easy compared to all that... Right?

Lost in thought, running as fast as I could, it was a shock that when I stumbled into it, I didn't die and come back as a full ghost.

When I lifted my right foot off the ground to continue running, I noticed that it burned. It hurt as if I had stepped in acid. I looked down to see not acid, but something that resembled a ghostly form of lava. With a startled yelp, I attempted to stop, to turn back and go the other way, which, of course, was a mistake. The soles of my feet, now causing me unbearable pain, had no traction on slick lava. I moved too quickly, sliding my feet across it wrongly. As if I had been standing on a patch of ice, I slipped, falling down hard onto the source of my torment. Before I could even begin to put my hands underneath me to climb back to my feet, every molecule in me exposed to the lava exploded in agony. With a pain-filled scream, I launched myself to my feet, attempting to get as far away from the lava as I possibly could. After running back through the corridor I had come from, I stopped and slumped against the wall, desperately hoping the pain would fade soon. For some reason, the lava hadn't incinerated my boots, my gloves or my suit, as I would have expected. Although, it still felt as if someone was branding my left side—the side I'd fallen on—along with my hands—which I had used to get off the ground—and my feet. I attempted to form ice to try to soothe the "burns" but water was the only thing that pooled in my hands. The lava had negated my ability to form ghostly ice.

I desperately wanted to put my head in my hands, but the insane amount of pain coming from my palms advised me against it. Despair, as thick and heavy as lead, was settling on the bottom of my stomach. I couldn't have been in this godforsaken maze for much longer than thirty minutes, and yet here I was, already injured and feeling worthless.

I jumped about a foot in the air when I heard Sam's scream again, louder and more afraid than it had been before. Erasing all doubtful thoughts from my mind, I pushed myself to my feet. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a mistake.

Before I could even begin to feel the effects of what I had just done to my feet, my legs took over, sending me crashing to the ground with a startled scream onto my left side. I stayed there for a moment, in even more pain than I had been in before, trying to contemplate exactly what I was going to do next. Sure, my ice abilities were gone, but I could still fly.

Slowly, carefully, I eased myself into a sitting position and sort of levitated myself so that I was just a couple of inches off the ground. Maneuvering myself in mid-air as I had done a countless number of times, I "stood" without touching the ground. That's when I took off flying instead of running. I sped around corners, going even faster now that I was using flight to aid me. I couldn't have been wandering around for longer than twenty minutes when The Puzzler's voice resounded throughout the maze.

"Hello again!" The enthusiasm sickened me. "An hour has passed so far, young ghost! Ready for another hint?"

I froze. Another hint... I could definitely use one. I needed anything and everything that would help me get out of here, especially with Sam. The idea that I was actually going to get help caused all thoughts in my brain to cease, and all of my attention was focused on the voice of The Puzzler. Wouldn't it be ironic if I got out of here because of his help? This maze didn't seem to be the type of trap he would want his victims to get out of.

"I'll take your silence as a 'yes'. Here is your second hint: You have more of an advantage in this maze than most ghosts. Good luck!"

Just like that, his voice died, leaving me in silence yet again. All at once, my thoughts exploded. What the hell was that supposed to mean? How did that help me? Other ghosts weren't here, I was. Trying to keep myself from yelling at the ghost that probably couldn't hear me, I decided to keep moving. It was my best chance of finding Sam. And I had to find her.

About ten minutes had passed when I stumbled upon a map. Only half of the map was there, but the darkness of the maze kept me from seeing it in detail. I lit my hand with glowing ectoplasm, and cried out when it caused the unbearable pain in my hands—which had faded to a dull throb—to come back in full force. Cursing, I barely made out the landmark of the damned lava that did this to me, and spent what had to have been a half an hour retracing my steps to get there. Although the map was ripped seemingly in half, there was a small corner of a square that remained on the frayed edge of the paper. Right below it said "nter" and I had no choice but to assume that what it was indicating to was the center of the maze. I had to believe it. Without this map fragment, I honestly had next to no clue where to go or what to do in this maze.

Glaring at the pool of lava that had injured me so, I floated over it, using the map to direct me to Sam. I still couldn't believe that this stupid ghost had actually given me a map to use. I couldn't think of another ghost that would be stupid enough to do such a thing for its victims. Although it seemed to be a good sign, I still wondered if it was a lie, a trap. This map could be leading me to the center of the maze, which was what I was hoping for, but it could also be some sort of sick trick. Without any other hope of finding the center of the maze, considering I was basically back where I had started, but with at most half my time left, there really was no other option.

It took me much longer than I would have liked to make out the small details of the winding passages shown by the map. After staring at it for quite a while, memorizing which turns I would float down and when, I pocketed the map and began to fly, fast, toward the route I had decided on. After about ten minutes, something shot me, and I crashed to the ground with a moan. I felt along my leg, which had taken the impact, and when I felt wetness, brought my hand up to my face to study it. I had expected my hand to come back coated with a thin layer of ectoplasm, but when I brought my hand to my face, it wasn't glowing at all. Ectoplasm glows, especially when my body uses a large amount of it as a substitute for blood in my ghost form. My ectoplsamic blood wasn't as bright as most ghosts, as it was mixed with the smallest amount of normal blood (this is opposite when I'm human—my blood slightly glows green), but it should have been glowing. What I brought up to my face appeared to be a pinkish sort of color, with a consistency somewhere between that of chewed gum and maple syrup. I was still examining it when another clump of it hit me in the back of my head.

I looked around, but the walls were shrouded in shadow, more so than the rest of the maze. Without a source of light, I wouldn't be able to see what exactly was firing at me and where the assault would end. So, injury be damned, I lit up my hand with glowing ectoplasm, as I had before.

I lit my hand with glowing ectoplasm. I lit my hand with glowing ectoplasm.

Nothing.

I threw as much of the pink goo on the ground as I could, and stared at my hand. It was tingling slightly, something I could hardly feel from the rest of the pain rocking my body. This goo was doing something to my ghost powers again. What was it with this guy and disabling my powers?

When three more gobs were shot at me and stuck to me at once, I lifted off from the ground and flew as fast as I could. Not before two more gobs slammed into my back and one into my side, however. Thank the heavens, it was shot at and stuck to my right side, and not my injured left side.

I had barely made it past the onslaught of pink goop when The Puzzler's voice rang out once again. Had it already been two hours? Panic was settling in my chest, causing my nearly nonexistent heartbeat to accelerate.

"So, are you liking my maze?" I didn't answer, for fear of never stopping an endless rant where I got too distracted and never rescued Sam. "Good, good. Are you ready for another hint?"

I waited patiently, ecstatic for another hint. Sure, the other hints hadn't been very helpful at all, but something was better than nothing right?

"Here's something I bet you didn't know! Every single thing that's happened to you in this maze so far has helped you solve my maze. I'll see you in the middle!" With a small laugh, silence rang around me once again.

"What?!" I yelled at the walls of the maze, my frustration finally boiling over. "You've been HELPING me?! How? How has a single thing helped me? All it's done is hurt me and slowed me down! You're out of your freaking mind!" Steaming, I pulled out the map, barely seeing the small marking for the goop shooters. I growled, then rerouted my path to Sam and continued on my way. Surprisingly, I made it to where I figured the map indicated "Center" in about ten minutes. Smiling, I floated down the passageway, happy to see that I'd made it this far. But when I reached the end, it turned to my right, then to my right again, and again. Suddenly, it hit me. The walls of the maze prevented me from going to the center of the maze. There was no "winning". There was no way to get inside the center of the maze. It was impossible.

Hoping I wouldn't hear a reply, hoping I had misinterpreted the map, I screamed, "Sam?!"

After a few moments a small, "Danny?" It sounded like it came through the wall.

Suddenly, I was relieved to know that I was here, in the center, and had found Sam. Because that was how to win, right? I just needed to find her. I let a smile grace my face. "Hey Puzzler," I yelled, "I found her! I won!"

The same maniac laughter I had heard before this all started alerted me to the fact that maybe I wasn't going to get out of here, even though I had won.

"You found where she is," he stated. "You didn't find her."

"There's no way in! Your test is impossible, unsolvable! How can you have someone 'win'," I made air quotes around it even though he couldn't see me, "if you can't get into the one place where you'd win?"

He sounded astonished when he spoke next. "Of course there's a way in! What fun would it be if there wasn't?" As much as I screamed and yelled and got angry about the fact that there obviously wasn't an entrance to the middle of the maze, The Puzzler never responded. Frustrated, I walked around the square containing Sam and most likely The Ghost That Was Going to Cease to Have an Afterlife When I Got through with Him, desperately searching for some kind of blemish, some kind of secret opening or lever or whatever to open up the box at the center of the maze. After I walked around the small spot for at least twenty minutes, I sat, trying to think. I put an intangible hand against the wall, but soon realized it wasn't intangible at all when it didn't send the same amount of voltage out to electrocute me for an attempt at using my drained powers. What was I going to do? I had a half an hour left, maybe less, and there was nothing I could use to get through the walls. I was too hurt to just attack the wall, and even if I did, I can't break an entire wall of concrete, especially ghostly concrete, with just my hands and feet. Especially when they were as hurt and immobile as they were.

I sat cross-legged in the air, putting my aching hands in my hair to try to think. What were the hints I had been given? "Sam is in the middle of the maze". Check. Here I was, in the middle of the maze, Sam so close it hurt but still as completely unreachable. "You have an advantage over other ghosts". Whatever. I always did. I was more powerful, I was part human, I had an advantage over most ghosts for most things. Check. The last one still confused me though. "The maze has been helping you". All the maze had done was drain my abilities until there was next to nothing left. How was any of that helpful?

I wasn't sure when it started, but the room was suddenly rumbling and shaking. I didn't notice until I slammed my head into the ceiling that the room was moving. The maze was shrinking, collapsing on top of me. I yelped, and let go of flight, crashing hard to the floor. It continued to shrink, and, clenching my teeth, I began to crawl around the place where Sam was being kept. Now I was desperately feeling along the wall and the floor for anything that could open the box before I was squashed like a bug. I knew intangibility wasn't an option.

The riddle! The clues! Maybe they could help me. What advantage would I have over other ghosts? Okay, so I'm not the only ghost with ice powers, so that's not it. I've seen a number of ghosts that can produce ectoplasmic rays, so that definitely wasn't my "advantage". Otherwise, I have all the powers of a normal ghost. Besides my ghostly wail, but I wasn't going to unleash that. It would bring the maze crumbling down faster. It would collapse down upon both me and Sam, burying us both since I couldn't phase through it. What could that stupid clue possibly mean?

Okay, Fenton, you need to think. Maybe the third clue can help. But how was he helping me through this maze? How was he helping me pass this test? It just didn't make any sense! This entire time, everything in this maze has been working against me, taking out my powers one by one. The walls kept me from phasing through them, the lava melted any ghostly ice I had any hope of creating, the goop kept me from using any ectoplasm.

Oh. I get it.

If what he said was true, then the entire point of this maze was to aid each individual as they went through it. He was actually trying to help the whole time. What I needed to do in this maze was wear down my ghost powers until I was nearly as weak as a human. And I could do that much more easily than almost every ghost I could think of.

As the walls were about to crush me, I changed to Fenton. Closing my eyes and diving toward the wall, I hoped and prayed that I wasn't wrong. If I couldn't get through this wall as a human, the ceiling was going to flatten me like a pancake. A feeling that I'd felt nearly a thousand times flooded my system as I passed through the concrete wall and into the center of the maze.

"Danny!" Sam yelled, and I looked up as she ran at me and hugged me.

I hugged her back as I screamed, "Hey Puzzler! I found her! I won! When do we get to leave?!" I couldn't keep the anger out of my voice when I didn't see that he was in here with Sam. When he didn't respond, I looked at Sam, searching her tear-filled violet eyes. My voice softened as I asked, "Are you okay? Did he hurt you?" She was about to respond when the ghost phased into the room.

He gave me a look that I couldn't read. "I'm sorry, Danny Phantom, but I'm afraid you've lost."

"What? I passedyour stupid test! I found Sam! That was how it was supposed to be. How did I lose?" I could feel my eyes glowing as my anger rose.

He shook his head sadly. "I gave you three hours. It took you three hours and three seconds."

"Three seconds?! Does it even matter?" I yelled. I could feel the anger ready to explode out of me. "I'm leaving—with Sam—whether you give me permission or not." I positioned myself as a shield in front of Sam in case this psychotic ghost decided to attack.

"I know," he said sadly. "You were so close. So, I've decided on a deal."

I had to force the words out of my gritted teeth. "A deal?!"

"One of you can leave. The other stays here, with me."

It took about five seconds for his "deal" to process in my brain before I turned around and faced Sam. She saw what I was about to do before I could even open my mouth to say anything. "No," she said sternly. "Amity Park needs you more than it needs me. I won't let you." She crossed her arms, as if to say that that was the end of the discussion. I shook my head.

"The clock is ticking, you human fools! Now, choose who's going to leave before I change my mind and just kill both of you." He stood there impatiently, tapping his foot as if we were at a grocery store, trying to decide on a flavor of gum at the register with a huge line of people behind us. A small opening appeared behind him, and through it, I could see the park where we had been having a snowball fight three hours ago. I couldn't help but think it had been a lifetime since our pretend fight.

I looked at Sam, into her purple eyes for the last time. I murmured, "I'm sorry," before grabbing her arms, pinning them to her sides and shoving her so hard toward the opening that she fell through it with a scream.

I looked at The Puzzler, into his heartless orange eyes. He looked like a man, but he was wearing a suit that seemed like it was made out of flexible puzzle pieces of every shape and color. I glared at him as he approached me. He looked dumbfounded. "When they told me you were remarkable, I didn't believe them."

When he was about four inches away from me, I took up a fighting stance, flashed to Phantom and said, "Don't. Come. Any. Closer."

He stopped immediately. "I'm sorry for what I've done to you, but you're the first person to ever have passed my test."

"And is that why you're gonna keep me locked up here? Why I'm stuck with you?" My voice was dripping with a poisonous hatred.

The Puzzler blinked his glowing orange eyes in confusion. He shook his head with a smile. "Don't you understand, child?" His voice was much softer than it had been when I was stumbling through his maze. "That was the last part of the test, asking who was going to sacrifice themselves in order to save the person they've been after all along. Few ghosts have completed my maze successfully, but not one of them has successfully passed my test."

This time, I was the one blinking at The Puzzler in confusion. "What?"

"You passed. The rules of my test are 'You pass my test, you and your little friend come out with no harm inflicted, no evidence that you ever took my test.' That is correct, is it not?"

I nodded, still trying to comprehend what was happening as the environment I was in changed back to the scene at the park. I tumbled to the ground, expecting my injuries to scream in protest, but I felt perfectly fine. I saw a trembling ball of black on the ground about a foot away, and I gently asked, "Sam?" as I flashed back to Fenton once again.

She turned, and before she could even say a word, I was there and I was hugging her, telling her over and over that I was sorry, that it was all my fault. She was telling me something too, but I couldn't hear her over my own thoughts and what I mumbled to her over and over. She probably hated me. That stupid ghost had probably hurt her, and I wasn't there to kick his butt like I should have been, and at the end, she had specifically told me that she was staying, but I shoved her away from me anyway. She probably hated me...

I must have been saying all of my thoughts aloud because she suddenly pulled away from me and gave me a stern look, saying, "What? Are you CRAZY? This entire time, I was afraid you were going to be killed trying to save me, especially when that stupid ghost had told me from the beginning that he was going to let me go no matter what. I was terrified that something was going to happen to you. And... Even when he said that only one of us was going to make it out, you wouldn't even consider leaving without me. How could I hate you for that?"

I stared at her for the longest time, digesting her words. She didn't hate me... she had been worried? For me?

"And... then I sat here. I didn't know what to do without you not coming home with me. I couldn't think of what to say to your parents, how I had failed to make sure that you got home when I was told I was going home no matter what. I kept hearing what you were saying to me and I realized that you felt the same way, trapped in that maze. You knew you could find some way out of it, you probably could have destroyed it, but you wouldn't leave unless I came with you. And it hurt to hear you screaming, yelling and crying out in pain fighting through a maze because of me. I felt like it was me that had failed." Her voice was wavering by the end of her speech, and a tear rolled down her face. I wiped it away. "If anyone should hate someone here, you should hate me."

"How could I hate you when you obviously were concerned enough for me that you were willing to sacrifice yourself to get me home?"

She finally looked into my eyes at my words. And suddenly, I saw something in them, something intimidating, something I'd hoped I'd see, but, at the same time, something I dreaded.

So I leaned over and kissed her.

Almost as soon as it happened, I pulled away, completely terrified. There were reasons, explanations, for why I hadn't tried this yet. Sam was my best friend—I couldn't imagine life without her, whether she wanted to take our relationship to the next level or not. This could destroy any relationship we could hope to have. This could ruin—

As suddenly as I had kissed her, she pulled me back, and she was the one kissing me this time. And I realized one thing.

I really liked snowy nights.


Hope you enjoyed it!