Disclaimer: You know Pokémon's not mine, right?

Rating: G

Author's Notes: Please accept this with my sincerest apologies that I haven't posted chapters to either of my main 'fics in a while. Bad Stuff has happened to chapter three of Vanishing Point, I'm afraid.

One of the Faceless

Samantha had never hated Maria as much as she did in that moment.

Raising her poké ball, her fingers clutching it so tightly they had gone numb, she recalled her scorched, beaten swampert while Maria's blaziken let out a shriek of triumph, blasting fire into the sky in a victory display.

She didn't hate her because she had won. Maria won a lot, Samantha knew that. She didn't feel angry because she had lost to a trainer better than her.

Samantha hated her because she didn't care that she had won, either. She won a lot. What was one more win? It was a meaningless victory for her, but to Samantha, it meant everything.

She didn't hate her because she was a bad trainer. Maria treated her pokémon well, like her very closest friends. She pushed them hard in battle, but she respected them and knew when to let them take a break and when they should just relax and have a bit of fun. She certainly didn't beat them or deprive them of food or anything when they lost. Just now, in fact, she was offering a potion to her blaziken, and the fire bird was accepting it gratefully. For a moment, Samantha felt a stab of bitter pride. The bird's fiery plumage was marred here and there by darker patches of red, feathers matted with blood and draggled with sweat. The bird had suffered, had to pay for his win. It had not been easy. Samantha felt proud.

Samantha hated Maria because she was nice, because she cared. She wouldn't even give Samantha the chance to despise her for her personality, or allow her to feel some sense of moral superiority. No, Maria even made Samantha feel like she was a worse person in general, not just a lackluster trainer but a blighted spirit as well. And sometimes Samantha thought that hazy instinct was right. Even now, she felt a small ghost of shame, of guilt; she shouldn't think this way about Maria. She was her friend, wasn't she? She shouldn't think about her this way. But not thinking about it didn't change the way she felt.

Maria smiled at her then, a grin on her face as she walked across the charred and muddied arena, extending her hand to Samantha. "Great battle," she said earnestly as Maria woodenly accepted the handshake, the quintessential sign of good sportsmanship. Maria's blaziken stalked up behind his trainer, still misting himself with the restorative hyper potion, and let out a low chirring noise to add his sentiments as well.

Samantha didn't hate her because she smiled like that, because she uttered that trite old phrase. Maria always meant it when she said things like that. There was no gloating in her voice, no air of superiority in her walk or manner. After all, what was another win to her? This had just been an informal battle, a quick bout between old friends. There was no reason to feel a sense of pride or great accomplishment from such a feat, after all. The match's outcome had been more or less a foregone conclusion, anyway.

No, Samantha hated her because she knew she couldn't have smiled that way if their roles were reversed. She wouldn't have been able to hold back the smirk, keep the sneering twang out of her voice as she uttered those same words. She hated Maria because it was so easy for her to be a good person. Everything was so effortless for her.

Maria turned around and clapped her blaziken on the back, laughing with him as she took the now-empty potion bottle from his claws. She held up his poke ball and recalled him, though he did not dissolve in defeat as had Samantha's swampert, but rather with a grin still on his beak as he vanished into confinement. Then she rounded on Samantha again and started up a conversation, speaking eagerly about all that had happened since they had last seen each other. She went on about her altaria's new ribbon for the beauty contest, and about how beautiful Ever Grande City was, and would Samantha like to see the ticket Scott had given her, a pass to the Battle Frontier? The ship was leaving in a week; Maria was on her way to Lilycove City right now to catch it, in fact. "But how are you?" she asked eagerly. "It's so good to see you again after so long! What have you been up to?"

Samantha managed to murmur out a reply, and a "Fine," and an "Oh, nothing much."

She didn't hate her because she was showing off. Maria wasn't trying to lord her accomplishments over her friend, Samantha knew that. She was just excited, glad to have somebody to confide in and talk with. Nowadays there were so many eager to speak with her, so many who wanted to hear her stories, but what she had really looked for was an audience that cared, that had known her before she had enough contest ribbons to wallpaper her room and a shiny new champion's trophy.

She hated her because she knew she could never do the same. If she were the winner, she would be all too eager to trot her victories out in front of Maria, to show her that now, finally, she was better. She had won. To Maria, another win was meaningless. It meant everything to Samantha. She hated it.

After a few minutes, even Maria could tell that something was wrong. Their conversation was awkward. Strange pauses littered their it, filling it with things thought but left unspoken. Maria's expression had changed to one of puzzled worry, inviting Samantha to share what was on her mind, to tell her friend what was wrong. But Samantha knew that she could never tell her, and Maria stopped pressing. "Well, I guess I'd better get going, then. I'll call you from the Battle Frontier, all right? It was so good to talk to you again… are you going to Lilycove City?"

Samantha shook her head. No, she wasn't headed that way. Well, now she wasn't, anyway. Not until Maria was safely on the ship and leaving.

"Too bad, I guess. So I'll talk to you later, right?"

She nodded. What else could she do?

"Bye, then. Good luck; I hope I'll see you at Battle Frontier someday." Maria hardly waited to hear Samantha's murmured goodbye, already turning around and scuffing through the grass on her way to Fortree City. Samantha was left behind again, watching her friend's retreating back as she had before.

She didn't hate Maria because she was always leaving her behind. It hadn't always been that way, after all. They'd been friends since they were very small, giggling together at sleepovers and confiding in one another all the great things they would do once they got older. Far into the night they'd whisper breathless promises to one another, tell each other how they'd chase their dreams and make it to the Elite Four; how they'd travel to far-off lands and see sights their of which their parents could only dream; how they'd catch a bunch of pokémon and make their names known in the ranks of trainers; how they'd be friends forever. For always, no matter what.

Together they'd rushed off to the lab that sunny morning in late May and picked out their very first pokémon. They had even traveled together for a while, training and battling and roaming Hoenn as partners, the very best of friends. But then Samantha had gotten stuck at the second gym, and finally Maria couldn't wait any longer. She promised to stay in touch and they arranged to meet up later, as soon as they could. There was just nothing left for Maria in Dewford, and away she'd sailed, bound for Slateport and new adventure while Samantha stayed behind, training as hard as she could and wondering if she would ever be able to make it to the next gym.

Finally, though, she triumphed, and full of joy she'd sailed off to find her friend. Surely, Maria would be waiting for her, fighting it out against the next gym and ready to travel with her again.

But when they met in Mauville like they'd planned, Maria was bursting with stories of her gym battle against Wattson and her excursion to Mt. Chimney. She spoke with dreamy, faraway eyes about the newest diversion she had found, pokémon contests, and recounted the thrilling tale of her very first contest in Verdanturf, where she had come close—oh so close—to winning. She would go back later; now that she knew what was up, she could earn a ribbon for sure.

"Oh, but of course I'll go with you, Samantha," she'd said as she saw the sad look on her friend's face. "Don't worry. I'm sure you'll get the badge in no time, and then we can go up to Lavaridge together and battle Flannery. I'll just train for my contest while you train for your gym battle, and then we'll be on the road together again, just like old times."

Samantha had just shaken her head and smiled sadly. "No, you go on without me," she had said. "Don't you worry about me, I'll catch up." She'd said it over and over again, as firmly as she could despite her despairing heart, and at last Maria had gone, promising again and again that she'd see her again soon, that they would journey together like they had always dreamed. And Samantha had just kept repeating that she would catch up, don't worry, she'd catch up. She'd catch up, while Maria was claiming her last badge in Sootopolis City and Samantha was still lagging far behind in Fortree. She'd catch up, as she watched Maria's final League battles on the TV in the Mossdeep Pokémon Center. She'd catch up now, as Maria disappeared from view, on her way to the Battle Frontier.

Oh, she hated her. She hated her with all her heart.

Somewhere Samantha had read that seventy percent of trainers don't make it past their first month of training. The next fifteen percent didn't manage to go a year. And of those last fifteen percent, the determined survivors, only a slim two percent would ever manage to find employment in the League as an official trainer, as a gym leader or member of the Elite or even just a lowly gym flunky. Those last thirteen percent, then, were those stuck in limbo, who loved training and soldiered on even though it could never be their great career. They eked out a living challenging new trainers, the ones that they knew they could win against, always struggling just to survive, to have just enough to keep going. It was they that had done what their parents had told them, had turned their eyes to the stars and followed their dreams. And it had gotten them nothing.

They were those who would never saunter proudly up to the medal stand at the League championships. Their family members, good, hard-working people with real jobs, would plaster a fake smile across their faces when curious relatives asked what so-and-so was up to and reply that they were still out finding themselves, but surely they'd come to their senses and be home soon. It was their place to wander, too sentimental to quit their training and too poor at it to ever make something of themselves. They were the faceless, the crowds that packed the League stadiums each year and watched every battle with a wild, desperate hunger, trying to glean strategies from the greats and longing with every fiber of their being to be down there, battling it out themselves. They were those who tried, but could not do. Forever they would lurk in the shadow of the legends, staring up with longing eyes but unable to climb to those heights, their names forgotten by history while their betters became immortals.

She was one of them. Maria was not. She hated her for not being one of them, one of the faceless. Samantha guessed that they had always been rivals, at least in her mind. Even if it was only friendly competition, she had always wanted to do better, to prove herself to Maria. But it was hard to call yourself a rival when your opponent didn't even realize that there was a rivalry at all, so much better than you that to compare the two of you would be almost absurd. Samantha hated Maria because she would never know that she even had a rival.

Still, she cherished the secret anger, the hidden rivalry. Someday Maria would find out about it, would realize that they were no longer friends but bitter enemies, at least in Samantha's eyes. She cherished the knowledge because she knew that when Maria realized it, it would hurt her more than if all her precious ribbons and trophies had been taken from her. And at last, she would win; she would make Maria wish that she wasn't so good, that she could be as mediocre as Samantha, just so that they could be friends again. Because it was meaningless to Samantha, but to Maria it would mean everything.