The title is because clouds look real enough, but when you get close enough to them, you find they're nothing but mist.
Part 3 - Facets
Some time had passed, when Ash heard a knock on his bedroom door.
"Go away," he growled, hugging a Snorlax cushion to his chest.
The door opened. Ash rolled his eyes and turned his head.
He sat up, hearing Brock's voice. He had expected it to be a Misty. A Misty. Huh, he wouldn't even know which one.
"Oh, you're back," he continued, "we were wondering why you didn't show up. Where's Misty?"
"She's gone," said Ash dully. Brock choked.
"What, she's dead?!"
"I guess you could say that."
"Pika pikachu," sighed Pikachu, explaining that Ash was just exaggerating things.
"Look, I don't know if you two had some other stupid fight, but this has really gotta stop."
"You two?" repeated Ash. "You don't know either, do you."
Brock looked confused. Ash was about to explain, but Misty chose that moment to enter the room.
"Ash!... oh, Brock, you're here."
Brock wisely decided to step aside, and left the two.
"Ash, why are you angry?" asked Misty.
He didn't answer.
"Ash. Answer me!"
He just glared at her. "Which one are YOU," he spat, his voice sounding older, and less like him than it should have.
Togepi popped out of her backpack, peeping happily. "Toge toge!"
"Oh. The 'real' one, as you put it. Well, go away."
"I just - Ash. Why are you angry?"
"Why do you think? This was all some big GAME for you. Well, you fooled me. Happy now?"
"Don't talk like that! The reason we all wanted to go with you was because we like you."
"Raichu trainer Misty would never have said that," muttered Ash, not listening to her.
"Ash, we are NOT all the same person, but we could have been. We feel the same way about a lot of things. Do you think it's easy to have six other people who are exactly like you, and when you finally go off on your own, have them want to come too?"
"What, you're trying to make me feel sorry for you now?"
"I'm still going to go to the Pokemon League with you. We've gone this far."
"YOU'RE going to go, or your clones?"
She didn't really know how to reply to that, so she reacted typically for her. "I should have known you'd be stubborn like this, Ash Ketchum! You just can't accept an apology when you hear one!"
"Some apology," said Ash, "how can you trust anyone if you can't trust your best friends." He turned his back on her. She sighed and left the room.
"Chuuu," said Pikachu, reprimanding.
"You just don't understand."
"Hey Misty," said Brock, intercepting her as she left Ash's room. "What's up with Ash?"
"He's mad at me," she said, and moved to the room she was using.
"I gathered that," said Brock, to the empty hallway. Yet, although the two fought constantly, it had never been enough to make them STOP talking. They were like siblings. He went into Ash's room to get to the bottom of it.
"Hey, Ash." Brock sat on the edge of Ash's bed. Ash's expression darkened, and he turned to look at his friend.
"What if nobody's who you think they are?"
Brock was startled. "You're getting pretty philosophical there, Ash."
"Don't treat me like a baby," said Ash, "what do you think?"
"I... I guess you gotta be careful about people," said Brock, "until you get to know them. Then you can trust them. And when you're close friends, what you see is what you get. But what brought this on?"
"I just found out something about Misty."
"She was keeping it a secret. I don't know if she'd want you to know, though. She didn't want me to know."
Brock was burning to find out what this secret was, but used tact instead, and asked, "how bad could it be? You guys are friends. No matter what this secret is, she's still the same person she always was."
Ash began to laugh, somewhat humourlessly, but laughter nonetheless. Pikachu sighed, and Brock looked baffled.
"Ash?" he ventured. Ash didn't stop laughing. "Ash? What's so funny? Hey Ash! You wanna talk about this? Stop laughing! Ash!"
Pikachu gave Ash a thundershock, but it did nothing. Brock gave up and left Ash laughing on his bed. As soon as he had left the room, Ash stopped laughing and turned to Pikachu.
"See, he didn't really care either."
The next morning, Misty woke and went downstairs. Ash's mother was in the kitchen, making breakfast. Mr Mime was sweeping the floors and getting underfoot.
"Where are the others?" asked Misty, jumping the broom as it swished past her.
"Brock's still asleep," said Mrs Ketchum, mixing something together. She seemed distracted.
"What... what about Ash?"
"Left? What do you mean, left?!"
"He went to the Pokemon League. He got up before you did."
"Without me? Without Brock? Why without Brock?"
Mrs Ketchum shrugged. Misty wasn't sure if she was listening or not, but suspected she was hiding something. Mr Mime came past for another lap, and this time, Misty didn't notice, deep in thought. The broom smacked her hard into the wall.
"Ow," she muttered, absent-mindedly. Mr Mime paused, and looked at her, in concern. But she wasn't thinking about that. She remembered the last thing Ash had said to her. It was, in a way, a goodbye.
"Pika pi," said Pikachu, a little concerned. They walked along the road from Pallet, alone together, the same road they had travelled from the beginning.
"Everyone's been telling me since the start of my journey," said Ash, "that to succeed, you have to appreciate and be friends with your Pokemon."
"I think they're right. You can trust them more than other people. You don't have any clones that swap places with you and betray your opinion of them and then act like they can't understand why you'd be upset when you thought the one person you knew wasn't even a person, just someone playing a stupid trick on you, and -"
Pikachu effectively torched Ash, breaking him off in mid-tangent.
"Pika pi, pika pikachu!"
"I just can't, Pikachu. From now on, it's you and me again."
Misty stood up and clenched her fists. She would not tell her cousins. She would go after Ash. Friendship was important. Surely Ash would understand, surely she could convince him that she hadn't meant to hurt his feelings.
Ash kept walking.