xXxXxXx

Iris, thankfully, knew her directions very well.

"You're lost?" She asked, shocked when he had explained his situation to her. She let out a snort, covered her mouth, and then burst out into laughter.

"It's not that ridiculous!" Ash said hotly, although without any real menace.

"It's just, well," she pointed in the northeast direction, "the path you're looking for is about five yards from here."

Ash's eyes went as wide as saucers, "Are you serious?"

"You could probably spot the path from here even with trees," Iris answered bemusedly. "Are you a child or what?"

Ash chuckled hesitantly, "Well uh, you could say that I'm not the best with directions?"

"You could say that again," Iris snorted. She shook her head, putting a hand on her hip and poking his chest with a finger, "How's this? I'll accompany you to Striaton. So you won't get lost again."

And that was how Ash gained his first travelling companion of Unova.

Iris was… interesting, to say in the least. During the course of their conversations he'd found out that she was a year older than him, from a place called the Dragon Village, and had no real goal in life as of yet. She excelled in directions, gathering berries, and just having an all around knowledge of Unova. She was also spunky, warm, and friendly.

All in all, Ash could have done a lot worse than draw Iris.

They made their way back along the path easily. Unfortunately, it also led Team Rocket to find him again easily.

Iris had found a tree full of apples for lunch, and they were munching amiably as they chatted when all of the sudden, two rubber mechanical hands came out of seemingly nowhere and snatched up Pikachu and Axew. Ash and Iris turned as one, and Ash couldn't help give an exhale of frustration at the sight of his long time enemy.

"You guys again?" He asked in slight annoyance.

Standing poised on a chunk of land that was raised from where Ash and Iris were was Team Rocket, a new gadget in their possession. It was some kind of briefcase with a mechanical arm extending from it, and at the end of the mechanical arm were the hands that had taken Axew and Pikachu. The two pokemon were squirming uncomfortably, trying to free themselves, but it was to no avail.

Jessie smiled, shaking her head slowly as if he had said something extremely stupid. On the face of it, he supposed it was an idiotic statement, because of course it was Team Rocket. They always showed up at the most inopportune times. "If we were asked "you guys again'…"

James flipped his hair, and Ash thought with no small amount of vindication that Drew looked a hundred times cooler doing it. "We will answer for the sake of tomorrow!"

"Future! A white future reflects the color of evil!"

"Universe! The hammer of justice in a black world!"

"Our names will be remembered in this place!" Meowth cried out, joining in.

"Destroyer of passion, Jessie!"

"Heart of pure darkness, James!"

"Infinite intelligence, Meowth!"

"Come gather! Under the name of Team Rocket!"

Ash could practically feel Iris's nonplussed expression.

"Team… Rocket?" She asked uncertainly, sounding as if she wasn't sure whether to sigh or laugh at them. "Who are they?"

"They're pokemon thieves," Ash answered with a twist of his lips. They were mostly harmless, but their trade was hardly one to scoff at. And besides that, at the moment Ash had no pokemon on hand excepting Pikachu, which meant that there was little he could do himself about this particular standoff.

Ash allowed Iris and Team Rocket to exchange words as he thought furiously. If he'd caught another Pidove back in the forest, maybe he could have used it, but he hadn't. He couldn't believe that he'd forgotten about Team Rocket! It always seemed like a good idea to run off to another region with only Pikachu, but hadn't he learned time and time again that it usually led to bad situations like this one if Pikachu were made unavailable?

Then again, there were plenty of people who travelled with only one pokemon. It was just Ash's bad luck that made the venture impossible for him. Seriously, how many trainers had a trio of pokemon thieves always hounding their trail? Most people might encounter them once or twice in their lifetimes, not every freaking week like Ash.

"Iris," Ash cut in just as she launched into a frenzy over the question of how Meowth could speak the human language, "do you have any other pokemon on hand? Now would be the time to use them."

Iris paused mid-sentence, and hesitated. "Uh…"

Ash felt his stomach drop, "No?"

Iris laughed nervously, scratching her head, "Well I do, but it's…"

Ash whirled to face Team Rocket again, gritting his teeth. He couldn't allow them to take Pikachu, and if neither he nor Iris had usable pokemon, then that just meant that he'd have to take them out himself.

"I'm not letting you get away with this!" Ash yelled as he charged full speed ahead at the trio.

Meowth grinned, and snapped his fingers. Pikachu and Axew gave a cry of surprise as the hands holding them suddenly dropped them into a small transparent box that was likely resistant to electricity and all other forms of attack.

"I'll have fun with you, twerp!" Meowth said viciously as he sprang forward, claws extended towards Ash.

Ash stuttered to a stop, his mind blanking for a moment as he desperately wondered where he could duck.

And then, all of the sudden, a golden projectile came out of nowhere and knocked Meowth's attack off course.

Meowth gave a cry of pain as he scuttled back to the side of Jessie and James, glaring as the projectile made a turn in direction and went swinging back to its owner. A small blue otter-like pokemon caught it, looking fierce as he placed the projectile—which Ash could now see to be a shell—back onto its chest.

And then, a grin broke out across its face, and it began doing a little dance of victory, "Oshawott! Oshawott!"

"Oshawott," Ash breathed, "you helped us." Grinning, Ash turned back to face Team Rocket again, but this time far more confident, "Do you want to help out some more?"

"Osha! Osha!" The little blue pokemon exclaimed happily, bouncing to Ash's side.

Ash couldn't help but smile. There were always pokemon who just existed to help out, and he couldn't help but love them.

"Okay, not so fast twerp," Jessie said through narrowed eyes, reaching for an object at her belt. Not a moment later she had a pokeball in hand, "Go, Woobat!"

A small ball of fur with wings burst from Jessie's pokeball, floating a good distance in the air. Ash might have pulled out his pokedex because he'd never seen the creature before, but he was pretty sure that it was a flying type and besides, he wasn't seeking to battle it now. His focus was on the cage that trapped Pikachu and Axew.

"Oshawott, fire your shell at the cage!" Ash commanded.

Oshawott grinned, reaching for his shell.

"Not so fast!" Jessie growled, "Woobat, Air Blast!"

Ash's eyes widened as twin crescents of pressurized air emerged from the flying pokemon's wings, and he barely jumped out of the way as he gave another command, "Oshawott dodge!"

Oshawott didn't need to be told twice. It jumped away, just barely dodging the attack. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to be able to deal with defence as well as it did with attack.

"Osha, Osha!" It cried in terror, burying its head in its hands as it trembled against the ground.

"Oshawott," Ash exclaimed in worry, "are you alright?"

Thankfully, the little creature seemed more frightened than actually hurt, because at Ash's voice it peeked up through its fingers and suddenly straightened, looking for all the world as if it were ready for another round. It patted its shell, eyes glittering determinedly.

Ash had to smile. He thought, maybe, as ridiculous as the thought was, that Oshawott was trying to impress him?

Honestly he didn't want to make it fight if it wasn't used to battle situations, but there wasn't another option at the moment. Ash turned with narrowed eyes back at the Woobat. It seemed that he would have to take out the flying pokemon before trying for the real goal.

Remembering how Snivy had been able to use Leaf Tornado, Ash asked, "Oshawott, can you use any water attacks?"

Oshawott nodded, taking a breath and sending a pillar of water into the sky.

Ash grinned, recognizing the move. It was Water Gun. While it wasn't the most powerful move in existence, he was also pretty sure that Jessie's pokemon was also new and that it couldn't have learned a bunch of powerful moves in such a short time. He could work with this.

"Alright Oshawott, let's do this," he said, quickly going through what he remembered about the trajectory of Oshawott's shell throw. "Fling your shell at Woobat!"

Unlike last time, Oshawott's attack was aimed directly at the other pokemon, which meant that if Woobat ignored it and attacked, then it would also be hit.

Jessie unfortunately realized this too. While Team Rocket weren't good trainers by any means, they weren't wholly stupid either. "Woobat, dodge! And then use Gust!"

"Oshawott," Ash commanded, as the shell whizzed past Woobat and the flying pokemon sent out another attack, "quickly, to your left! Get to the base of that tree! Then jump to the third branch!"

It was a little difficult being in charge of this battle, because Oshawott had never worked with Ash before and therefore didn't know how to interpret the Ketchum's thoughts. It meant that a lot of Ash's creativity was limited and that he had to be very explicit in his orders. But the little pokemon obeyed, and Ash couldn't ask for more.

Oshawott dodged the air gust and hopped up the branches just as the shell came whirling back, just in the nick of time. Its eyes widened as it leaned forward to catch it, realizing now that the human must have planned for it to be in just the right position.

"Now jump towards Woobat and use your shell!" Ash yelled in triumph.

Woobat, who was still trying to pull back from its attack, didn't stand a chance. Oshawott moved quickly, grasping the order with an impressive speed. It seemed to have understood Ash's intention as soon as it'd caught the shell, and was already moving before the words were even fully out of the dark haired boy's mouth.

It leapt off the branch towards a stunned Woobat, slashing at it with its shell. Woobat gave a cry of pain as the shell connected, and just as Ash thought, while its attack was great its defence was not. It fell from the sky, landing with a plume of dust.

"Aim your Water Gun towards the ground to slow your fall!" Ash called out with a grin as Oshawott too went spiralling towards the ground. Also grinning, the little pokemon did just as Ash asked, and managed to land with a flip and a lot of dignity.

It patted its shell in success as it stood proudly.

"Tch," Jessie pulled out her pokemon, retrieving her pokemon in a splay of red light as she glared at Ash, "you got lucky this time, kid."

"And you're not getting away," Ash replied equally as seriously.

"We'll see about that!" James sneered, pulling something from his waist as he kicked the transparent cage holding Axew and Pikachu towards him. The two pokemon cried out in terror, obviously afraid that they were going to be seriously hurt from the fall.

Ash's eyes widened and he dived forward to catch them, just as James threw whatever it was that he had retrieved at the ground and a plume of black smoke erupted from the ground at their feet. Ash didn't care though. He was too focused on Pikachu.

When he successfully caught the cage and prevented it from shattering on impact which would have surely hurt the pokemon, he realized that focusing on it was probably what Team Rocket wanted. He looked up to where they had been situated, not at all surprised that they weren't there anymore.

It was a classic maneuver to run after all, even if he hadn't thought Team Rocket capable of using such tactics.

"Axew, Axew!" Iris cried, sprinting towards him.

Ash turned back to the purple haired girl with a grin. In the end it didn't matter if Team Rocket had escaped. They weren't the good guys, and Ash would capture them if he could, but in the end it was most important that all the pokemon were safe.

They managed to open the cage and a moment later Pikachu and Axew had jumped back on their respective shoulders, keening happily that they were back.

"Okay," Iris said seriously after she'd checked Axew over three times. "How did you do that?"

"Do what?" Ash asked in confusion as he did the same for Pikachu.

"Do what?" Iris exclaimed, "I mean, how did you battle like that! That was amazing!"

Ash chucked, scratching Pikachu behind the ear where Ash knew he liked it. "It wasn't anything big Iris." Smiling, Ash turned back to the one who had made this all possible, "It was all this little guy, right Oshawott?"

"Osha!" The little blue pokemon said proudly as it stuck out its chest, basking in the glory.

"We worked pretty well together, didn't we?" Ash grinned, squatting down at the little pokemon's level and holding out a hand, "Thank you."

"Osha!" The little pokemon grinned back, reaching out to take the hand only to pause, stop, and drop his paw. An unbearably sad expression crossed its face.

Ash frowned, wondering what possibly could be the matter. He paused, thinking back to the strange green haired boy back in the forest. He could make predictions about what Oshawott was thinking (probably something to do with hunger or exhaustion) but he couldn't be sure. And that was the whole problem wasn't it? Ash wasn't sure what the pokemon were ever thinking, and he probably offended a ton of them by making assumptions.

"Oshawott," Ash said gently, "you can feel free to ask anything of us, you know. I don't understand you—I am sorry about that, so could you please give us a hint?"

The little blue pokemon's eyes brightened, and a big smile spread over its face as it leaped up with a 'Osha' of self importance and scampered to Ash's side. The pokemon reached out one of its little paws and just barely brushed against the dark haired boy's belt, right where his pokeballs were located.

Ash's eyes widened, wondering why he hadn't seen it sooner. Perhaps it was because so few pokemon actually wanted to be captured without a fight, or perhaps it was because the green haired boy's words were still on his mind. Still, this wasn't the first time that Ash had gotten a proposition like this. "Are you saying you want to come with us?"

Oshawott nodded, giving a determined 'wott'.

Ash nodded, straightening again as he pulled an empty pokeball from his belt. A smile on his face, Ash winked at the little creature before throwing the pokeball at Oshawott's head. Oshawott stood proudly, looking pleased at the human finally understanding.

Unfortunately, no amount of mental preparation could alter the facts. The pokeball hit Oshawott square in the center of its forehead, but the expected red beam signalling a successful capture did not come. Instead, the pokeball bounced off and stayed inert.

Ash furrowed his brows, "What the…?"

Oshawott's head followed the direction that the pokeball rolled in, looking equally as confused, "Osha…?"

"Wow," Iris laughed, still nuzzling Axew as if her life depended on it. She was likely just not over the terror of nearly never seeing her partner again. "You can't even throw a pokeball right?"

"That's not it!" Ash shot back with a tinge of annoyance, although inwardly he couldn't help but feel a little tendril of doubt. He hadn't caught a fresh pokemon in quite a while after all, and maybe, just maybe, his skills at capture were rusty.

How else could he explain the pokeball not working even when the pokemon was perfectly willing? The only other case it happened in was when the pokemon belonged to someone else, and Oshawott's attitude did not fit in at all with a pokemon that already had another trainer.

Ash's eyes widened as he realized that there was another possibility to all of this. While Oshawott might not have another trainer, it definitely could already have a pokeball assigned to it.

"Are you the same Oshawott that was at Professor Juniper's labs?" Ash exclaimed, shock coloring his tone. This time he didn't wonder why he didn't think of it sooner, because the situation was really strange.

Oshawott nodded happily, confirming his suspicions. It patted its clam shell, "Osha!"

Ash hesitated.

With the new piece of information, he suddenly wasn't sure that his previous course of action was the best one.

He really wasn't sure about this. The starter pokemon were starter pokemon for a reason. He still remembered the first day of his pokemon journey, when he had woken too late to find that all of the three starters of Kanto had already been taken.

While he couldn't have been gladder for it now, because otherwise he never would have met Pikachu, he did realize that starters were somewhat sacred. They were already trained and had some ability in order to make it easier on the starting trainer. The starting pokemon were docile in a way that wild pokemon often were not when they were first captured, thus making them ideal as the first partner of any trainer.

Certainly, Pikachu had never battled with Ash at first as well as Snivy did with Trip, or Piplup did with Dawn. They'd developed a bond later on, but Pikachu could never be so obedient in their first few battles.

Snivy had been taken by Trip, but Oshawott and Tepig were supposed to remain for the final two trainers that were due to arrive at Juniper's labs. If Ash took Oshawott, the final trainer would have no trained pokemon.

But Oshawott had already come all this way just to apparently join him and Pikachu on their journey, and Ash would hate to turn it away after all that effort. And then there was a small, more selfish part of him that really wanted Oshawott as his pokemon. They'd worked so well together after all.

But he couldn't be selfish about this.

"How about this then," he determined, "there will be a com link in the next town over, and we'll clear things up with Professor Juniper then."

Oshawott didn't seem to pick up on Ash's uncertainty, instead probably thinking that he only wanted to retrieve the pokeball. It agreed happily.

Ash might have felt guilty for sorta deceiving the little guy, but that wasn't really what he was trying to do. He'd never make Oshawott return against its will, but he also knew that Oshawott had never really explored the world before and probably didn't know a whole lot.

He was absolutely positive that Oshawott would be just as happy with a new trainer as it would be with Ash, and he'd give Oshawott a talk about that if it came to them parting. But he also had to admit that he liked the little guy and that if Juniper gave the OK, Ash was all down for keeping the Oshawott. And then no explanation would be necessary.

As it turned out, Ash needn't have worried.

When they finally arrived at the nearest transfer station and contacted Juniper, she assured him that it was alright of him to take Oshawott along.

"Things work differently than in Kanto, Ash," Juniper told him, sounding slightly amused, "the trainers all start at different times. We can definitely train another pokemon by the time the next trainer comes to town. If Oshawott wants to go with you, you can feel free to take him. Here, I'll send you his pokeball."

And Ash couldn't stop smiling. He'd gotten his first pokemon of the Unova region, and he couldn't think of how it could have turned out better than this.

xXxXxXx

A/n: Meeeh I seriously wanted to skip this episode/chapter/whatever, but Iris and Oshawott deserve their entry. And o.o usually I wouldn't put in Team Rocket's motto, but I realized that the English dub changed the motto from the jap version. So here is the 'original'.