Jessie and James both sat cross-legged on a little hospital bed waiting for Dr Redhill to return while Meowth lay stretched out across a chair in the corner of the room, fast asleep.
Since waking up in the middle of the forest, James had made a swift recovery but he was still very quiet. Jessie watched him sitting opposite her, looking like he was in a world of his own.
When Jessie heard the click of the door opening, she looked away from James to see Dr Redhill entering the room, his expression unreadable. He handed Jessie her white shirt back. The message she had scrawled on it in the forest had been washed off and it was freshly ironed. She pulled it on over her black crop top and her Team Rocket outfit felt complete again.
"Well, I have your test results back, James," the doctor said. "Everything seems fine." Jessie felt James relax a little beside her.
"Now, I was wondering," the doctor continued, "could you tell me exactly what happened in the forest? The more we know about these Pokémon, the better."
James paused for a moment. He looked from the doctor to Jessie and back to the doctor, clearly unwilling to start his story.
"If you don't want to," Dr Redhill said.
"No, it's fine," said James. After a short pause and a deep breath, he continued, "I had been walking for about a day and I stopped and sat down by a river. I got up to wash my face and I must have stepped on one of the Pokémon."
As Jessie watched, she saw James's expression fall as he began reliving his trauma in the forest. "After that, it became harder to move until I was paralysed. And then, uh..." He trailed off, his eyes fixed on the corner of the bed, seemingly lost in his memories. Jessie reached out and took his hand. She didn't know exactly what James had been through, but if it was anything like her experience of being poisoned, he had every right to not want to talk about it.
James finally lifted his gaze and gave Jessie a little smile. She picked up the story for him.
"The other night, I found James beside the river surrounded by about a hundred of the Pokémon. I got him away but he stayed unconscious for another few hours. Eventually he woke up and that's when you came along."
"He just woke up?"
"Yes," Jessie said, uncomfortably.
"After Jessie kissed him," Meowth piped up from his chair.
"Would you stop that?" she said, pulling her hand away from James's, feeling embarrassed.
"Ah, yes..." Dr Redhill said, looking thoughtful. After a few moments he continued, "James, would I be correct in saying that when you were poisoned, you saw visions of something happening to Jessie?"
"Yes," James said. Jessie noticed his voice crack ever so slightly. No else seemed to have heard it though.
"Fascinating," the doctor said.
"What is?" asked Jessie. 'Fascinating', was not the word Jessie would have used to describe this whole situation.
"Well, much like in your case," Dr Redhill said, "the poison was clearly making James experience some of his worst fears, for example, something bad happening to you. When you kissed him, I think it was enough to remind his brain that you were fine, therefore allowing him to escape the bonds of the poison."
Meowth stared at the doctor. "Are you seriously telling me that it was true love's first kiss that woke Jimmy up?" he asked, barely disguising a laugh.
"That's probably not how my colleagues would describe it but... yes," he said with a smile. Jessie felt colour rise in her cheeks, but James looked unfazed. "Now," the doctor said, sounding a little more serious. "Both of you should understand that there may be some after-effects associated with the poison. Unfortunately, we don't know very much more than that. I only wish we knew more about this Pokémon..."
As Dr Redhill said that, Jessie remembered her surprise in the forest.
"Well, James caught one," she said.
"He caught one?" Dr Redhill echoed.
"I caught one?" James exclaimed.
Jessie, Meowth and the doctor all turned to look at him.
"You didn't know?" Jessie asked.
"No, I didn't know!"
"Well I found one of those Pokémon in one of your Pokéballs."
James looked completely shocked, not to mention a little disgusted at the thought. Then a look of comprehension dawned on his face.
"I tried to send out one of my Pokémon in the forest, but I picked an empty Pokéball from my belt. I guess when I threw it, it hit one of the creatures and I caught it."
"I bet ya the Boss would do anything to get his hands on an undiscovered Pokémon," Meowth said, stretching and jumping off his chair to stand beside their bed.
"Would you excuse me a moment?" the doctor said, suddenly walking from the room.
Jessie realised that Meowth had a point but she didn't imagine the Boss would even answer a phone call from her, let alone listen to a business proposition.
"Should I call?" she asked James. "It's your Pokémon after all." Her companion just shrugged.
"I didn't even mean to catch it. It's up to you."
So she decided to call. She picked up the hospital phone in the corner of the room and dialled the number for Headquarters. After a lot of difficulty, being transferred to several different departments and people, she finally got through to the Boss. She had barely spoken two words when he started yelling down the phone at her. His furious tirade continued for several minutes as he shouted something about her being 'a disappointment', 'a discredit to the team', 'a complete embarrassment', not to mention 'fired'. Jessie didn't speak a word as he ranted, but as soon as she was sure Giovanni had finished talking, she said,
"I have a proposition for you." To her great surprise, the Boss listened to her. When she told him exactly what the Pokémon could do to people, she could almost detect a note of excitement in his monotonic voice. After a moment of deliberation, he offered Jessie her job back in exchange for their new Pokémon discovery. But Jessie wouldn't settle for that.
"I want you to give James and Meowth their jobs back too." The Boss was silent. "And we want to work together as a trio again," she added.
For another minute or so, the Boss rhymed off several reasons why he wouldn't agree to that.
"If we can't reach an agreement, then you won't be getting this Pokémon," she said. So very reluctantly, the Boss agreed to her terms.
"Let me discuss your proposition with my team," she said smugly, relishing the rare feeling of having some power over the Boss. She hung up the phone and turned to her team-mates.
"Well?" Meowth asked, looking at her with eager eyes.
"He really wants this Pokémon."
"What's he gonna give us in return?"
"We'll all get our jobs back and we get to work together again," she said with a grin. She could barely contain her excitement at the prospect of going back to work with her two best friends. Working for Team Rocket was one of the only things she was really good at.
James hadn't spoken since Jessie had hung up the phone. She was about to ask him what was wrong when Dr Redhill hurried back in to the room.
"Please don't sell that Pokémon to your boss," he said.
"Why not?" Meowth asked.
"I've just got off the phone with a friend of mine, Professor Williams from the Institute of Pokémon Research and Discovery. He would really like that Pokémon. A few people have caught glimpses of this Pokémon and several have been stung by it but no one has ever managed to catch one before. It would be an incredible advancement toward making an anti-venom and for discovering more about it."
Jessie hesitated. She could see how much Dr Redhill wanted his friend to have this poisonous scorpion and she understood that having a cure for its poison would be good, but at the same time, if she didn't give the Pokémon to the Boss, she would never work for Team Rocket again.
She looked to Meowth who seemed to be going through the same thought process as her. When she turned to James, she saw that he was already watching her closely.
"I should mention," the doctor continued, "that Professor Williams is willing to pay a substantial sum of money in exchange for this Pokémon."
"How much?" Meowth asked bluntly. The doctor handed the cat Pokémon a little slip of paper. Meowth's mouth fell open when he read the amount of money scrawled on the paper. When he handed the note to Jessie, she almost fell over.
"You know there are hundreds of those scorpion Pokémon out in the forest, right?" Meowth asked, looking at the doctor like he had gone mad.
"Yes, but there is a real possibility that this is the only one we will have in captivity for a very long time. Officer Jenny has closed off a large section of the forest to try and keep unsuspecting trainers and their Pokémon from getting hurt. Also, frankly, no one else would be willing to get near enough to catch one of them."
"For this amount of money I'd get near enough to kiss one!" Meowth said.
"I'll leave you to think about it," he said, and left them.
"What is there to think about?" Meowth said, "Let's take the money!"
"But that means none of us get our jobs back," Jessie said.
"So we have to choose between getting our jobs back and an enormous pile of cash?"
Jessie sat down on the creaky bed beside James. There wasn't really a choice. They were being asked to give the Pokémon to a doctor who would use it to help people or a criminal who would use it to torture people.
"I never thought I'd have to choose between Team Rocket and millions of dollars," she said to James.
"You want to keep your job, don't you?" he asked, turning around so he was sitting side-by-side with Jessie, his legs hanging over the edge of the bed.
"Yes, but I can't. We can't give this Pokémon to the Boss."
"What am I supposed to do with my life if I don't work for Team Rocket? It's all I've ever known," she said.
James put his arm around her and pulled her closer to him. She put her head on his shoulder and sighed.
"Being a Rocket field agent is all I know how to do,"
"You know how to do lots of things," James said.
"Like what?" she asked, sulkily.
"You're a great Pokémon trainer for a start," he said. "And a brilliant coordinator..."
Jessie thought he was about to say something else but he fell silent. She lifted her head to look at him and saw that he was watching her intently, some unspoken feeling burning behind his bright green eyes. For a moment, she couldn't tear her gaze away from him. She suddenly became very aware of her own breathing, the position of her body, how her hair looked...
She finally tore her eyes away from James when she heard the door open and Dr Redhill entered with Meowth close behind. She hadn't even noticed Meowth had left.
"Have you thought any more about the offer from Professor Williams?"
"Yes," James said. "We're going to send the Pokémon to him."
"That is excellent news!" the doctor said. "I'm going to call him right now!"
Suddenly Jessie felt very deflated. The decision had been made; they were never going to back to Team Rocket.
She rested her head back on James's shoulder, taking comfort in the feeling of his arm around her back.
"What are you going to do with your money?" she asked James.
"Our money," he corrected. "We should split it between all three of us."
"But you caught the Pokémon," Jessie said.
"But you and Meowth saved me," he replied. "We should split it."
"Well I know what I'm doin' with my third!" said Meowth. "I'm gonna buy all the food I can find and eat it all!"
Trust Meowth to think of his stomach first, Jessie thought.
"What are you gonna do with your share, Jess?" Jessie just shrugged. She was still mourning the loss of her career. She didn't much feel like fantasising.
"What about you, James?" Jessie asked.
"I always liked the idea of buying a house. Somewhere close to the sea with a beach right beside it and a garden..." Jessie got the impression that this wasn't the first time James had fantasised about a seaside home.
"It would be nice and secluded but also close enough to a town so we could buy everything we would need."
We? Jessie hadn't realised that she was part of this beach house dream. She squirmed away from James and stood up.
"We?" she asked, trying to be calm. James looked taken aback.
"Yes, we," he said. "I assumed that even after Team Rocket, we'd still live together, me you and Meowth like we have done for the last seven years." He stared at her for a moment, a little crease forming between his eyebrows. "Unless, now that we don't work together, you don't want to stay with me."
"It's not you..." she started lamely.
"Please don't say 'it's not you, it's me'," James said looking sceptical.
"Aw brother..." Meowth muttered, and slunk out of the room, leaving his two best friends to fight.
"It's true," she said sadly. "I can't be what you want."
"How do you know what I want?" he asked angrily, standing up off the bed and approaching her.
"Because I know you," she snapped back.
"I'm not sure you do!"
"Oh, please, I have spent almost every day with you for the past seven years. Believe me, I know you. You want your perfect beach house with your perfect family and I can't fit in to that."
"You don't want a nice house? A family?" he asked.
"It's not that I don't want that," she said exasperatedly. "It's just... things like that don't happen for people like me."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
She hesitated, unsure how to put her complex mush of feelings in to words.
"You're so much easier to talk to when you're unconscious," she muttered.
"Look, I'm not right for you," she said at long last. "Here I am, standing in front of the... the kindest and most wonderful man I've ever met and I'm too scared to let myself love him." She said all this very fast as though the quicker she said it, the quicker she could get her guard back up. James stared at her, confused.
"What is there to be scared of?"
"If I let myself fall for you, I'm just setting myself up for a whole lot of heartbreak when you leave me."
"What do you mean, 'when'?" he asked, sounding flabbergasted. "Jessie, I will never leave you."
"Everybody leaves," she said shortly. "Can you really imagine spending the rest of your life with me?"
"Yes. What is it that you think is so inherently unlovable about you?"
"I'm horrible, short-tempered – "
"Vain, hot-headed, crabby," he interjected, "beautiful, smart, ambitious... why is it so hard for you to understand? I love everything about you, including your flaws."
They were now standing just an inch apart. There was such a fire burning in James's green eyes that Jessie almost completely lost her train of thought.
"And for the rest of my life, I promise that I will look out for you, take care of you and try to make you as happy as you make me. I will love you until the day I die."
Jessie was taken aback. This was a whole new side of James she was seeing. He was so very different from the man he used to be and yet he was still the same.
"I watched you die sixty-seven times," he said, finally revealing to her what he had experienced in the forest. "And sixty-seven times I wished it was me dying in your place." Jessie stood speechless. The unmistakable pain in his eyes was making her heart ache. "Over the last few months I've realised that I can't live without you. You are everything to me." By this point, he was now holding her possessively by the arms. The rush of excitement, fear and desire that came over her left her completely inarticulate.
Twenty-four years of habit were telling Jessie to keep her guard up and not reveal herself to be vulnerable. But it was really a pointless endeavour. The entire time she had been with James, she had deliberately and firmly kept a wall up between them, but for the past five years or so James had developed the uncanny ability of being able to vault over any obstacles she placed between them. Without realising it, she had let James really get to know her and for some reason, he still wanted to be with her. Perhaps he really did love her; perhaps he really wouldn't leave her.
Unable to construct a worthy response, she gave in to her instincts. Half a decade of longing spilled out from within her and before she knew it, her lips were on his; her hands in his hair; his arms pulling her up against his body.
Outside the hospital room, Meowth turned away from the window from where he had been spying on his friends.
"Finally," he said with a sigh as he curled up on a chair, leaving his friends to their business.