For the third time, James adjusted his bow tie in the mirror. Something about it wasn't right and it was beginning to frustrate him. He rarely dressed this formally, and now he realised why. It was times like these that his missed his Team Rocket uniform. He had worn dresses more comfortable than this tux. Patting himself down, he made sure he had everything he needed in his pockets.
Just then he heard the unfamiliar sound of high heels on wood and turned to see Jessie descending the spiral staircase. She just about took his breath away in a black, knee length dress and matching shoes. She looked beautiful every day, but tonight she was extraordinary.
"You look... wow," he said, taking her by the hand as she approached him.
"You look pretty darn good yourself," she said. Her gaze lingered on his for a moment before she spotted his squint bow tie. He watched her deft fingers undo the tie and redo it with ease. Everything about Jessie amazed him, even how well she could tie a tie. To him, everything she did was perfect. Jessie glanced up at him, clearly aware that he was watching her so closely.
"What?" she asked. He didn't answer; he just lifted her chin ever so slightly and gave her a soft kiss.
"What was that for?"
"Nothing. I just want you to know how much I love you."
"I know," she said, reaching out and wiping a little smudge of lipstick from his mouth. "Now, come on or we'll be late. Meowth!" she called over her shoulder.
"Quit your whining, I'm comin'!"
"Can you believe he took longer to get ready than I did?" Jessie said. "He doesn't even wear clothes!"
Meowth hurried down the stairs, actually looking rather sleek. He took a look at his two partners and gave an approving nod.
"You clean up good, Jimmy," he said. "And Jessie!" he continued, studying her from head to toe. "You look... okay, I guess."
"Thanks," she said dryly, shoving him out the door.
They arrived at the Borealis Hall just on time and discovered that the whole ceremony was taking place outside. Two hundred paper lanterns were strung up by ribbons above a great lawn, bathing the many linen covered tables below in soft light. The night was a warm one but every so often a soft breeze would blow through the field.
Almost as soon as they had found their allocated seats, the proceedings began. On a long stage full of trophies, there sat a podium where the chairman of the Institute of Pokémon Research and Discovery gave a short welcome speech. Several awards were presented before it was the turn of Dr Redhill and his friend Professor Williams. Even that friend of the twerps, Professor Oak, was awarded a lifetime achievement award for his creation and development of the Pokédex. To James's mild amusement, he could hear the cheering and whooping of one of the twerps over the applause of the crowd.
"I can't wait to see the look on that twerp's face when he sees us now," Meowth whispered.
While some other awards were distributed, James sat absent-mindedly stroking the back of Jessie's hand. Meowth was occupying himself with the selection of bread that was already lying on the table.
A little later, Dr Redhill was called to the stage, along with Professor Williams. The latter man began to speak,
"As many of you will know by now, this year has seen the discovery of a brand new species of Pokémon. Due to its similarities to both a spider and scorpion, we have named this new Pokémon Scorachnid and we have placed it in the Bug/Poison category."
On the announcement of the Pokémon's name, someone behind Professor Williams released the Scorachnid that James has inadvertently caught in the woods so many months ago. It crept along the stage leisurely, stopping to investigate any dark corners it found, apparently more curious than murderous this time.
"As you can see, when captured, these Pokémon are quite tame, only using their poison in battles against other Pokémon. Their poison is not lethal to Pokémon but it is incredibly dangerous to humans. In the past year, at least three trainers have died from being stung by a wild Scorachnid."
Jessie and James exchanged troubled looks and Jessie took James's hand. They had both come a little too close to adding to that statistic and neither of them had quite recovered from the panic of almost losing their partner. Jessie still had nightmares about it. Almost every night she would call out for James in her sleep. Usually she would settle if he pulled her close to him but on several occasions she had woken screaming with tears running down her face.
"However," continued Professor Williams, "Two trainers managed to survive the poison thanks to Dr Redhill's care and their own sheer resilience, and they are here with us tonight."
There was a little round of applause at this. James felt a little embarrassed at being mentioned in the speech, even though no one here knew who they were. He didn't feel that he had done anything worth congratulating. To add to his embarrassment, Dr Redhill approached the microphone and spoke.
"I would just like to add that the generosity and cooperation of these two trainers has been invaluable and has helped pave the way to creating an anti-venom for the Scorachnid's poison. Jessie, James and of course Meowth, it is no exaggeration to say that we could not have managed this feat without you."
A spotlight was shone from the stage to illuminate the slightly uncomfortable trio and another round of applause followed, except this time, everyone turned to look at them, smiling and clapping. James glanced to Jessie to see that she was looking as embarrassed as he felt. Once again, above the sound of the crowd, James could pick out some squeaky twerp-voices.
"Did he say Jessie and James?!"
Much to their relief, the spotlight was lifted from them after a few seconds and the speech continued. Dr Redhill spoke of the psychological and physical effects of the poison, most of which neither Jessie nor James really understood.
The speeches continued for a short while longer and when they were finished, it was time to eat. They were presented with a delicious meal that all three of them had finished at least twenty minutes before anyone else.
When it was announced that the firework display was about to start, most of the guests who had been milling around the tables resumed their seats, but James had a better idea.
"Come with me," he said to Jessie, standing up and holding out his hand to her. For the first time, she didn't argue or demand to know where they were going. Perhaps she was finally beginning to trust him.
"Oh, no thanks, I didn't want to come anyways!" Meowth called sarcastically as they left him behind at the table.
James led her away from the tables, the lights and the people and up to the top of a hill that overlooked the picturesque house and gardens of their venue. Night had really fallen now and as they sat down together on the soft, cool grass they looked up to see a perfectly clear night's sky, dotted with many thousands of stars.
James knew he had picked the right location when the first firework shot in to the sky and exploded in a burst of green and white light. Below them, the crowd let out a unanimous 'ooh' of pleasure and a contented Jessie rested her head on James's shoulder.
The firework show continued for at least ten minutes, becoming increasingly more spectacular. A particularly beautiful firework whistled in to the air and cracked in to life before them, bursting in to a thousand tiny pieces with a spectacular flash of yellow light before drifting from the sky like flakes of burning snow.
While everyone else's eyes were fixed firmly upwards, James had his eye on something even more breathtaking. With each loud bang, Jessie's face would be lit up a different colour and her eyes would sparkle more vividly than ever, illuminating the expression of complete, innocent contentment on her perfect face. He had never seen her happier, or more beautiful. The words were out of his mouth before he had a moment to think.