TOP HATS: A FATHER-SON STORY

"Are you sure you want that hat, T.K.?" Mr Ishida said dubiously as he looked at the item that his youngest son was holding, "It's not really for fishing, is it?"

That being said, he could not tell what the hat in question was intended for. It looked like it might have been part of a Halloween costume or the sort of child's outfit that was designed to be ridiculously cutesy, but he could not be sure. That hat defied surety. It was large and green with an upturned brim and a plastic jewel set in its front. It was also clearly beloved by his son.

T.K. was gripping it to his chest with the iron grasp of a six year-old who refused to be parted from his newest treasure. (Mr Ishida suspected he would have to get pliers or the jaws of life if he wanted to pry him away from it.) More ominously, his mouth was set in the determined expression that suggested an embarrassing tantrum would ensue if his cruel, unreasonable father denied him his hat. His large, blue eyes might have been pleading, but the rest of him was demanding.

"I like this hat," the boy said darkly, "It's a nice hat."

"Yes, son, it is a nice hat, but wouldn't you prefer a proper fisherman's hat?" he wheedled.

"No, I want this hat," his son shook his head vigorously, "It's a nice hat."

Mr Ishida threw up his hands in defeat. He might have been his television station's top journalist, able to hold his own in debate against the most eloquent of politicians and businessmen, but there was no talking to a determined T.K. There was something about the way he would fling himself onto the floor, kick his feet and scream that put a top to any rational discussion. Despite his cherubic looks, his son had a temper that was capable of stripping paint from walls at twenty paces.

Besides, he thought with a pang, there was no point spoiling their last fishing-trip over a stupid hat. They had not told their boys yet, but Nancy and he had decided to get a divorce a few days ago. He was no longer sure what had soured their relationship to such an extent that they were no longer able to live with each other. Had it been his long hours at work? Her turning down promotion after promotion so that they could stay in Odaiba? His forgetting a wedding anniversary in the rush of the biggest story of his career? Her insisting on taking the boys to see her mother over a Christmas when she knew he could not come with them? His accusations that she was too hard on their sons? Her accusations that he spoilt Matt and T.K.? He did not know any more. All he knew was that his wife was now talking about accepting the job she had been offered in Kyoto and taking T.K. with her. She was right that the younger of their boys needed their mother more, but the thought of losing his littlest angel hurt more than he could bear. So, he did not think about it. And he hoped. . . .


6 years later . . .


"The landlady gave me this parcel from your father when I went to collect the keys," Nancy Takaishi said to her youngest son, an exasperated note in her voice, "He has never had any sense of timing. He must know our apartment is piled up to the ceiling with boxes, yet he sends us another one. I don't understand why he just didn't give it to you this weekend when you're going to see him anyway."

Making a noncommittal sound, T.K. took the package from her. He knew better than to enter into a discussion with his mother when she was in this sort of mood. Her cheeks were flushed with annoyance and with the heat of the midday sun, ironically making her seem younger and prettier than usual. Her jaw was set in the expression that had caused more than one interviewee to swallow his tongue. Her back and shoulders were arched for confrontation, like those of an angry cat. Her blue eyes dared him to reply, to defend his father, to provoke her into the fight for which she was spoiling. Yes, he decided, it could only end with him being grounded for a year. Wisdom dictated that he beat a hasty retreat.

"I'll go open it in my room, mom," he replied, "I need to unpack the rest of the stuff in my boxes anyway."

With no small relief, he hurried down the hallway into his new bedroom. The movers had brought in his bed and desk that morning, which meant that he would be spending the night in his new apartment. When he was going to be able to do more than sleep in his room was another matter entirely. Brown boxes, all marked in his mother's neat handwriting, lined the walls. Considering they contained the previous six years of his life, he was surprised by how few they were. In them were his clothes, his toys, his books, his CDs, everything that he had managed to gather since he had left Odaiba with his mother.

Setting the package down on the desk to open it, he glanced at the one item that he had made a special point of unpacking first. It was a photo of a group of children. He smiled as he saw his younger self standing next to Kari Kamiya. The eighth child. The bearer of the crest of Light. His best friend. They had not seen each other for four years, bar one or two visits to the Digital World, but they had kept in touch via e-mail. Now that he had moved back to Odaiba, it would be strange to see her face-to-face again, especially if she had changed as much as he had.

He might have mistaken the boy in the photograph for somebody else, if it had not been for Patamon perched on his head. He had almost forgotten how young he had been when he had saved the Digital World from the forces of darkness. It was hard to imagine that he had ever been that tiny and that cute. His eight year-old self would have killed him for that comment, he thought wryly, remembering how hard he had tried so hard to be a big boy. He had wanted to make Matt proud of him and to show his older brother that he could take care of himself. He had been determined never to be the nuisance, tag-along kid that he had felt he was, even after he had received the Crest of Hope. Some things had not changed with time. His mother still said that he was too independent for his own good. He grinned conspiratorially at his younger self with his huge, innocent eyes and his bejewelled, green hat.

That hat was tucked somewhere in one of the boxes. Even after he had outgrown it, even after it had gotten moth-eaten and dirty, he had not wanted to throw it away or give it to charity. It had been the last present his father had given him before he had divorced his mother. It reminded him of fishing trips by the lake, on which they had never been able to catch anything yet got up early every morning to try. Of games of catch, during which his father had run very, very slowly so that they could catch him. Of goodnight stories made up by his father in which Matt and he were always the heroes. Of a time when he had been T.K.Ishida, a name still written in faded ink on the hatband. Of a time when they had been a real family.

Sighing, T.K. ripped off the cellotape and prised the flaps of the box open. His dad had probably sent him another shirt, that had been lovingly picked out by his secretary, and a Hallmark card, that expressed exactly how he did not feel. He had been getting them every birthday and Christmas for the last, six years. His eyes widened in surprise as he looked inside the package. No shirt. No Hallmark card. His father had sent him a hat, instead. It was made of white, crisp linen, and had a floppy brim. When he picked it up to try it on for size, he saw a note beneath it in his father's handwriting: "Welcome home, son. You'll need a proper hat next time we go fishing."


END


NOTES:

* I have noodled with the continuity a bit in this story. I've only seen the dub for a start, and that's always bad news for accuracy. (Nimoy! I get the cold shivers every time Tentomon speaks, because it's the voice of the Evil One!) Also, they've only dubbed one of the three films, so . . . I've obviously only seen that one. That little ramble aside, these are the areas that might be less than perfect:

1) I am *positive* that T.K and Kari have seen each other once or twice in the Digital World, if only to save it. You can correct me.

2) I've also blatantly ignored the fact that T.K. had the same white hat in the second part of the film, when he and Matt were on holiday with their insane grandmother, and in the flashback during "Confusion Fusion".

3) I have completely forgotten where Nancy moved to with T.K. Go figure. I made it Kyoto because of the connection with the four guardian spirits in the series.

* T.K. has always had a temper. Matt says as much to Cody.

* I'm not sure if there are Hallmark cards in Japan. I'd imagine there are, just because it's an empire of bad poetry and worse sentimentality!

* Part of the reason I wrote this story was as a counter to the entire subgenre of Mr-Ishida-is-an-abusive-parent stories. I wanted to show him as a good father, and there is evidence of that in the series. He understands why T.K. and Matt have to go into the Digital World when Nancy does not, he teases Matt about taking Jun to the expensive restaurant, he's the one whom they approach to go camping etc . . . I think people read entirely too much into the one episode where he wakes Matt up to go with him to the train station and he seems a bit agitated.

* The other reason was to explain T.K's horrible hats. ;)

* Oh, and the characters aren't mine and I'm not making any profit off them. This seems rather obvious, but you never know what people will assume. :D

* Naturally, I'm terribly embarrassed.