Miles lay down on the picnic blanket with a contented sigh.
‘It doesn’t get much better than this,’ he said to himself.
‘It could be warmer,’ Garak said.
‘Don’t spoil the moment,’ Miles said, but he was in too good a mood to let Garak annoy him. He turned his head towards the meadow they were overlooking. He could just about make out Molly doing cartwheels. Keiko was applauding her, and Julian, Kirayoshi on his shoulders, cheered. ‘Just a shame Nerys couldn’t come.’
Garak, who was sitting with his legs crossed, almost like a Vulcan about to meditate, said:
‘It was very kind of you to offer me her place.’
‘It was Julian’s suggestion, really.’ Miles said and sat up. Then, realising he sounded dismissive, he added: ‘But good to have you with us.’
Garak smiled to himself, as if in amusement at Miles’ effort. The truth was that they got on very well nowadays. It might be a stretch to say they enjoyed each other’s company, but their arguments were just there for the sake of it.
‘If someone had told me that I’d be at a picnic with a Cardassian ten years ago, I’d tell them they were mad,’ Miles said.
‘If someone had told me I’d be at a picnic with anyone ten years ago, I’d tell them they were mad,’ Garak answered.
They sat quietly for a while, watching the others. Molly had stopped her cartwheels and was picking flowers. Keiko was crouching beside her, by the look of it explaining something about the plants to her. Meanwhile, Julian had taken Kirayoshi off his shoulders and was holding him at arm’s length and whirling around, making old-fashioned airplane noises. The toddler’s laughter made Miles grin. As if she had sensed him watching, Molly looked up from her flower-picking and waved. Keiko waved too, and, once he had put Yoshi safely on his arm, Julian waved as well, then turned to the toddler, who raised his little hand. Miles waved back. They were the four people in the world he loved the most. The waving had made him feel like he was with them, rather than sitting a distance away.
Garak changing positions brought him back to himself. When Miles looked over, he saw that he was smiling sadly, deep in thought.
‘Are you alright?’ Miles asked.
Garak shook his head, not to say no but to show that the question was not necessary.
‘Quite alright. I was just thinking.’
Miles felt a twinge of worry.
‘Garak, if this is about Julian…’
‘No, not at all,’ Garak said. ‘I have no complaints about our arrangement with our mutual gentleman friend.’
‘Can’t you just say “partner” like a normal person?’
‘Such a dull word,’ he said, then left the issue behind. ‘What I was thinking was that you’re a lucky man.’
Garak pulled at some straws of grass.
‘There is little I wouldn’t give, to have that.’
Miles turned to look at him. He had never heard Garak sound quite so sincere. It took a moment for him to decipher to what he was referring.
‘In a way,’ Garak said. ‘Not a wife, of course. But… children.’
Miles stared, surprised.
‘You want children?’
‘Is it so hard to believe?’ Garak said, looking him in the eye. Miles fumbled for the right thing to say.
‘No, of course not. I mean… I just didn’t realise.’ They were quiet for a moment, while Miles tried to figure out how to ask. ‘So… how come you don’t?’
‘I’m hardly the marrying kind.’
‘There are other ways,’ Miles said. ‘Ever thought of adopting?’
‘Many times,’ Garak said. ‘But no one in their right mind would grant custody of a child to a deviant ex-spy.’
Miles’ first instinct was to object, not least about Garak’s use of the term “deviant”, but then he realised that, on both Cardassia and Bajor, he was probably right. Garak’s past in the Obsidian Order would make him unsuitable, and even if it did not, the fact that he was gay took away any possibility.
‘I’m sorry,’ Miles said, meaning it. Garak shrugged and looked over at the O’Brien children. ‘You know,’ Miles said, ‘an adoption application with Julian’s name on it would probably do pretty well.’
Garak gave a raw and joyless laugh.
‘You honestly think the Federation would allow him to adopt? They barely allow people like him to practice medicine. There’s no way they would let him raise a child and give him the opportunity to augment its DNA.’
‘He wouldn’t do that.’
‘Do you think they’d care?’ Garak said, his annoyance turning into resignation. Miles shifted, keen to get away from this part of the conversation.
‘Have you talked about kids at all?’
‘We have,’ Garak said and sighed. ‘He is set against it.’ He watched as Julian pretended to run away from Yoshi, who chased after him as fast as his little legs could carry him. ‘Did you know that he sees it as a blessing that he can’t have biological children?’
Miles could not remember if he had known, but it did not really surprise him. Julian had a good hand with children, but whenever the topic of being a parent came up, he got clearly uncomfortable. Garak continued:
‘He told me once that if it wasn’t for that, he would live in fear at passing something on to a child. Either some complication from the genetic augmentation, or some form of what made his parents seek out the treatment in the first place.’
‘Considering what Julian’s parents did to him, it’s not really surprising that he’s wary of having kids.’
Garak did not answer for a long while.
‘Were your parents good people?’ he asked finally.
‘Yes,’ Miles said. ‘My mother was a wonderful person. I miss her every day. I wish she would have got to see Yoshi, and Molly now that she’s older. Meet Julian.’
‘And your father?’
‘He’s a good man. We didn’t really get on in my teens, but he got better.’ At Garak’s curious look, he said: ‘He wanted me to pursue music as a career. Pushed me pretty hard. He was disappointed I joined up, but it passed. Now, he always makes clear that he’s very proud.’
‘Are you afraid you would push Molly or Kirayoshi, like your father pushed you?’
‘Of course,’ Miles said. ‘Sometimes I think I’m about to. But I check myself. When I’m not sure, I talk to Keiko about it.’
‘Is that why Julian is glad he can’t have children?’ Garak said. ‘Not because they might have been deficient–’
‘Don’t call it that.’
‘– but because he might have treated them like his parents treated him. Like a problem to be fixed.’
‘I think so,’ Miles said. The knowledge that he could not adopt must make that worse, he reflected. The government’s stance on augments as parents must feel like a sign that his own fear was warranted.
‘My father was a monster.’
Miles looked over at Garak and searched his face. He had lowered his gaze and fixed it on some point on the ground.
‘I’ve heard he could be cruel,’ Miles said. He had not wanted to state it as fact, but it ended out sounding minimising. He had never heard Garak speak of Enabran Tain, but he had heard bits and pieces from Julian.
Garak snorted at his choice of word.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘But not unthinkingly so. He tended not to fly into a rage. He was calculating. He knew just what to do to make any situation better or worse, whichever he saw fit.’ He paused, collecting his thoughts. ‘I didn’t realise until recently that that is the reason for my claustrophobia. Some childhood fear that imprinted on me.’ He shrugged. ‘Not that it all had that much finesse. There were straight-forward beatings too, of course. Corporal punishment of children and servants is common on Cardassia. Not taboo, like here.’ He pulled out some grass and twisted it between his fingers. ‘I used to think nothing of it. Now… I’ve gone native, I suppose.’
Miles thought of what he had said - “children and servants”.
‘What about your mother?’
Garak either misunderstood or deliberately misinterpreted him.
‘Oh, she was not a tender woman. She was well within her rights to thrash me, and did. Never as violently or as innovatively as Tain, though.’ Garak swallowed hard and looked up at the sky, as if to remind himself that he was outdoors. Miles watched him as he forced himself to slow his breathing. He did not say or do anything, uncertain how to act. He had started wondering whether to call to Julian to come over when Garak sat straighter, once again in control.
‘And there’s the crux of the matter,’ he said. He was trying to sound unconcerned, but the emotion still shone through. ‘However much I want it, I am not fit to be a father. The damage just runs too deep.’
Miles had to stop himself from reaching out and squeezing Garak’s shoulder. The whole thing seemed deeply unfair. Was that really how this should be decided - that mistreated children should grow up to be childless? He was not sure if Garak would be a good father, but that was because he had seen the things he was capable of in his most extreme moments. But he too had had his extreme moments, moments which made him feel sick to think about. For all his fears, he had never once hit his children, and he had never screamed at them like that one time when he had almost lost control. There was nothing to say that Garak would not be a kind and gentle parent.
Miles looked up. Molly was running back towards them, her arms full of flowers. Julian and Keiko were walking at a more leisurely pace, further behind, both holding Kirayoshi by the hand.
‘Hello there, sweetheart,’ Miles said. Molly sat down on the blanket. The flowers spilled from his arms into her lap. ‘That’s a lot of flowers.’
‘I’m going to make a flower-crown for mummy.’ She picked up two, crossed the stalks and twisted one around the other. When she took a third flower and twisted it around the other stalks, the second flower slipped a little. She frowned and made an annoyed sound.
‘Molly, may I help?’ Garak asked.
‘Do you know how to do it?’ she said.
‘I do.’ He moved closer. ‘That technique works well on daisies, but these stalks are too thin.’
‘Is there another way?’ she asked anxiously.
‘There is.’ Garak reached into his pocket and drew out a spool of thread. ‘Put those flowers in a little posy, perhaps with one or two more.’
Molly undid what she had done and bunched them together.
‘Do we tie them together?’
‘Yes, but we don’t break the thread.’ Garak unrolled a little of the thread and tied it around the flowers Molly was holding. ‘Get a few more flowers, and put them with the others. Not side by side, a little lower down. Perfect. Now, you take the spool like this and wrap the thread around. Like that.’
‘And then I add more flowers?’ she said, taking the spool which he handed her.
‘And you keep wrapping the thread around.’
Molly turned to her flowers to find the next few to add to her flower-crown. Garak leaned back on his hands, watching. Miles nudged him.
‘Hm?’ He looked over.
‘About what you said,’ Miles said under his breath. ‘Whatever happens with that, you should know, you don’t make a half-bad uncle.’
Garak smiled with a warmth Miles had seldom seen in him.
‘That,’ he said, ‘is not nothing.’