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Julian Bashir received more than his share of looks askance from those he encountered as he strode through the corridors of the habitat ring toward Garak's quarters, but he had expected no less given the unusual outfit he was wearing — and how little it left to the imagination, regardless of the fact that it completely covered his entire body except for his head and his hands. The archaic riding costume was also at odds with what he carried: a first aid medical kit on a strap over his right shoulder and a large black Durex sports bag slung over his left. Enough to provoke curious glances indeed… and a few knowing smiles, because by now word of Garak's defeat of Primator Assok had surely circled the station at least ten times over, as well as the news that he'd left the Infirmary still bruised and contused, quite possibly in need of further medical attention. 

Which was exactly what Julian intended to provide, among other things. 

He knew he appeared calm and collected, but internally he was still reeling slightly from what he'd witnessed a few hours previous. He'd known that Garak was dangerous, and he'd strongly suspected that the Cardassian wouldn't scruple to do whatever needed to be done to accomplish his goals — no, strength of will was never something that he would ever accuse Garak of lacking. But the reality… 

"I just hope this won't wind up getting too bloody," Julian had muttered, half to himself, as he'd stood beside the ring watching Garak and Assok warm themselves up in their respective quarters. Quark, to whom he'd sort of directed the remark, had turned in place to almost gape at him. 

"Too —?" The Ferengi had shaken his head, slowly smiling. "You've obviously never seen a jealous male Cardassian in action." 

"As a matter of fact, no, I haven't." But that wasn't quite true: he'd seen the look in Garak's eyes the one and only time the spy had kissed him, cold blue eyes telegraphing pure intent to commit violence in Assok's direction. Which didn't bode well for the present circumstances, now that he thought about it. 

Quark had grinned hugely. "Let's just say that even if Garak wasn't already packing a whole lot of tricks up his sleeve, I wouldn't exactly give the Primator good odds. They'll tear through solid duranium to keep what's theirs, and they don't stop for anything. And I do mean, anything." 

"You don't say." His heart, which had already been weighing heavy in the vicinity of his duodenum, had sunk even lower, and his one faint hope of talking Garak out of this madness had vanished along with it… but did he even understand the tailor's motivations in the first place? After all, it wasn't like Garak was doing this because he was really jealous: he'd made it amply clear over the past three months that he wasn't interested in Julian Subatoi Bashir that way at all. Frankly he'd had no idea what Garak's reasons actually were, but whatever they were, he was fairly certain that sexual passion didn't actually have anything to do with it. 

There had been both bitterness and sweetness in that realization: sorrow because desire was what he'd wanted most from the charming, infuriating and enigmatic man, and gladness because if Garak was approaching this from a purely rational perspective, he'd be more likely to concede the match if he started to lose badly. Julian was a physician, habituated to the sight of suffering, but Garak's pain was never something that he'd ever become entirely inured to, of that he was certain. The prospect that Garak would back down before getting horrifically injured had provided him with some measure of comfort under the currently far from ideal circumstances.  

But then…. well, then the ritual combat had actually begun, and in short order Julian had ended up staring in disbelief, stunned at the way his jovial and somewhat plump lunch companion had suddenly transformed into a prowling tiger, complete with toothy snarl and eyes that practically blazed with their own inner fire. He'd seen hints of this during the episode with the malfunctioning implant, while Garak was talking about his probably mythical past, but this was different somehow — he couldn't have put his finger on exactly how, but there was a quality to Garak's menace that was so clearly intimate, so personal, that in that wordless communication he had clearly seen what words could so easily be used to conceal. Garak wasn't defending an ideal, or even his beloved Cardassia: he was fighting for something that he considered his, and… 

Julian's heart had soared toward the rafters: Dear God, it's me he's fighting for! That is what this is really all about! He'd found himself forgetting to breathe, every catastrophic blow that Garak took feeling like it was shattering his own flesh and blood. It was almost beyond endurance: twice he'd felt Commander Sisko's hand on his arm, holding him back from sprinting into the arena and stopping the carnage, but when it was all over Garak had been the last one standing, albeit for less than five seconds before internal organ damage finally took him down. Sprinting to catch him and lower him to the sand, then scanning his battered body, Julian had been absolutely amazed at the extent of the injuries, and that Garak had managed to stay on his feet for so long with that much internal bleeding and what was undoubtedly a tremendous amount of pain. But in the end all that had mattered was that he was still alive, and that once they were transported to the Infirmary he was within Julian's power to save.  

And yet — infuriating indeed! — he hadn't stayed for the full course of treatment, leaving with numerous cuts and bruises still unhealed. But maybe, as Garak himself might say, it was for the best: after all, it gave Julian a clear excuse to come to his quarters with a dermal regenerator, and who was to say that such an outcome hadn't been Garak's plan all along? But somehow Julian doubted it: the expression on the spy's face when Julian had suggested it, so surprised and then so wary, had carried its own frequency of truth. Garak had fought for him, and had legally won him, but Garak was still hesitating to claim his prize. Honestly, the man had raised the practice of caution to the level of an Olympic sport, which would almost be admirable if it wasn't so bloody frustrating. 

Reaching the door of Chamber 901 of Habitat Level H-3, Julian gave his outfit a final once-over downward glance and smiled to himself. Well, this prize was oh, so very willing to be claimed — and Garak would have to have ice water in his veins to resist the gambit that Julian intended to play next. 

He touched the door chime and waited, raising his chin and drawing back his shoulders to present the most confident picture imaginable when the portal opened, his pulse beginning to beat more quickly in keen anticipation of Garak's reaction to what he next beheld.