When Garak sees a Cardassian boy on board Deep Space Nine, he decides to introduce himself, but the boy, Rugal, bites him. The boy has been raised by Bajoran parents and taught to hate and fear Cardassians. His adoptive parents claim that they do not consider him a Cardassian any more, but allegations of abuse lead to an investigation into the family. Gul Dukat tells Sisko that he is trying to bring orphaned Cardassians back from Bajor and that the discovery of Rugal will strengthen his case. Miles and Keiko O'Brien agree to care for Rugal during the investigation, and Rugal helps Miles overcome his prejudice against Cardassians.
Meanwhile, Garak suggests to Bashir that more is happening than meets the eye. Bashir requests a runabout so the two can travel to Bajor, although he is unsure of what Garak wants to do. Sisko refuses until Dukat contacts him again to inform him that genetic tests have revealed that Rugal is the son of a prominent Cardassian politician named Kotan Pa'Dar. Sisko allows Bashir and Garak to travel to Bajor and Garak takes them to an orphanage that took in many Cardassian orphans when the occupation of Bajor ended. They retrieve several databases full of information, but during the trip back to DS9 Bashir grows impatient and demands to know what is happening. The ever-mysterious Garak hints that the situation has to do with the conflict between military and civilian interests on Cardassia.
Garak tells Bashir that Pa'Dar is a political rival of Dukat and Bashir begins to understand but is still confused. Back on the station, Pa'Dar arrives to greet Rugal, but O'Brien warns him about Rugal's feelings. Pa'Dar explains that on Cardassia family is everything, and he blames himself for letting Rugal be left behind on Bajor. When he meets Rugal, he tries to tell the boy that he had no choice and did not know Rugal was on Bajor. However, the boy does not remember him and calls Pa'Dar a "Cardassian butcher." Pa'Dar is deeply wounded by Rugal's bitterness toward him.
Regardless of what has happened, Pa'Dar wants his son back, but Rugal's adoptive father refuses to give Rugal to him. The two of them approach Sisko to be a neutral arbiter and he accepts. Shortly thereafter Gul Dukat arrives on the station, claiming that he is there as a part of his quest to return the Cardassian orphans. During the hearing, Garak and Bashir's search for information on Rugal comes up empty, but they find the woman who took Rugal in at the orphanage, who remembers that a Cardassian woman attached to Terok Nor (the Cardassian name for DS9) brought him to her.
Bashir interrupts the hearing, where he reveals that Rugal's discovery was planned by Dukat all along: Dukat ordered one of his subordinates to leave Rugal behind, with the full knowledge that the boy would one day be found and that Pa'Dar would be humiliated as a result. This was done since Dukat and Pa'Dar are longtime political enemies: Pa'Dar was one of the civilian politicians who ordered the Cardassian withdrawal from Bajor, costing Dukat his position as prefect. Also, Pa'Dar is now ordering an inquiry into illegal Cardassian smuggling of weapons, an inquiry in which Dukat is a prime suspect. Dukat storms out, and Sisko awards custody of the boy to Pa'Dar, who reassures Sisko that Dukat will never reveal what happened now that he too has been humiliated. Bashir and Garak sit down for another one of their lunches, where Bashir asks Garak for the truth about his history with Dukat. Garak smiles and tells him to notice the details, which he compares to crumbs scattered across the table.