On Station Deep Space 9, under the command of Benjamin Sisko, Odo stops Quark in his bar. He wants to speak with him but the Ferengi is much too busy. Odo persists and asks Quark if he remembers a tip the barkeep gave him that a freighter was carrying smuggled goods. Much to Odo's surprise, when he investigated the ship he found Quark was telling the truth and had some of the crew arrested. Odo thinks he has a hidden agenda but Quark insists he has changed and wants to call a truce. As Quark and his brother watch the Constable leave Rom can't understand Quark's objective either so Quark quotes the seventy-sixth Rule of Acquisition, "Every once in a while, declare peace - it confuses the hell out of your enemies."
Quark is visited by an old friend, Rionoj, a female Boslic freighter captain. She asks him when the next transport to Bajor is to leave, as she has a delivery to make, a Bajoran earring. It was given to her by a Cardassian maintenance worker on Cardassia IV. Quark agrees to deliver the earring himself. The captain tells him to, "Consider it a gift," and Quark leaves her with a kiss.
In her quarters, Kira Nerys is meditating. She is interrupted by the chime of the door; it is Quark . She almost refuses him entry but finally relents and gives him five seconds. He tries to flirt as she counts down the time till she's ready to throw him out. He finally comes to the point of his visit and presents her with the earring. She recognizes it immediately, snatches it from his hand, and leaves, with him still standing there.
On the Promenade, Jake Sisko races to catch up to his father. He tells his father that he has a date with Laira, a young Bajoran girl. Ben thinks his son is looking for some relationship counseling but Jake says he's looking for some ideas where he can take her. Jake suggests the holosuites but Ben nixes that idea. As another option the boy wants to take her to their quarters to talk. No, no, no, his father asserts. Take her to the Promenade balcony if you want to talk. Jake complains, "But that's boring!"
Just then Kira approaches Benjamin Sisko and asks him if she can borrow a runabout. Bajor is in trouble. The pro-Bajoran group, the Alliance for Global Unity is gaining influence on the planet. She wants to go to Cardassia IV to rescue a Bajoran prisoner of war. She shows him the earring Quark gave her, telling him it shows the insignia of Li Nalas, one of the leaders of the Bajoran Resistance who is the greatest hero of the Occupation. Li has been missing and presumed dead, but the earring indicates that he's alive, and Kira believes the earring was smuggled out as a cry for help. She tells Sisko that Li is exactly the sort of man the increasingly factionalized Bajoran people need to lead them out the aftermath of the Occupation. It will be a dangerous mission and Sisko can only promise that he'll think about it.
Benjamin Sisko agrees that Bajor needs a man like Li to lead them in the aftermath of the Occupation. He decides to give Kira the runabout to improve Bajor's stability.
Over the intercom Miles calls Ben to one of the habitat rings. Sisko approaches Odo and O'Brien who point out another problem. Someone has sprayed the station walls with graffiti bearing the insignia of "The Circle." The extremist group wants to rid Bajor of all non-Bajorans. A troubled Sisko is worried that matters on Bajor will soon get out of hand so he orders Odo to step up security on the station.
With Kira's request in mind, Sisko seeks advice from Dax. He tells her that everything is starting to unravel and Bajor needs a hero. Dax advises him to let Kira have the Runabout. Surprised that Dax knows the story he then wonders what they will say to the Cardassians if Kira succeeds. Dax counters with a better question, what will the Cardassians say if prisoners of war are still being held there after they promised all were freed? Sisko then seeks out O'Brien with an offer to take a little joy ride.
When Sisko goes to Kira's quarters with his decision, Miles accompanies him. He tells Kira that he is willing to allow her use of a runabout on one condition - Miles O'Brien must accompany her on her mission into Cardassian territory. At first, Kira objects, worried that the presence of a Federation officer will only put Sisko in a bad light if they're caught. Sisko, however, is unwilling to bend, claiming he's taking a precautionary measure to get his runabout back on one piece. Kira reluctantly agrees saying she can use the company. Sisko and O'Brien rig a runabout to appear Lissepian on long-range scanners. As the Major and the Chief embark Kira tells Miles she wants something understood; if they don't return with Li Nalas they're not coming back at all. Miles still agrees to go.
As the pair near Cardassia IV they are detected by a Cardassian navigational post on long range sensors. Miles tells Kira that they are out of visual range and suggests they bluff their way out. Kira opens a channel and talks to the outpost. She makes up the name of a Cardassian Gul that is waiting for her shipment. The ruse works, and they even offer assistance but Kira just wants to make haste and tells them thanks but we'll fix it ourselves, and then closes the channel.
As they fly over the camp O'Brien has the transporter scan for Bajoran life signs. They are both surprised when they pick up about a dozen. Since the runabout can only beam up two people at a time, once the first two dematerialize the Cardassians will be alerted. In order to make sure they retrieve Li they need to land inside the prison camp where Bajorans are breaking rocks in the hot sun.
Kira and Miles approach the overseer at the entrance who demands to know what they want. Miles tells him he brought the woman to offer comfort to the Prefect. The overseer is uneasy about giving them entrance so Kira flirts with him. Finally, the overseer shuts down the force field and Miles warns there will be no sampling. As Kira walks past the gate the overseer snaps the force field back on and leaves Miles outside. He then asks to see what Kira has to offer. She starts to unbutton her blouse, then hits the Cardassian under his chin with both fists clutched. After a few more swings he's laid out and she grabs his weapon. She phasers the force field, then she and O'Brien make a surprise assault and get to the prisoners.
Li Nalas is unsure why these strangers are there. His friend Borum admits that he smuggled the earring out in order to get Li rescued. Kira and O'Brien usher the group of Bajorans out as Cardassian guards come at them with phasers blazing. Li is hit, and they take cover. The group makes the grim realization that they cannot escape with all of the prisoners. Borum orders Kira to take Li back to Bajor and insists that he and three other prisoners will hold off the Cardassian troops. Reluctantly, Kira allows Borum and the others to sacrifice themselves in order to save Li.
Back on the station, Bashir is there as they dock. Li is in need of immediate medical attention and Julian has them beamed directly to the Infirmary. Kira meanwhile seeks Sisko out in his office and inadvertently steps in on a message from Gul Dukat. She is shocked to hear Dukat apologize for the existence of the prison camp, and assure them he will chastise the Prefect accordingly. Ben and Nerys are skeptical when he announces that all of the remaining prisoners will be released. Sisko encourages Kira to be pleased with what has been achieved.
Li is amazed at the tremendous commotion he has caused on the station, as Bajorans openly stare at him in awe. Uncomfortable with the attention he admits he used to work there. An announcement is then heard of Minister Jaro's ship approaching. Kira greets the Minister as he complains that her adventure has made enemies. She has declared war on Cardassia, and they have thankfully declined it. He is adamant that the next time she disobeys orders will be the end of her military career. Then, the consummate politician soothes troubled waters by personally offering her his thanks.
The Bajorans on the station crave a few words from Li and Sisko talks him into responding. After he utters a few words about a Bajor that is now free, Jaro asks to speak. Li politely stands by while the Minister asks his fellow Bajorans to never forget this day because they can tell their children and their grandchildren that this is the day Li Nalas returned to Bajor. When Sisko finally escorts Li to his quarters he tells the Commander that all he wants is a moment of privacy. This morning he was a slave and tonight he is a hero. He asks Ben what Bajor is like with the Cardassians gone. Ben tells him it is doing well for the most part. He tells Li that both he and Bajor could use his help in bringing stability to the planet. He then tells him to get some sleep and Li remarks that it sounds like he is going to need it.
Meanwhile, inside his closed bar, Quark counts bars of latinum with Rom. Rom complains that the division is unfair because he only gets one bar to every six Quark gets. Quark agrees with his brother that it is very unfair then proceeds to count out one more bar for Rom and SEVEN for himself. A frustrated Rom leaves the bar and Quark continues counting latinum when a group of strangers come in. Quark says the bar is closed but all of a sudden he is attacked by three masked figures in robes, who force him to the floor and burn the flesh on his forehead with what looks like a small branding iron.
When Quark gets to sickbay, Dr. Bashir heals his scar with a dermal regenerator. When the good doctor is done Quark asks Kira how he looks. She offers a polite non-answer by saying he's as handsome as always and he grins contentedly.
Li is told that Quark's assailants are members of an extremist group from Bajor who call themselves The Circle. Li is appropriately shocked that Bajorans have done such a thing. Sisko explains that many Bajorans are turning to The Circle because they have grown impatient with their floundering government. Kira adds that the circle is more organized than the government so the Bajorans look there for a leader. She adds that they need someone who will speak out against reactionaries, causing all eyes to zero in on Li.
With the troubles of the station abating Ben heads for the comfort of his quarters only to find Jake still awake. When Ben asks what's wrong the dejected youth tells his father that his Bajoran girlfriend couldn't make their date. Her dad refused to let the girl see Jake because he is not a Bajoran. Sisko tries to console his son by telling him about some of the problems Bajor is having and that he's sorry Jake has become a victim of the unrest. Nobody deserves it.
Sisko then gets interrupted by a Com message, a freighter captain found a Bajoran stowaway aboard his vessel. As the captain moves aside Li Nalas steps into view. When Sisko retrieves him a short while afterward, the Bajoran hero is forced to explain he was secretly headed for the faraway Gamma Quadrant. Li painfully reveals that he was hardly a hero - the bravery he is so famous for is based entirely on rumors.
Li tells Sisko his story. When all but three of the members of his cell were killed he was the only one with a phaser so he became the point. He came to an embankment by a lake. Li says, "I was halfway down the embankment, I slipped and went sprawling on my back, down to the edge of the lake, just as a huge Cardassian emerged from the water. He must have just finished bathing. He stood there frozen in surprise, dressed only in his underwear, shivering from the cold. I lay there, looking up at him, too stunned to even move. It was only when he reached for a phaser rifle that was lying across his clothes on a nearby rock, that I realized I was still holding my own phaser. And I shot him - his body fell on top of me, and that's how my companions found us a moment later… I'll never forget that look on his face when he died. He was so… embarrassed!" When the Bajorans learned that this dead Cardassian was a great fighter, Li's encounter with him grew to reach mythic proportions.
Li continues, "Soon every victory won by the resistance was attributed to my leadership. Stories of my brilliance, my daring, my courage, grew more and more unbelievable - yet the people insisted on believing them. My reputation even followed me into the labor camp - where my mere presence seemed to inspire my fellow prisoners – and I had done nothing… but shoot an unarmed Cardassian in his underwear." The stories made him a legend. Li allowed the stories but he feels unworthy of leading the Bajorans. Sisko tells him that his people still need him. They're not asking him to lead men into battle. When they see him they see what is best in themselves. Bajor needs a legend. It needs him.
Realizing that Sisko is right, Li agrees to assume whatever role is necessary. When Li returns from a trip to Bajor he is accompanied by Minister Jaro. Jaro announces that by a unanimous vote Li has been named Navarc. It is a new title because there were no suitable titles available. Jaro also mentions in passing that the Navarc is now the Bajoran Liaison Officer to Deep Space Nine - the position currently held by Kira. "I already have a liaison officer," Sisko complains. Jaro states, "Not anymore, you don't. Major Kira is no longer assigned to this post. She's been recalled to Bajor." Though Li doesn't want the job, he accepts it under pressure.