Jadzia Dax looks on as Bashir uses his medical tricorder to examine an alien plant of some kind, which looks like a miniature bush with a large cone growing from it. She asks if he can tell what is wrong with the plant. In his "expert medical opinion," it is sick; however, when she asks why, he points out that he's a doctor, not a botanist. Unfortunately, Keiko O'Brien is at a hydroponics conference on Rigel IV and the only Dax host to experiment with gardening was Tobin, who had even less luck with plants than he did with women. All she is able to tell him about the plant is that she picked it up on Ledonia III. Asking to use her computer, Bashir discovers that Ledonian soil contains a type of fungus that helps plants retain water. He estimates that there is enough fungus left in the plant's soil to harvest it and produce a new batch and Dax tells him Keiko would be proud. However, he wishes humanoid patients were as easy to treat. Dax instinctively asks if Chief O'Brien has dislocated his shoulder again, but Bashir is referring to Garak.
The doctor relates his lunchtime experience and how Garak seemed on the verge of a seizure yet refused to visit the infirmary. Dax suggests Garak has a phobia associated with doctors, but Bashir believes it has more to do with Cardassian pride. While Bashir can understand Garak's desire to keep his past a mystery, he is at a loss for why Garak would be secretive about his medical condition. Dax observes that Bashir is taking the matter too personally, which he concedes may be true, but he points out that he and Garak have eaten lunch together once a week for over a year, which should garner a little trust in his view. However, Dax points out that Bashir and Garak are not actual friends, so Garak has no reason to trust him. It is obvious Bashir has feelings to the contrary as he agrees with her and claims he does not trust Garak either.
Later that evening, Bashir enters the mostly vacant Promenade and notices Garak talking to Quark, who holds a data pad. "So I take it we understand each other," Garak is saying to Quark. The Ferengi asks if he has ever let Garak down once in Garak's two years about Deep Space Nine. As Garak points out, they have never done business until now, which Quark says is why their deal is so important to him; he wants their business relationship to start on the right foot. Quark reassures Garak that he will procure Garak's merchandise, which Garak warns he must have soon. Garak leaves and Quark has a satisfied grin on his face until Bashir makes his presence known, claiming he could not help but "overhear" the conversation. Quark claims Garak ordered a "reasonably priced" sizing scanner from Merak II, nothing more. Bashir asks why Garak seemed upset, but Quark claims not to have noticed, offering him some Saurian brandy or a late-night session in a holosuite. Seeing he will not learn anything from Quark, Bashir politely declines.
As Bashir administers a hypospray to Commander Benjamin Sisko in the infirmary, he jokingly tells the commander not to yell at any more admirals. "I wasn't yelling; I was just expressing my feelings — loudly," Sisko replies with a grin as he exits. He and O'Brien acknowledge each other as the chief passes by on his way in. Bashir asks O'Brien to help him find some old Cardassian medical files. O'Brien is not surprised Bashir has had trouble in accessing them, as the Cardassians did a general systems sweep before they withdrew from Bajor. Medical files would have been deleted along with everything else, but as he accesses Bashir's computer, O'Brien estimates he can retrieve the bulk of the data within two to three weeks. Bashir seems dismayed, but Quark interrupts on the emergency communications channel to announce that he is needs the doctor to come to his bar immediately. Bashir and O'Brien exchange looks, unsure what to make of the request as Bashir grabs a Medkit and leaves.
In Quark's, Bashir finds a heavily intoxicated Garak sitting at the bar with several empty bottles of kanar in front of him, opening another over Quark's insistence that he has had enough. Garak is pleasantly surprised to see Bashir. He promises to reschedule their lunch date and asks Bashir to join him. Bashir accepts, reaching for the bottle, and suggests that they drink the kanar somewhere private. Garak agrees and suggests his quarters, but as they get up to leave, Bashir mentions that he must make a stop at the infirmary. Despite being intoxicated, Garak still has his wits about him. The Cardassian stops and laughs at Bashir's attempt to trick him, demanding the bottle back. The two of them debate the matter for a few seconds before Garak appears to suffer a seizure, grabbing Bashir's arm as he collapses in pain. Bashir contacts Ops to order an emergency transport to the infirmary and the two of them beam out of the bar.
Garak lies unconscious in the infirmary with a monitoring device on his forehead, and a Bajoran nurse attends to him as Odo and Bashir stand next to a screen on the wall. The screen shows a three-dimensional image of Garak's brain with a purple spot indicating a foreign object. Odo asks if it is an implant of some kind, but Bashir was hoping Odo could tell him since Odo worked for the Cardassians during the occupation of Bajor. However, Odo points out somewhat sarcastically that while he may know the Cardassians well, he has never looked inside their skulls. He asks if the implant is the cause of Garak's condition, which Bashir believes is possible, as the implant is connected to Garak's entire central nervous system. It may be a punishment device from the Cardassian government, but based on the scars surrounding the implant, Bashir estimates it has been in Garak's brain for years, whereas the Cardassian has only been in pain for a few days. Neither of them knows for sure what the implant is, but Bashir mentions that Quark may be responsible, piquing Odo's interest immediately. When he hears of Bashir's encounter with Quark, Odo remarks, "The direct approach seldom works with people like him." The meeting may help explain why Quark has sent several coded subspace messages — Odo explains that he routinely monitors Quark's communications, which, while not entirely legal, is in the station's best interest — and the constable tells Bashir to meet him in the security office at 0200, as that is when Quark makes his clandestine calls.
That night, Quark goes to his terminal behind the bar after closing and contacts Boheeka, an old acquaintance from the time when the Cardassians occupied Bajor. Boheeka inquires about a dabo girl he knew, as he misses her company. In a mischievous tone, Quark replies, "I'm sure she misses you too!" They share a laugh before getting down to business. Quark enticingly asks Boheeka if he would like to earn enough latinum to buy himself a promotion, at which point Boheeka gives Quark his undivided attention. The Ferengi needs the installation schematics for a piece of Cardassian biotechnology, which Boheeka says should be relatively easy to obtain. Boheeka asks what it is, but Quark never asks such questions of his clients, so he simply transmits a requisition code to Boheeka.
Meanwhile, Bashir and Odo observe from a monitor in Odo's office. Bashir hopes Odo does not have a camera like this in his quarters, to which Odo rhetorically asks, "Should I?" When Boheeka puts the code into his computer, a red light flashes and he looks terrified. Calling Quark an idiot, he exclaims that he is ruined, his career over. Quark wonders what happened and Boheeka furiously informs him that the code was for classified biotechnology; even the requisition code is classified. He demands to know where Quark got it but, once again looking frightened, thinks better of it and says he does not want to know. If he is lucky, the Obsidian Order will not trace the signal back to him. "Nice talking to you Boheeka. We'll have to do it again some time," Quark panics.
As Quark terminates the transmission, Odo terminates the camera feed and he and Bashir walk out to the Promenade. Odo explains to Bashir that the Obsidian Order is "the ever-vigilant eyes and ears of the Cardassian Empire." Common knowledge is that one cannot sit down to a meal on Cardassia without the Order noting each course; Bashir wonders what happens to people who eat something that is not in agreement with the Order, and Odo notes that people have disappeared for less. The Order's ruthlessness and efficiency are without measure, topping even the Romulan Tal Shiar. Bashir supposes that the Order put the device in Garak's brain, but Odo is more interested in why Garak wants to get his hands on another one. Garak may want to find a way to remove the device, but there is no way to know for sure without asking Garak himself. Bashir thanks Odo for his help and enters the infirmary as Odo resumes his patrol. When Bashir enters Garak's room, all he finds is a discarded hospital gown.
Bashir immediately visits Garak's quarters, but there is no answer so he uses an emergency medical override command to open the door. Inside, he finds Garak administering triptacederine to himself with a hypospray. Although Garak seems pleased to see Bashir and observes that he must have missed the door chime, his speech is heavily impaired by the effects of the drug. Bashir finds that Garak has taken enough of it to inoculate an Algorian mammoth, but as Garak barely feels anything, he claims Cardassians must be made of something sterner. Fed up with the games, Bashir orders Garak to come with him to the infirmary, and Garak assures the doctor that he is beyond help.
Cutting to the chase, Bashir tells Garak that Quark is not coming. A worried look crosses Garak's face although he tries to cover it up as he asks how Bashir knows this information. When Bashir tells him of Boheeka, a dismayed Garak says he should have expected as much. He concedes to himself that it may be for the best, requesting his hypospray back from Bashir. Bashir refuses, warning Garak that another dose could kill him. "Thank you for your concern," Garak says politely, "but I'd rather have the hypospray." However, Bashir refuses to let his Cardassian friend commit suicide. Garak demands it back, holding a small container of triptacederine, but falls to his knees in pain as the cranial implant acts up again.
Now Garak leans against a chair and allows Bashir to take the container from his hand. He informs Bashir that his cranial nerve cluster should have deteriorated slightly by now, and as he scans Garak's head with a tricorder, Bashir adds that the deterioration is not so slight. Nonetheless, Garak refuses to go to the infirmary because he has no intention of allowing the Bajorans on the station to see him in his present state. Bashir asks about the implant, so Garak explains that it is not a punishment device, although it has become one in a way. He avoids direct talk of the implant's nature, however, reassuring Bashir that it cannot be removed, because if it could, it would be useless. The implant was given to Garak by Enabran Tain, head of the Obsidian Order, and was designed to trigger the production of endorphins in the event that Garak was tortured, making him immune to pain. However, it was not designed for continuous use.
Life aboard DS9, where the temperature is too cold, the lights are too bright, and the citizens loathe him, has been torture for Garak since he arrived. Not wanting to deal with the pain any more, he created a device that allowed him to trigger the implant on demand and used it for a few minutes each day. As time went on, he gradually began using it more and more until he left the implant on permanently. Two years later, the implant is breaking down, and while Bashir suggests turning it off, Garak's body has become addicted to the higher endorphin levels. Garak has essentially given up, a strategy which Bashir sees as letting "them" — the Central Command, Obsidian Order, or whoever exiled Garak to DS9 — win. The Cardassian calls Bashir an annoying pest, but he is used to hearing the insult from Chief O'Brien and claims he never listens to O'Brien either. In light of Bashir's undaunted optimism, Garak confronts the doctor with the fact that he deserves his punishment. Bashir insists no one deserves such treatment and all that matters is that Garak is his patient and he is Garak's doctor. "Wrong again, doctor," Garak corrects him. "You need to know who you're trying to save."
At the time of the Cardassian withdrawal from Bajor, Garak tells Bashir, he was a Gul in the Cardassian Mechanized Infantry. When a group of Bajorans escaped from his custody, his aide Elim tracked them down and followed them aboard a Cardassian shuttle headed for Terok Nor. However, the captain of the shuttle claimed to be under strict orders from Gul Dukat to depart immediately and refused to let Elim search the shuttle. Garak had the shuttle destroyed, killing the escapees, Elim, and 97 other Cardassians — one of whom was the daughter of a prominent official. Garak was subsequently stripped of his rank and exiled from Cardassia. As he finishes the story, he hangs his head in shame, having finally revealed the truth to Bashir. Bashir, now more compassionate than before, reaffirms the fact that the only thing concerning him is his patient and helping Garak. Whatever the side effects of turning the implant off may be, he promises to help Garak through them, but he needs to know where the triggering device is. Garak points him to a drawer and he takes it out.
Garak lies unconscious on his bed with a monitoring device on his forehead. Bashir and Nurse Jabara are at Garak's bedside and Bashir informs her that he will be with Garak for at least the next twenty-six hours if she needs him. She leaves and he tells the computer to monitor Garak's implant for any signs of activation. Shortly thereafter, the door chime rings. Odo enters, hoping to ask Garak a few questions. However, Garak has been unconscious since Bashir turned the implant off, so he and Odo talk quietly in the corridor outside Garak's quarters. There Odo informs him that he has four unsolved homicides which he is certain are linked to the Obsidian Order. However, Bashir explains that Garak's body has undergone a severe shock and he is unsure when, or if, Garak will recover. Odo wants to talk to Bashir immediately when he learns the Cardassian might not recover, but Bashir forbids anyone except emergency personnel from entering Garak's quarters for the time being. That night, Bashir remains in Garak's quarters, monitoring his progress and worrying about him, and eventually falls asleep in a chair near Garak's bed.
Garak awakens in the middle of the night and sits on the side of his bed sobbing out of both pain and sorrow when Bashir too awakens. The doctor approaches Garak comfortingly, but Garak wants to be left alone. The more Bashir attempts to comfort Garak, the more agitated Garak becomes, calling his life pathetic and DS9 a prison. He grabs a nearby vase of flowers and smashes it on the floor as he speaks. Although Bashir attributes this behavior to the side effects of the implant's deactivation, Garak claims he is more clear-headed than he has been in the last two years. Referring to his life aboard DS9 as a waste, he overturns a table in frustration. He claims he was once the protégé of the head of the Obsidian Order, Enabran Tain, a man more powerful than even the Central Command, until he was exiled. Bashir refers to the incident with the shuttle, but Garak reveals that his disgrace is even worse than he previously claimed.
In this version of the story, Garak and Elim were interrogating a group of Bajoran children, none of them older than fourteen. The air was chilly and Garak's stomach was growling, and suddenly the entire exercise suddenly seemed meaningless-- "all I wanted was a hot bath and a good meal." Garak gave the children whatever latinum he had and released them. "Elim couldn't believe his eyes, he looked at me as if I were insane." Bashir sees his act as honorable, but Garak claims he was a fool and should have turned the children over to the troops for execution. In one swift move, he was exiled to the station with nothing to look forward to but having lunch with Bashir. As Garak describes life on the station with contempt and claims he hates it, and hates Bashir, Bashir patiently tries to get Garak to lie down, but the Cardassian lunges at him. A brief struggle ensues before Garak suffers another seizure and goes into shock.
Once again in the infirmary, Bashir tells Jabara to administer more hyperzine to Garak, but Garak's body does not respond. They use cardiostimulation to stabilize Garak's heartbeat, but the Cardassian's lymphatic system still reads critical. A perplexed Bashir cannot understand why toxins continue to accumulate despite the implant being shut down, so he uses the computer to analyze previous bio-chemical samples. A comparative view of samples from the past 39 hours shows a pattern in the progression of Garak's leukocytes, indicating that the molecular structure itself has been altered. While it may be possible to synthesize Cardassian leukocytes, doing so would take weeks. Jabara suggests that they turn the implant back on, as it could keep Garak alive for another week or two. However, Garak awakens and forbids it.
Garak tells Bashir that he never wants the implant turned on again, and while Bashir empathizes, he is unsure of what else he can do. On hearing this, Garak gratefully assures the doctor that he has already done more than the Cardassian deserves. Garak announces that he wants to tell Bashir the truth, something Bashir has given up on finding. "Oh, don't give up on me now Doctor. Patience has its rewards," Garak replies softly. The truth is that Elim was not Garak's aide but his friend, closer to him than a brother. The two of them were powerful members of the Obsidian Order, referred to by many as the "sons of Tain" and feared by even the Guls. When a scandal erupted over the release of several Bajoran prisoners, there were rumors of who would be implicated, and as Tain had retired to the Arawath colony by then, he was unable to protect Garak. Panicking, Garak altered records and planted files in an attempt to frame Elim, but Elim beat him to the punch. When Garak was subsequently exiled, he admits he deserved it, not for the reasons the government claimed, but for betraying his best friend. He confides in the doctor that he needs to know someone forgives him, which Bashir does, acknowledging for both of them that Garak is a good man despite past wrongdoings. Finally at ease, Garak falls asleep peacefully. Bashir informs Jabara that he plans to leave and will return within 52 hours, intending to "find the man responsible for this."
There is a somber feeling as Bashir leaves DS9 in a runabout and travels to Cardassia, although it is unclear how he learned where to go. He travels to the colony Garak mentioned and beams to the surface, arriving in a conspicuously empty Cardassian-style dwelling. After glancing around, Bashir presumes he is alone and wanders over to a nearby computer console. Whatever is displayed on the console's monitor intrigues him, but as he reaches toward it, a Cardassian man emerges from a doorway behind him. "Doctor Bashir," the man interrupts in a friendly tone. "Welcome. Please, make yourself at home."
Bashir is speechless, unsure of what to say. The Cardassian observes that the doctor must have something to say to him after coming all this way, at which point Bashir identifies the man as Enabran Tain. Tain returns the favor, demonstrating his knowledge by identifying his guest as "Doctor Julian Subatoi Bashir." Although he explains that he informed military Bashir would be coming, Tain is nonetheless impressed by Bashir's audacity in making the journey. Tain walks over to a replicator and asks if Bashir would like anything, suggesting Tarkalean tea. The idea appeals to Bashir, who mentions that he always drinks Tarkalean tea before he suddenly realizes how suspicious it is for Tain to know such a thing. "A good host always knows the needs of his guests," Tain explains as he orders Bashir's tea — extra sweet, just the way Bashir likes it — and a glass of kanar for himself. He hands Bashir the tea and asks if Garak's condition has improved at all. However, Bashir is focused not on Garak but on Tain's incredible wealth of knowledge, observing that Boheeka had reason to fear the Obsidian Order. Tain claims he likes to stay informed on current events despite his retirement, noting with amusement that Bashir could probably tell him many things he would be interested to know. Sarcastically, Bashir offers his opinion on the latest nillimite alloy tennis racket, but Tain respectfully declines.
Tain finds it strange that Bashir is trying to save Garak's life since he thought Bashir was Garak's friend. Given the earlier exchanges Bashir had with both Dax and Garak, he thinks the matter over for a second before replying, "I suppose I am." In that case, Tain believes Bashir should let Garak die, which in his opinion would be kinder. Bashir reaffirms that his job is to keep Garak alive and solicits Tain's help. The Cardassian feigns surprise at hearing Bashir believes he has a solution for Garak's condition. When Bashir confronts him with the fact that he ordered Garak to put the implant in his brain, Tain fondly explains that he never had to order Garak to do anything. He sarcastically weighs the options and decides to give Bashir the information; however, he does so not to help Garak but because he wants Garak to suffer. When Bashir sarcastically observes the lovely sentiment behind Tain's statement, the Cardassian assures him it is from the heart and sends him on his way. Before he leaves, Bashir asks what happened to Garak's friend Elim; laughing, Tain explains that Elim is Garak's first name. Despite the hatred Tain has expressed, he asks Bashir to tell Garak he misses him. When Bashir orders the runabout to beam him up, he pauses momentarily before he gives the energize command, Tain's words weighing heavily on his mind as he realizes none of Garak's stories were true.
Back aboard DS9, Bashir sits alone at his and Garak's table in the replimat and is surprised when Garak walks up and asks to join him. Bashir seems annoyed, albeit in a concerned manner, that Garak is not in bed. Bed is out of the question, as Garak could not stand being in the infirmary and feels fine anyway. Before his companion can respond, Garak asks how Bashir's Idanian spice pudding tastes. Bashir finds it incredible that Garak can simply go one with life and pretend the last ten days never happened, but as Garak is satisfied with the way things turned out, he sees no point in dwelling on such a difficult time for both of them. Perhaps because he agrees, perhaps because he does not want to argue, Bashir simply sips his beverage.
Garak seems surprised as he informs Bashir that Constable Odo is under the impression he was once a member of the Obsidian Order. Of course, he assured the constable this was untrue. Odo told Garak he plans to keep a close eye on him from now on, which seems fine with Garak as he claims he has nothing to hide. Taking out a data rod, he hands Bashir Meditations on a Crimson Shadow, a Cardassian novel by Preloc. The doctor is unenthusiastic by the notion of more Cardassian literature, but Garak believes this novel is more to Bashir's liking. He explains that it is about a futuristic war between Cardassia and the Klingon Empire. Bashir dryly asks who wins, to which Garak grins and responds, "Who do you think?" "Never mind, don't tell me, I don't want to spoil the ending," Bashir says sarcastically. As Garak laughs, Bashir obviously has something more serious on his mind. He wonders which of the stories about Garak's past are true and which are not. Garak reassures him they are all true — especially the lies.