Disclaimer: I don't own the characters and I make no profit of them. Aarif's all mine, though.

small a/n: Sorry for the update delay, guys, it's been forever, but thanks to those who never stopped supporting this story, here it is, a long-delayed and maybe a bit short, yet hearty update.


ALL REAL NAMES, EVENTS AND FACTS in this chapter are used as part of the FICTIONAL PLOT I have for this story, and I will ask the readers to please keep that in mind while reading. This story is fan fiction and I don't claim it to be anything else.

Thanks to everyone who is still following this story! For everyone who demanded this chapter - I hope you enjoy!:)

"The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else."

Umberto Eco

Aarif opened his eyes at the sound of a door slamming. As he searched for what had caused the sound, he saw Jess noisily drag a chair to the side of the bed.

Jess sat down in the chair with his feet stretched before him, crossed at the ankles, hands folded before his chest, eyes flashing with suppressed anger.

'I'm listening,' Jess scoffed, in a demeanor Aarif imagined he would to his fifteen year old son if he caught him stealing or something. Stoical patience.

Aarif lifted his right arm to rub his eyes and grimaced with pain as he did so. Right, Paris had told them he was eventually gonna get better, but the pain would be pretty bad for at least a couple of weeks.

Jess watched impartially. Not that he was ever one to cry his heart out for someone's physical pain or something. No, right now, he was actually the first to wish he had shot the guy himself.

'I was assigned with you,' Aarif started and tried to move himself to sit in the bed, using only his unharmed arm for support.

Jess watched him icily.

'There is very close surveillance over every US citizen who crosses a Pakistani border,' Aarif continued, managing a half sitting position, 'especially over journalists and whomever in the mass media.'

Jess' eyebrows curved up a little, but he kept silent.

'The ability to manipulate people's opinion is a strong device, you know that. Nothing compares to the intelligence of a crowd - it's less than the one of the most stupid man in it, divided by the number of people it consists of. And the government is well aware,' Aarif went on and his eyes darted towards Jess'.

In other circumstances, Jess would make a comment on Aarif quoting Pratchett, and Aarif knew it. But he wasn't surprised this time his friend sat on motionlessly in his chair, waiting for him to elaborate.

'So,' Aarif continued, 'basically, I had to check up on you. By what we knew, which wasn't much, you had had a troubled childhood, finished high school two years late and published a book. You had a job, your book was selling okay, your life seemed to finally be coming to some settling point. And then, suddenly, you decide to come to Pakistan and write about terrorism.'

I don't deserve this, Rory.

You don't.

Aarif paused and shook his head thoughtfully.

'It didn't make sense. You know, there aren't many normal people who do that, and since everyone who crossed border was being checked upon, you kind of stuck out. Who had sent you? What for? Why you? A young American writer writing about terrorism? Was that what you were? That's why I met you in that bookshop in the first place,' Aarif gave Jess a slight nod.

They were both reminiscing that day, almost three years ago.

'In a few days, anyway, I knew you were no threat.' Aarif's pale lips moved an inch up.

Jess' eyebrows were still knit together.

Aarif knew what Jess' unspoken question was.

Why did you follow me then? If you knew I was no threat, why did you spend more than a year with a worldly unknown American writer, pretending to be someone else?

'Jess, have you heard of news fiction?' Aarif asked then, instead of a reply.

A baffled flash crossed Jess' eyes before he regained an impartial expression and nodded slowly.

He had come across that stuff. Political fiction. The news as they could be. It was basically built on quoting real political figures on real events. However, political fiction only used certain words the politician did say, and then faked all the rest to serve mainly manipulation purposes.

Jess had once read something based on Obama's speech on Afghanistan policy which started with 'three thousand Americans being murdered and terrorists plotting to strike again, America having actionable intelligence and being ready to react,' but then went on with America's plan on striking first and not letting foreign elements design US defense strategies. In a subtle way, it was provocative and implied future war.

'From what you've heard,' Aarif continued, 'I guess you know how hard it can be to distinguish the real news from the fictional ones.'

Jess watched him silently.

'You heard about Assange and Wiki Leaks, right? That's just one side of the matter. There are two groups of people - these who believe in world conspiracy and those who don't. And a third group, who manipulates the first two. It's just that most people believe only the first two exist.'

Aarif paused and let out a quiet sigh, thinking his next words over.

'Censorship on the Internet is extremely precise in the Middle East,' he explained.

'Remember how hard it was to even open your email when we were in those villages near Peshawar? But there is this news fiction site that's not banned and it's gaining growing popularity in Pakistan. I mean,' Aarif made a gesture with his left hand, 'huge popularity.'

'And people truly believe what they read there. At first I was struck by the fact it wasn't banned. But then I thought that there was some good reason it wasn't, right? You need quite a back to maintain such a thing - some of the articles there are... let's say in the best case they are pretty suggestive of impending international conflict. It looked like...' Aarif rubbed his good hand across his chin.

'How do you say that in English? Ah, yeah, something's cooking. I started investigating the people who supported this site and, guess what, there was actually a company behind it... a weapon company.'

Their eyes met and Jess licked a lip.

'Where do I stand in all this?' he asked coldly, although his eyes had softened, Aarif could tell.

On some level, Jess intuitively felt all Aarif was telling him was true.

'The reason we met in that bookshop was because I was assigned with you,' Aarif admitted bluntly. 'Then, when I started to investigate the weapon company, you became undercover.'

Jess' jaw clenched.

'Then you became a friend,' Aarif added quietly.

'Cut the crap,' Jess hissed, suddenly getting agitated, 'What did you come here for, Aarif?'

Aarif sighed.

'I told you, you're the only one I can trust,' he answered simply.

'When I got to the weapon company, I went straight to my boss, told him I had information on the investigation... That was right before we were ambushed in that camp in the desert...' and you saved my life, was the unvoiced end of the sentence.

Seems I really am the only one you can trust. Too bad that you aren't, Jess thought bitterly.

'I need someone who can write articles so convincing, so that they can prevent another war,' Aarif said slowly, carefully.

Jess' head jerked up, his mouth slightly open. He stood up and started passing to and fro, trying to compose himself.

'Hilarious, that's just hilarious!' he snarled, shaking his head.

He exhaled noisily and ran both hands through his hair.

'Are you out of your mind? Who do you think I am, Gandhi?'

A muscle over Aarif's jaw twitched as Jess continued pacing.

'You're unbelievable, you're fuckin' unbelievable. This is not a video game, this is my goddamn life we're talking about here. Did you even think about Rory when you came here, Aarif? Did you think about her when you came here in the middle of the night, shot, bleeding and possibly followed? She's my wife, for God's sake! My wife, Aarif!' he pointed at his own chest, blind with fury.

He paused, trying to catch his own breath, staring at his own feet. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet and even.

'I want you out of here by the end of the day.'

'What does he want?' Rory asked as Jess entered the room, leaving her steaming mug on the bar plot.

'Just the usual, he asked me to join him on a save the world mission and prevent a World War III,' Jess huffed frustratedly.

Rory looked up at him before she took his hand and lead him on to the sofa. She sat down and pulled him along.

'Jess... what's going on?' she asked quietly, trying not to sound upset.

Jess leaned forward on his elbows and rested his head into both hands.

She scooted closer, inspecting him intently.

As he felt her hands wrap round his waist, he closed his eyes and relaxed.

'Come 'ere,' she whispered, drawing him towards herself, so that his head rested into her lap.

She started gently massaging his temples.

He let out an audible sigh.

'Tell me everything,' she demanded softly, her fingers feather-light over his cheekbones, jaw, lips, closed eyelids. 'You're not alone in this. Whatever it is, you're not alone.'

A/N: Cards on table, there comes BIG CONSPIRACY. Any thoughts? Your opinions are eagerly welcomed.