It's like he doesn't age.
These were the words which ran through Peter Keating's mind as he set his eyes upon the man before him. A few lines had lightly etched themselves into the man's face over the years, but rather than giving him a worn out expression, they seemed to instead accentuate the wisdom he had accumulated through his fifty-six years of life. The dark bags which outlined his gray eyes seemed to exaggerate the brightness of them, the hope which had somehow always gleamed even in the darkest of times. Even his hair, still curled and long and a fiery red, remained unaffected by the cruelty of time.
Because he can never die.
Where had he heard this before? Keating couldn't remember. It had been far too long. But it brought him a strange sort of relief, knowing that the man that stood before him could somehow be granted immortality. Knowing that Howard Roark would always be there. But it brought about an overwhelming feeling of fear as well.
Keating remembered the first time he had entered Roark's office, how empty and bear it felt. He remembered the satisfaction which had once ragged through as he gazed upon the sorry man who had faced rejection—something Keating once thought he would never feel. But now here he was, standing in Roark's office, in the building which Roark himself had built, and helplessly allowing his eyes to fall on the many drafts and sketches which were piled on and spilling off the large desk in the center of the office. Sure, Roark had gone through a minor rough patch after he built the Wynand Building, but he was used to it. He was used to the silence of the phone, the nasty looks from more "high class" architects, the piety remarks from hypocritical and hysterical clients. He was used to all of it. After all, he got the work he needed. He always did.
Because he's not human.
He really wasn't.
Now, Keating stood before the desk, staring at the man sat on the other side whose lips were pulled back into a genuine smile. "Hello, Peter," he said, as though they had just met a week ago and not a decade ago. Keating had called hours before, out of the blue, asking to see Roark. Roark had asked no questions. He made no comments. He merely told him to be in his office at three.
Now, Keating stood in the office he had mocked years ago, before a man he had wanted so desperately to hurt. He stood before a smiling man who knew just how badly Keating wanted to destroy him. He almost felt silly standing in front of Roark—disgraceful even. Keating had stopped looking in mirrors long ago. He could no longer bear the site of his still growing stomach, of the skin which seemed to sag off his bones and was now deeply engraved by years and years of stress and age wrinkles, of the hair that had gone a deep gray and thinned to all bad nothing.
"Howard." Keating heard the words echo through the office, but did not feel his lips say them.
"It's been a while, hasn't it?" Roark gestured to the open chair across from him. Perhaps years ago, Roark would have been shocked by Keating's appearance. But he seemed to understand now. He seemed to understand more now. That, too, frightened Keating.
"A lifetime." Keating sat down and the two fell into a silence. Roark's eyes remained on Keating, as did the smile on his face. What does he want? Keating wondered.
"How have you been?" Keating nearly jumped at the voice which tore through the silence. "I haven't heard much of you."
Keating shook his head. "It's like it was twenty years ago," He said. It was not Roark he was speaking to. "Just like that. And I'm still the same. You are too, you know. You haven't changed. So someone so inhuman…"
"You believe I am inhuman?"
"You are," Keating's gaze had glazed over and rested on the paper work which spilled over Roark's desk. "You're not real."
"But you are?" Roark's eyes widened a bit as he leaned back in his chair, the tips of his fingers coming together. "As you said, you have not changed—"
"Nor have you—"
"—You claimed to be a parasite, if I recall. An empty shell. Yet you sit here and say I am not real?" His words lacked the hostility Keating had secretly longed for, but did not believe he would find. And why would he? The words were blunt and spoken in the monotone voice which had haunted Keating since college.
"But Peter," Roark continued. "You're wrong. You have changed. In character, at least. Or rather, you've changed since your college days. But—" Roark's gaze seemed to sharpen, focusing not on Keating, but within him; within the depths of his mind, his past and for a moment, Keating truly believed Roark could see every action he had done in solitude. "—you knew that, already. Didn't you. You knew it long before Cortlandt."
Keating nodded, smirking a bit. "That I did."
"Yet, you still search for work, do you not?"
"I do. But what is wrong with that?"
"You still mimic others."
Keating began to chuckle and within moments his chuckled escalating into a manic, high pitched laugh which would have sent most men running from the room. But Roark continued to sit before him, his face neutral, waiting for the laughing to stop on its own accord. After minutes, it began to falter until Keating had finally collected himself. "Haven't heard much of me, did you now, Howie?" Keating chuckled. "But you've seen my sketches?"
"Well, you're right. I'm still a parasite. And you know what?" Keating leaned in, lowering his voice as he annunciated the next sentence. "I always will be."
"Are you proud of this, Peter?"
"Does it matter?" Keating asked, throwing himself back into the chair. "Men cannot change, therefore I never will. I am trapped, Howard. I am trapped within myself."
"So you know?"
"I always have," Keating smirked again. "I think I always have. Even in college, I knew."
"So why didn't you change?" Roark asked, raising a single eyebrow. "That's what I never understood about people. Even when they know they are trapped, they chose not to change. They chose their lives of pain. Why?"
Keating looked across the desk at the red haired man. For a moment, he felt a familiar sense of irritation run through, budding suddenly into an overwhelming sense of anger. "Why?" Keating nearly shouted. "Goddammit, Howard! It's just what people do! It's what they are! People are a certain way and they just can't fucking change! Why can't you understand that?"
"Dominique changed," Roark said. Keating looked at him, the sound of his heavy breathing echoing through the room. It was then he realized he was standing once again. He did move. "Dominique, you remember her, yes?" Keating said nothing. "She was a masochist. She hated the world and took it out on herself. She claimed it was a protest, but truly, she just needed to feel pain."
"She finally married the man she loved. She changed."
Keating took a deep breath, his eyes remaining on the red haired man, his limbs suddenly becoming heavy. He felt his legs wobble a bit before he allowed himself to collapse back on the chair. He knew he wouldn't rise from it again. His anger, her hatred—it was gone. It was gone and all he felt now was a sort of drained reminisce of the powerful emotion that once was misplaced within him. "She did, didn't she?"
"She did. Gail did, as well. He gave up on power long ago."
"That he did." Keating nodded, his eyes, Roark could see, had glazed over. Although they sat on Roark, Roark could see they were no longer looking at him. They were looking within Keating's own past.
"What are you thinking, Peter?"
"You can't guess?"
"I am not some sort of god, Peter. I am as human as you."
Keating smiled. The smile was looked so worn out, Roark though. "No Roark, that's where you're wrong. You truly are not human." He then stood from the desk and walked slowly toward the door. He then turned back, taking one final look at Howard Roark. "You were never human, Howard. And that is the reason you will always be a success."