The whole drive home, Elliot rehearses in his head what he's going to say to convince Olivia to eat. He tries not to focus on the surrealism of such a task, that he actually has to talk a grown woman into keep herself alive. A part of him is curious as to what would happen if he simply ordered in her favorite food and ate it and enjoyed it in front of her. Would her hunger kick in and would she cave, or would she dig in her heels even more?
Olivia doesn't say a single word until a block away from her apartment, when she turns to Elliot and asks, with a hint of coquettishness, "So I guess this means you're staying with me indefinitely?" The implicit amusement in her voice unnerves him all over again. Does she really believe this is about him?
He brings the car to a halt in front of her building and puts it in park, then turns to her. "Look, Liv, let me level with you. I want to stay with you. I want to help you out, okay? I think you need some help, recovering." He looks into her eyes, searching. For some sign of comprehension, of reason. "Can you understand that? Can you appreciate that?"
Her expression clouds over; a moment ago, she had been in a good mood. "I think so," she says, but she doesn't meet his gaze.
Still, it's better than facing her anger, or, worse, her insistence that she be left alone. He reminds himself what dangerous ground he treads upon; if he pisses her off, she can make up her mind she wants to be alone, and, short of a court process to declare her incompetent – which, for the sake of her dignity if nothing else, he would like to avoid at all costs – there will be nothing much he can do about it.
"Great, Liv, okay, I'm glad." He starts to put the car back in drive, searching the street for a legal spot. As he makes to pull away, he glances back at her. She is so, so pale. "Are you feeling all right?" he asks.
All at once he's worried she won't be able to walk the distance from the spot he eventually finds back to her apartment. In his head, he doubles up on his vow to feed her. She can't go on like this. "Why don't you hop out here, and I'll go park. I'll meet you in the lobby." He's so afraid she'll faint he wants to accompany her on the elevator himself.
Luckily, she agrees without ceremony and exits the vehicle. He watches her walk languidly up the few steps to her building and disappear inside. He then circles her block, hunting for a parking space, his heart pounding.
Her utilitarian lobby is unfurnished and deserted and when he enters it, eight minutes later, he finds her sitting on the dusty floor, cross-legged like a kindergartner, staring into space listlessly.
He approaches her cautiously, trying to assess her state of mind. "You all right?"
"I had to sit," she says, cryptically.
"Okay," he responds evenly. "Why don't we go up to your apartment, and you can sit down there? I'm sure your couch is a lot more comfortable than the floor."
She considers the request. "Okay."
When, a second later, she still hasn't mustered to get to her feet, Elliot crouches in front of her. "Are you able to stand?" he asks gently.
She stares at him blankly. He's unsure whether she doesn't know the answer, or doesn't want to admit she can't.
"Are you feeling weak, Liv?"
"I'm fine," she answers quickly, but he detects a flicker of guilt pass over her face.
He lets it go. His goal isn't to shame her. "Okay, you wanna get up, then, and we'll head up to your apartment?"
"Okay," she whispers, looking somewhat shell-shocked.
He reaches a hand out to her, beckoning her to take it. He tries to hoist her up, but she makes no effort to pull her own weight.
Again, he crouches in front of her and leans forward, his face level with hers. "C'mere." He takes both her hands and wraps them securely around his own neck. "Hold onto me." He wraps his own arms around her torso in a firm bear hug, and then slowly pulls her to her feet like a crane, her face sheltered against his chest. He maneuvers to his right, still holding onto her waist, and they make their way across the lobby.
As they shuffle towards the elevator, he notices she's favoring her left leg. "You all right?"
"Are you limping?"
But she is. And he's sure she wasn't before.
All at once, he understands. "Did you just faint, Liv?"
Her shoulders start to shake. "I'm sorry," she whispers. "I'm sorry, I tried, I tried, I'm sorry…"
His first instinct is to chastise her, lecture her about the urgency of getting some food in her, but he refrains. A sharp, intense sadness ripples through him. "Shh… shh… you don't have to apologize," he says quietly, "C'mon. Let's go upstairs."
He leads her straight to the couch as soon as they enter the apartment, depositing her there, and then heads to the fridge, from which he extracts a fresh turkey sandwich he bought at the deli earlier. He grabs a plate and starts to make his way to the coffee table, formalizing an impromptu strategy in his head as he does so. He lays the plate with the sandwich on the coffee table in front of her, and then pivots to face her, regarding her warily for a moment before speaking.
She stares ahead blankly as he wipes a lock of hair away from her face. He gapes at her, suddenly mute, taken aback by her pallor, her gauntness, but also by her beauty, which has not receded despite the ravages of the physical torment she's been made to endure. He keeps his palm poised on her forehead as he addresses her. "Liv?"
She glances, almost furtively, towards him.
"Sweetheart, can I ask you a question and will you promise you'll be honest with me?"
"When you were in the room, what would Gunther do to you if you broke the rules?"
Her shoulders slump, and tears twinkle in her eyes. "I don't…. I don't want to talk about it," she whispers.
"Do you believe he can still hurt you?"
She looks up at him with childlike innocence. "I don't want to break the rules, Elliot."
"Because he'll hurt you or because you believe the rules are good rules?"
He swallows, gathering his thoughts. She's being responsive, lucid. He doesn't want to lose the moment. "Can we talk about that?"
"Well, what if you'd never met Gunther?"
This gets her attention; she is intrigued. "What do you mean?"
"A few weeks ago, you'd never heard of Gunther, right?"
"And so you didn't know about him, about these rules, is that correct?"
"So what would you have done?"
She blinks, somewhat bewildered. "I guess I…. I guess I just would've gone on… doing… the wrong thing. Sinning."
"But you didn't know you were doing that. How could God blame you if you didn't even know?"
A lifetime of agnosticism has left her unfortified against such basic challenging, and she hesitates, trying to break the logic. He can sense the doubt in her voice when she responds. "That's why God made sure I met him." He senses it's a flimsy answer even to her own ears, but she's convinced it is surely true.
"But how many times did you put your life in danger, all those years? Were you always destined to survive, each and every one of those situations, all to satisfy a master plan for Gunther to eventually get ahold of you?"
Hesitantly, she answers, "I think so."
"What about Ruth?"
"The little girl who came into the precinct, who first told you about Gunther. What about her?"
He's troubled that she appears to have to actively search her memory for Ruth. Six days of standing by Amaro, and he'd heard the whole story. Of how attached Olivia had gotten to Ruth. Of how concerned she'd been over the child's welfare.
"Sh-she…. she led me to him," Olivia says, but her voice is riddled with confusion.
"Yes, she did."
"But… she wasn't real."
He blinks. "Ruth wasn't real?"
Olivia squints, as if concentrating on a particular memory. "Ruth needed help."
"Yes, Liv, she did. And you helped her."
But there's frustration in her eyes. "No, you don't understand."
"What don't I understand?"
"H-he knew. Gunther knew."
"He knew what?"
"That you're what?"
She swallows, shame suddenly taking over her face. "Worthless."
Even after all this, she has managed to shock him. "Is that what he told you?"
"No, I… I told him." She pauses, furrows her brows. "I think."
"Did he make you say you were worthless?" Silently, his heart breaks. She's a grown woman who has not only been made to say these debasing words, but also, evidently, to believe them.
Her voice squeaks. "I said it because it was true."
His first instinct is to reject her statement with a vociferousness that would belie his incredulity that she could claim such a thing in the first place, to chide her vocally for her sheer ridiculousness.
But as he looks into her broken, haunted eyes, he sees how badly she's been hurt by her acceptance of her worthlessness, that it's become a core part of her identity. He recalls Huang's advice.
"No, honey," he says gently. "You're not worthless. How could you possibly think that?"
"Because it's true! She told him! She was there! She was… there?"
The cryptic sentence ends in a question. He cocks his head, disturbed less by her outburst than by the underlying confusion laced in her statements.
"Who was there, Liv? Ruth?"
She ignores the question, suddenly frantic. "She knew. She said it!"
Patiently, he asks, "Who, Liv?"
But she's agitated now, intent on the narrative. "She was in the room!"
"Was Ruth locked in the room with you?" He's horrified by the implication. This utterly changes the story. They will have to re-interview the little girl.
Olivia is frustrated. "Ruth…. Ruth was in the room?"
Elliot swallows, realizing that he is treading on dangerous territory. She's still vulnerable to suggestion, and he has to take care not to inadvertently feed her false information that she may later repeat in a legal setting. "Liv, look at me."
Tentatively, she obeys.
"After you left the room with the children in it, did you ever see any of those kids again?"
She considers the question. "I don't think so."
He takes a steadying breath. Patience, he reminds himself. "Okay, good. So you said a moment ago that 'she' was in the room with you. Who did you mean, Liv?"
"She was there," she insists.
He's troubled by her inability to process a simple question. Something is wrong. "Who was, Liv?"
"She was in the room."
"The room where Gunther kept you?"
"Yes. I couldn't touch her, because my hands were tied behind my back." She explains this detail rather matter-of-factly.
He sighs, regarding her sadly. "Honey, your mother died over ten years ago. Don't you remember?"
"I-I… I was in the room…. Gunther must've been there… before she died?"
Again, her voice rises in a question, and he sees the confusion confound her. Suddenly, it dawns on him that her enigmatic statements are not all the result of complex brainwashing. Part of the irrationality, he realizes, is physiological. Her starvation has started to take a toll on the clarity of her thoughts.
"No, Liv. Your mother wasn't there. Only Gunther. This all happened last week."
"Only Gunther? But I…. I don't understand."
He pulls her close. "I need you to listen to me, Liv. You haven't eaten in days. You're confused because you're hungry. That's the reason Gunther put you on a fast. It wasn't to teach you anything, it was to confuse you, make you see things that weren't there. It was the only way to make you believe in him. Because he could see how strong you were. And so he knew the only way to weaken you, to make you believe what he told you, was to starve you. You have to eat, now, Liv, so that you can stop being confused."
Furtively, she eyes the food on his plate. It is a bare-bones turkey sandwich, but she looks at it lustfully, like it's a royal feast. Huang is right: this is not anorexia. She has an appetite; she feels hunger. She wants the food.
And so this is his chance. Under any other circumstance he would feel guilty about exploiting her moment of vulnerability, but such manipulation is necessary; it's literally, he thinks grimly, a matter of life and death.
He takes the sandwich in his hand, shows it to her. "Do you trust me, Liv?"
"You… you're my partner."
He takes that as a yes. "That's right, Liv. Do you trust that I would never do anything to hurt you?"
"And do you believe me when I tell you I would never force you to do anything against your will?"
"Good. So I want you to listen to what I'm about to say, okay, but then I'm going to leave it to you to decide what you want to do. It's going to be your choice, okay? I'm not going to force you to do anything, but I want you to listen. Will you do that?"
"All people eat food, Liv. God designed the body that way. If we don't eat, we die. No God wants you to die. Do you understand?"
"I do understand. I know that."
"Okay, good. And do you understand that your body can't go much longer without food?"
She hesitates. "I-I…. I do understand. But…"
"What is it? Please, Liv, trust me. You can tell me anything."
Her eyes cloud over. "I'm scared."
"I know you are, honey. But I promise you, you'll be safe. Nobody's going to know. Nobody'll find out. But if you don't eat, you're going to die. And that will be against God. God won't forgive me, if I let you die. And I won't forgive me."
He pulls her as close as he can, holds up the sandwich, brings it to her mouth. "I promise you, Liv, nothing bad will happen to you if you eat this. Gunther, he won't know."
He inches closer to her on the couch, their sides touching. He hopes the physical proximity helps ease her fears. "Take a bite, Liv. Go ahead. Take one bite, and I'll stay right here with you. I won't leave you, I promise."
He waits, letting her take as much time as she needs to process his words. Her chest rises and falls steadily, in measured, calculated breaths. He pictures her counting to three in her head, consolidating her resolve, steeling herself for the frightening task ahead of her.
When she's finally ready, she looks him straight in the eye, and, with a slight nod of the head, reaches for the sandwich.
They have, together, finished half of the sandwich when a knock at the door causes him to look up sharply. Olivia, however, jumps out of her skin.
Elliot looks at Olivia, who promptly spits out her most recent bite of food and looks up, cat-who-ate-the-canary guilty. He frowns, deeply annoyed by the intrusion. Just when they'd been making progress.
"It's okay," he says soothingly. "It's okay, let me see who it is."
Despite his reassurance, she scurries from her seat and runs behind the couch, crouching, holding onto its back for dear life.
"Who is it?" Elliot calls, keeping an eye trained on Olivia.
He wishes Amaro would've called first. This is no time for an impromptu visit.
Elliot turns to Olivia. "Do you want me to let Amaro in?"
She doesn't answer, seemingly paralyzed in fear.
"Hang on a second!" Elliot calls. He approaches Olivia slowly, palms unthreateningly in the air, not wanting to scare her further.
She is breathing heavily. He tries to break the spell of fear. "Honey, look at me."
Several seconds pass, and, tentatively, she meets his gaze.
"You remember Amaro?"
She takes a second – a full second – to think. "My new partner," she whispers.
"Right, right. You talked to him the other day at the station. Do you like him?"
"Yeah? What kind of guy is he?"
She thinks about it. "He-he's like you."
He manages a lighthearted chuckle. "Yeah? In what way?"
"He's a good father."
It's not quite the answer he expected, but he'll take it. "All right, well that's good to hear. So he's a nice guy, right?"
"And do you trust him, Liv?"
"Good. Okay. And do you trust me?"
"You know I do."
"All right, that's good. So do you want me to let him in? If you don't, I can tell him to go away."
She stands there, looking at him blankly.
"Listen to me, Liv. This is your apartment. You get to decide who comes in here. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I understand," she answers robotically.
"So if you don't want to see him, you don't need a reason, okay? You just say the word and I'll tell him to go away."
She nods. "Okay."
"Okay? So do you want him to come in or to go?"
She starts to visibly tremble, looks around at the walls as if they, too, have doors behind which strangers are waiting to be let in.
All at once, Elliot understands. "Hey, hey, listen to me. Are you maybe afraid it's really Gunther behind that door, that this is some kind of trick?"
She stiffens at the mention of her captor's name, her eyes immediately flitting to the half-eaten sandwich on the coffee table. Damning, irrefutable evidence of her transgression. Elliot watches as conflicting emotions, thoughts, fight for supremacy inside her head. Her brainwashed mind is telling her she's supposed to want to see Gunther, and that any admission otherwise might earn her punishment. But gut-level fear of what Gunther might do to her is paramount. He approaches her frozen, statue-like form, and pulls her into a bearlike embrace. His arms encircle her completely. "I've got you," he whispers. "Nobody's gonna hurt you. Nobody's gonna punish you."
Seconds tick by, and, gradually, she relaxes in his arms.
He starts to release her. Then he cocks his head, winks at her, and gently grasps her elbow, pulling her towards the front door. "C'mere," he says, "I want to show you something. I promise I won't open it."
He leads her to the door, and points at the peephole. "Go ahead, take a look."
She does as he asks.
"Who do you see?" he asks her.
"I see Nick."
"Right. And do you believe it's really him?"
Instantly, she turns red. Ultimately she is a grown adult, and there is still a part of her mind that is rational, telling her how ridiculous it is to believe her eyes are capable of such deceit. "I-I-I… of course I do," she stammers.
He knows she's only telling him what he wants to hear. He bends his knees to her level, looks her in the eye, gets her to hold his gaze. "You said you trusted me, right Liv?"
"Okay, so I'm giving you my word: it is Nick at the door, okay? This isn't a trick. I promise."
Olivia closes her eyes and stands perfectly still, her hands by her side, clenched into light fists. Elliot watches, as she tries to find her center, tries to tame warring factions inside her head.
Thirty seconds pass before she finally reopens her eyes. The dramatic transformation Elliot had hoped for is not fully evident; visceral fear still monopolizes her face, and her body still trembles perceptibly.
But her voice is clear. "Okay. Open the door."