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Benson and Stabler got personal unlike ever before on 'Law & Order' Christmas crossover

This partnership is the gift that keeps on giving.
/ Source: TODAY

It's no secret we're big fans of "Law & Order" here at TODAY, so when we say the events of Thursday's crossover between "SVU" and "Organized Crime" were like never before, we mean it.

If you're looking for a detailed recap of the events of the Richard Wheatley trial or a play-by-play of what happened to Elliot Stabler's (Christopher Meloni) son, Eli, look elsewhere — because we are here to discuss the huge personal moments Stabler shared with his former partner-turned-"friend," Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay).

Fans were already in a frenzy because an NBC promo showed the two holding hands a few weeks ago, and now we know that was just one of many moments the two shared during the crossover episodes, "People VS Richard Wheatley" and "The Christmas Episode," of the two franchises.

Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler
Olivia Benson in her flirting era.Virginia Sherwood/NBC

After 12 years of working together as partners for the NYPD's Special Victims Unit, Stabler ghosting Benson for a decade — only to return to New York City for his wife to be murdered after a car bomb went off — an unexpected declaration of "I Love You," a letter Stabler wrote Benson that opened "a parallel universe" for their relationship and a very personal message that may or may not have made its way to Benson's voicemail, it was about time these two actually addressed what they are to each other.

Things got off to a rocky start as the trial for Wheatley, who's charged with the murder of Stabler's wife, Kathy, got underway. As fans know, Wheatley is aware of Stabler and Benson's closeness because last season on "Organized Crime," he implied Benson was the real "one true love" of Stabler's life (!!), so it's no surprise that he stirs the pot during the trial when he warns Benson she may not want to be in the courtroom when his ex-wife, Angela Wheatley, whom Stabler had a brief grief romance (if you want to call it that — they kissed) takes the stand.

Richard Wheatley
Richard Wheatley knows who "the one true love" of Stabler's life really is.Will Hart/NBC

Benson confronts Stabler about the conversation and asks him why Wheatley would've told her that.

"That's none of your business," Stabler tells Benson.

And this is when it gets really good, and Benson gets her time to shine and call out Stabler for being so caught up in himself since he returned to New York, that he hasn't bothered to ask what happened in her life the last 10 years.

"I know that you are carving your way through a mountain of grief, and I have tried to be here for you, but this is a one-way street, Elliot," she tells him.

"You have not asked me one question about what has happened to me since you left," she continues, and then mentions how Stabler showing up at her apartment one night unannounced, drugged while undercover, "scared" her. That night was also the night Stabler confessed he didn't write the letter he gave Benson when he returned to NYC and that Kathy had written it (we're still recovering from that one).

"Why did you give me that letter?" she asks.

"I'm not sure I know," he responds, "I guess I didn't know how to begin."

"Well that makes two of us," Benson says.

While it was a tough conversation to watch, it was a necessary one that ended up laying the groundwork for more personal conversations later on.

After Wheatley's case ended in a mistrial, things only continued to get worse for Stabler, who realized his youngest son, Eli, had left home and was nowhere to be found.

In a wild twist, Eli, who had previously gotten caught stealing his grandmother's medication, meets a girl and ends up in what he thinks is her apartment. They start drinking, and he pulls out some of the pills and winds up waking up passed out on the couch only to find the girl dead in the next room.

Eli finally calls his dad for help, but the older Stabler doesn't go to find Eli alone: He enlists the help of who else but his trusted partner for life, Benson.

At this point, fans recognize the car scene to be the one from the aforementioned promo where the duo are seen holding hands, and this time we get to see how that all plays out.

Can we just take a moment to acknowledge what a huge deal this is? After years of seeing the duo in the car together chasing down bad guys, fans finally get to see Benson and Stabler unlike ever before — as two people slowly starting to take their relationship to a place it's never been: Cue the handhold!

"Whatever happened, we're going to go, and we're going to bring him home," Benson says.

Benson and Stabler hold hands
This is a thing that actually happened.Law & Order SVU

"We're going to find out what is going on here and take it one step at a time," she adds, as their love theme (yes, they have a love theme that plays during pivotal scenes!) starts to play while she grabs his hand. And can we talk about how she turns her head in that moment and stares at him?

After another cop finds Eli and talks him down from jumping off a ledge, Benson and Stabler go to the police station to get him. It's worth noting the cop asks Benson if she's Eli's mother and also worth pointing out the parallel this plot has to Eli's birth.

In the season nine "SVU" episode "Paternity," Benson helps save a pregnant Kathy's life after the two were in a car accident. She also helps deliver the baby and holds Eli in the ambulance right after he was born. It's only fitting she's along for the ride this time as Eli is in crisis.

Stabler and Benson
Always so in sync.Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Back in the police station, Stabler pleads for Benson to join him in the room to talk to Eli about what's happening in a real moment of vulnerability. After both get the story of what happened out of Eli, they separately spring into action to piece together what went down and who was ultimately responsible for the girl's death (spoiler alert: It wasn't Eli!).

Later, they go to pick up Eli after he was evaluated by a doctor, and in another great moment, Benson has to step in to ask the staff where Eli is since in classic Stabler fashion, he comes in hot demanding to see his son.

Then Benson and Stabler share a moment alone before seeing Eli, and fans are treated to another conversation they've been dying to see — Benson talking about her dating life while Stabler was gone.

Stabler kicks off the conversation, telling Benson he wants to know about her life. (Talk about progress, we love to see it.)

Benson and Stabler
“Do you want to know my dating history, detective?”Virginia Sherwood/NBC

"Seeing anyone?" Stabler says. (Yes, he really said that!)

"Seriously?" Benson responds, to which Stabler questions, "Too awkward?"

"Little bit," she says, before confirming she's currently single.

"But you did," a serious Stabler says.

"Well, it has been 10 years, Elliot," Benson responds.

And just when you think Stabler may let it go, he says with the biggest smirk on his face, "About how many?"

(Taking a moment to reflect on how this is an actual conversation that happened between these two because it seems like a dream.)

Benson proceeds to tell Stabler about the one serious relationship that almost ended up being the one for her: Ed.

Fans, of course, know she's referring to Ed Tucker, who at one point was Benson and Stabler's Internal Affairs Bureau captain and let's just say, not the biggest fan of Stabler.

Stabler says he's "so sorry" after Benson tells him Ed died, and then the doctor comes in to bring them to Eli, who has been "showing signs of severe anxiety."

Later on, Stabler then pays a visit to Wheatley, whom he thinks may have hired the man who actually killed the girl Eli was with.

Wheatley tells Stabler the cryptocurrency the man received to murder the girl didn't come from him because the only one who can access his "proprietary coin" is ... his daughter, Dana, whom he shares with his ex, Angela!

Angela Wheatley
Plot twist — Angela's really the baddie?!Ralph Bavaro/NBC

Before visiting Angela, who's looking to be the real bad guy here, after talking to Richard, Stabler and Benson share arguably the most real conversation about their relationship status to date.

In a move similar to how Stabler grabbed Benson's arm after she safely helped deliver Eli in "Paternity," he pulls her arm to spin her around to talk to her face to face so he can thank her for being there for him and Eli, even though he now realizes he hasn't been there for her in a similar way since his return.

"I want to find balance here, in this — whatever this is," Stabler says. (OK, so it's confirmed that these two aren't just friends and what they have is complicated. We stan.)

"How about we call it a friendship," Benson responds to a grinning Stabler. "How's that for now?"

("For now" is now our permanent residence!!!)

"Hey my friend Olivia, I'd like you and your son, Noah, to come on over to my place this weekend for a family Christmas get-together," Stabler says.

"Wow," a clearly surprised Benson responds.

"OK, I just need to think about it," she adds, choking up while smiling because like us, she can't believe this is actually happening.

"But I'll let you know?" she says (in a high-pitched voice — are they flirting?!). "Can I let you know?"

"Just come," Stabler gently says.

Stabler insisting Benson and her son come over to his family's home — we need a moment! Not to mention how she stares at him after the conversation. Where is Mariska Hargitay's Emmy for this season?


At the very end of "Organized Crime," Stabler is at home enjoying Christmas with his whole family, when there's a knock at the door: "Hey, they're here!" Stabler shouts.

We can only think he was talking about Benson and Noah!? When he opens the door, he's surprised to find his current NYPD partner, Sgt. Ayanna Bell, who says, "I just heard something, and I didn't want you to be blindsided by it."

Talk about a cliffhanger. Could she have been talking about Wheatley becoming a free man after it was decided he would not be getting a retrial? Did something happen with Angela or Benson?

We'll have to wait and see what happens when both shows return next year, but for now, we'll continue living in these beautiful scenes.

"Law & Order: SVU" airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST, followed "Law & Order: Organized Crime" at 10 p.m. on NBC.