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The definitive timeline of Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler’s relationship on 'Law & Order: SVU'

After 25 years of "will they or won’t they" chemistry, are Benson and Stabler finally poised to get together? Read on for the best moments from TV's slowest of burns.
/ Source: TODAY

The decadeslong partnership between "Law & Order: SVU" star Mariska Hargitay’s Olivia Benson and "Law & Order: Organized Crime" star Christopher Meloni's Elliot Stabler has been deemed by many fans the longest slow burn in television history.

The history between the two is "complicated," as Hargitay told TODAY in February. She said the chemistry between the characters has been "undeniable" and "a complicated factor" in their "deeply complex relationship," which has inspired countless works of fan fiction.

Starting in 1999, Benson and Stabler were official partners at the Special Victims Unit for over 12 years, until Stabler's abrupt departure at the end of Season 12 in 2011. Neal Baer was the “SVU” showrunner for over 10 of those years and played an instrumental role in the show’s and characters’ development. After a decade away, Meloni reprised Stabler in the "Law & Order" universe in 2021 on Stabler's own spinoff, "Organized Crime."

The beloved characters have shared many scenes together since Stabler's return (including one very notorious letter), and Benson was encouraged in the Season 23 finale of "SVU" to explore romantic feelings with Stabler. Still, they haven't shared a kiss (yet).

With Season 24 premiering in September, we thought what better time to take a very (and we mean very) thorough look back at the "complicated" history between Benson and Stabler.

Season 1, Episode 2: 'A Single Life'

Stabler gives Benson his 1st 'look'

Season One of "SVU is laced with incredible Benson and Stabler moments that are still discussed to this day.

Even though these two aren’t that far into their partnership during "A Single Life," they do a pretty good job of acting like it. "I'm never home. I'm always with you," Benson says to Stabler.

Soon after comes a scene in which Stabler realizes his feelings for Benson could extend beyond work — or so many fans believe. He stares longingly at her as she's putting something in the car until she turns and notices and says, "What?"

Chris Meloni and Elliot Stabler and Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
Down bad since day one, according to many fans."Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

The case the two are working on is also focused on a woman who led a relatively single life, which parallels Benson's own at the time. In this moment, Stabler appears to also be recognizing how her life contrasts with his family-filled life in the suburbs.

Season 1, Episode 8: 'Stalked'

Stabler tells Benson to blink her lights

The eighth episode of the inaugural season of "SVU," "Stalked," really put "Protelliot" — a nickname given by fans to Stabler when he’s acting especially protective — on the map.

When a suspected killer who stalks his victim sets his sights on Benson, the squad, particularly Stabler in Protelliot mode, goes the extra mile to keep an eye on her.

One morning, Stabler shows up at Benson's apartment, saying he was "in the neighborhood" and thought he'd give her a ride to work. Benson, wise to his actions, points out Stabler had to have gone out of his way to make her home a stop on his way in.

Chris Meloni as Elliot Stabler and Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
Season One was something else actually."Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

Then Stabler steps inside, and the two sip from the same glass of orange juice before heading out. Later on, Stabler drives Benson home and offers to walk her inside. "I know how to protect myself. I'm not a civilian," she replies.

"You're not a superhero either," Stabler says, before adding, "Blink your lights when you get inside." "You're just going to sit here all night until I do, aren't you? You stubborn son of a b----," she says with a smile. "Yes, I am."

Season 1, Episode 10: 'Closure'

Stabler tells Benson he's her partner 'for better or worse'

Protelliot prevails in this especially personal episode for Benson. Benson sleeps with Detective Brian Cassidy (Dean Winters), another member of the "SVU" team, one night. She wants to limit their relationship to one night and one night only, but Cassidy wants more, making for some awkward moments.

After Benson affirms their night together wasn't m to her, she starts talking to Stabler by their lockers. He asks her how long she"s been "sleeping with Cassidy." Benson denies it before caving and asking, "Is it that obvious?"

Chris Meloni as Elliot Stabler and Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
Parallel to this scene when?"Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

Then Stabler says one of the most quoted lines among the fans, to this day: "I'm your partner — for better or worse."

Benson explains by saying she broke one of her personal rules by getting involved with a co-worker. She says Cassidy wants to go out with her again, to which Stabler responds, "Can you blame him?"

Season 6, Episode 8: 'Doubt'

Stabler tells Benson his wife left him

A case of he said/she said between a college advisor and a graduate student, in which the advisor says he and the student had a consensual sexual encounter and the student claims it was rape, lands Benson and Stabler on opposite sides.

"Elliot, what's wrong with you?" Benson says during one of their heated, very close face-to-face arguments about the case. "Her words can put him in prison for 10 years," Stabler says, after claiming the grad student "hasn't told a consistent story yet."

The partners' boss, Capt. Donald Cragen (Dann Florek), interrupts and calls them both into his office, where the student's lawyer claims Stabler sexually harassed her client when he brought her home from the hospital. Viewers know this was not the case, as he only touched her to prevent her from falling down the stairs.

The lawyer then drops the bombshell that Stabler's wife, Kathy Stabler (Isabel Gillies), filed for legal separation — and if that wasn't enough, adds Kathy took the kids and moved out of their house. A shocked Benson stares at Stabler as he tells the lawyer, "You have no right to use my personal life to make your case."

Benson follows Stabler out into the squad room and asks him what's going on at home. "Hey, would you talk to me?" she shouts after him as he walks away. He turns back and walks up to Benson and responds, "Kathy left me."

At the end of the episode, Benson and Stabler each air out how their initial judgments about the case could've been wrong, effectively seeing the other's point of view.

The scene turns personal and Benson asks what happened with Kathy. Stabler shrugs and says, "The job — it makes me kind of hard to live with."

"She should try working with you," Benson responds in a moment of levity, which brings a smile to Stabler's face. She follows up by asking Stabler if he's OK, but Cragen cuts them off to tell them it's time for closing arguments. The audience never finds out the jury's verdict, as the screen cuts to black and the credits roll before the verdict is read.

Season 6, Episode 13: 'Quarry'

Stabler reminds Benson 'it's not all about the genes'

Benson teams up with Cragen for most of this episode to work the case of a boy who’s been missing since 1980. Stabler doesn’t come in until the end of the episode, but he delivers arguably one of the most important lines Benson’s ever heard in her life up until that point.

Benson asks Stabler if he ever worried about what his kids would be like before he had them and added that he's lucky he and his wife know what they're "passing on."

"Half my genes are drunk, and the other half are violent and cruel," Benson says, referring to her mother, who had an alcohol dependency, and her father, who raped her mother. "Look how great you turned out," Stabler says in response as Benson walks away.

That line effectively stops her in her tracks. "It's not all about the genes, Liv," Stabler adds as he turns around to face her. "All you can do is love your kids." Benson, clearly affected by her partner's words, nods and turns to face him before heading out and whispering, "Good night."

In retrospect, that line is even more significant now that Benson has a child of her own — a son named Noah (Ryan Buggle), whom she adopted after finding him during a particularly dark case.

Season 7, Episode 19: 'Fault'

Benson and Stabler choose each other over the job

Buckle up, because "Fault" starts the unofficial holy trinity of Stabler and Benson episodes, as the events impact both detectives so heavily that — spoiler alert — Benson ends up asking for a new partner by the end.

It all starts when Benson, Stabler and the SVU squad surveil a bus terminal for two children who were kidnapped by a sex offender, Victor Paul Gitano (Lou Diamond Phillips). In the middle of a sudden commotion with the crowd, Stabler spots one of the missing kids, Ryan, and shouts to get his attention. At the same time, he sees Benson as she's raising her gun at Gitano, who has his arm wrapped around the other child.

After Benson tells him to freeze, Gitano quickly slashes her neck with a knife, and she falls to the ground. Now Stabler has a choice to make: Does he go after Ryan, who's quickly grabbed by Gitano, to try to bring him to safety, or does he go in the opposite direction to make sure his wounded partner is still alive?

If you guessed the latter, you would be correct. "Olivia! Oh, my God, no!" he shouts as he approaches her on the ground.

The decision that changed it all.
The decision that changed it all.Virginia Sherwood / NBCU Photo Bank / Getty Images

As it turns out, Benson isn't fatally injured, and she tells Stabler to go after Gitano. Stabler, however, was too late getting to Ryan. Gitano had killed the young boy by the time he arrived.

After Stabler learns this, he starts lashing out, mostly at Benson as he stews in his emotions over the decision he made. "I can't do this anymore. I can't be looking over my shoulder making sure you're OK," he says after Benson points out she couldn't shoot Gitano since he was using the child as shield.

It isn't until he's talking with George Huang (B.D. Wong), the group's forensic psychiatrist, that Stabler realizes his choice to save Benson was his own, and she didn't make him. "It was my choice. Nobody else was responsible for it but me," he says.

Don't forget, Gitano is still on the loose, and Stabler and Benson eventually enter a facility without backup in search of Gitano and the remaining missing kid. They split up, and eventually Gitano grabs Stabler by the collar and holds a gun to his head as Benson enters the scene. What ensues is a truly unforgettable standoff where she has to decide if she wants to risk shooting Gitano to end this once and for all, or run the risk of hitting Stabler and killing him by mistake.

Stabler keeps telling her to shoot Gitano, and eventually says she can do "the right thing" in this moment since he says he did not when he chose to go to her after she got hurt instead of running after Ryan. "I would’ve done the same thing," Benson responds.

Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
Cinema is Benson and Stabler having an entire conversation with their eyes."Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

At this point, they both have tears in their eyes as the standoff continues. "I'm sorry," Benson whispers, before a sniper takes out Gitano, effectively ending the standoff.

After Stabler and Benson have located the missing girl, they sit for an intense discussion. Stabler says he knows Benson "would’ve taken the shot" if the sniper hadn’t first, to which she responds, "No, I wouldn’t have. Did you really expect me to? Did you really expect me to cause your death? What about your kids?" she says.

"I don’t know. I just couldn’t get that boy out of my head,” Stabler responds. “What about me?” Benson whispers.

“Look, we both chose each other over the job. We can never let that happen again,” Stabler says. “Otherwise, we can’t be partners.”

“I can’t believe you’re saying that,” Benson says. “You and this job are about the only things I’ve got anymore,” Stabler replies. “I don’t want to wreck that. I couldn’t take it.”

The episode ends with Benson in Cragen’s office asking for a new partner.

Season 7, Episode 20: ‘Fat’

Stabler gets a new partner and things between him and Benson are 'too complicated'

Part two of the so-called holy trinity kicks off appropriately with Stabler at church in confession. “It’s like I keep losing people,” he tells the priest, and acknowledges it’s not just family he’s lost but also “friends.”

“You mean someone at work?” the priest asks, before their session is cut.

Stabler starts working with another detective, Lucius Blaine (Anthony Anderson). The two aren’t vibing well at all, and Cragen tells him he and Benson “needed a break from each other,” and she’s now working in Computer Crimes. In whose opinion?” Stabler asks. Cragen doesn’t let on that Benson asked for a new partner and just says, “Decision’s made.”

But things clearly aren’t working out between Stabler and his new partner, since Stabler punches Blaine in the middle of the squad room.

Later on, Stabler’s in the locker room changing when Benson appears in the doorway. “I like that shirt,” she says and explains she’s there since she heard about the squabble between Stabler and Blaine. Stabler asks her why she didn’t tell him she was no longer his partner. Benson points out they’ve been partners for seven years — “longer than anybody else” there.

“We needed a change,” she says. “I’m sorry, I should’ve talked to you. It’s just — it’s just too complicated.”

Cragen tells Stabler he’s “running away” from himself and that he paired him up with Blaine so he can get a taste of what he is like to work with. “God knows how Olivia put up with you for so long,” Cragen says to him. “Well, Olivia’s a saint,” Stabler responds.

Season 7, Episode 21: ‘Web’

Benson returns to work in the Special Victims Unit

The final episode of the unofficial holy trinity titled “Web” leads Stabler to visit Benson in Computer Crimes for her help on a case, and sets the stage for these two to eventually find their way back to each other.

Stabler lingers at Benson’s desk before saying, “See ya,” to which she looks up from her computer with a smile and says, “OK.”

Benson later pulls more info to help Stabler and the “SVU” team with their current case, and Stabler invites Benson to “take a crack” at their suspect in interrogation.

“I wasn’t planning on coming back,” Benson says. “It’s in your blood,” Stabler replies. “That’s the problem,” she responds.

Chris Meloni as Elliot Stabler and Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
Back where she belongs."Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

The episode ends with Benson walking back to her old desk, which prompts Stabler to ask, “What are you doing here?”

“I work here,” she says before dropping her bag and taking a seat.

The look on Stabler’s face is priceless as he realizes he’s getting his partner back at the Special Victims Unit.

Season 8, Episode 6: ‘Infiltrated’

Benson mumbles Stabler's name in her sleep

Season Eight is an especially memorable — if not the most memorable — season for Benson and Stabler fans. Stabler gets caught up in Benson’s family life, and Benson gets tangled in his.

Before those laced personal episodes, Benson goes undercover for the FBI to infiltrate an environmental group (in real life, Hargitay was pregnant, and the show needed a clever way to cover her absence).

In “Infiltrated,” Benson mumbles “Elliot” in her sleep and wakes up in a hospital bed in Oregon. The woman next to her asks who Elliot is since she’s apparently been “mumbling the name ‘Elliot’ all night.” “I didn’t say anything else did I?” Benson asks.

Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
Distance makes the brain dream about your (former) partner."Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

When the woman asks Benson who this Elliot is, she drops her head back on the pillow and whispers, “Nobody.”

“It doesn’t sound like nobody,” the woman responds before mimicking how Benson mumbled “Elliot.”

Back in New York, the ADA needs Benson to take the stand in a rape trial and tries to track her down. At one point, Benson breaks her undercover protocol to contact Odafin “Fin” Tutuola (Ice-T) for help getting information. While on the phone, Fin hands it off to Stabler to talk to her. She quickly hangs up before she can say anything to Stabler when people from the environmental group approach and ask whom she’s talking to. “Probably talking to Elliot — the guy from her dreams,” the woman from the hospital replies. (She’s not wrong!)

While driving with FBI agent Dean Porter (Vincent Spano), Porter asks if her partner in New York finds her “as annoying” as he does. Benson replies that she and Stabler are “best friends."

Season 8, Episode 9: ‘Choreographed’

Stabler tells Benson he'd give her a kidney

After being paired up early in the season with another female detective, Dani Beck (Connie Nielsen) — whom he kissed — Stabler is once again on his own.

(We will not speak about Benson asking to see Stabler in Episode Seven and being clocked by Beck with the words “Maybe I can help you. I’m his partner,” and watching Stabler interact with Beck through the window of Cragen’s office.)

TFW someone else says they're Stabler's partner.
TFW someone else says they're Stabler's partner.Virginia Sherwood / NBCU Photo Bank / Getty Images

Cragen won’t let Stabler stake out Central Park alone as part of their newest case. He suggests Stabler take someone along. “You offering to be my partner?” Stabler says. “I’m not your type,” Cragen cracks. “I don’t know, maybe I’d have better luck with a guy. Women keep leaving me,” Stabler responds. Cragen tells Stabler he “may have another chance” and that Benson is back (finally).

Benson later pops up while Stabler is trying to talk to a witness and says Cragen called her to be Stabler’s “handler.”

Afterward, the two sit awkwardly at a café until Benson finally breaks the silence and says, “Why couldn’t Dani cut it?” Stabler says Beck “couldn’t deal with the victims." Benson follows up by asking if he liked working with her. “She didn’t have to handle me,” Stabler responds, before asking if Benson liked working alone. She didn’t.

The rest of the episode is laced with tension between the partners as they work to find their footing again — from Benson calling out Stabler's “anger management problem” to later pointing out when he calls a victim “Dani” instead of Danielle, to which Stabler responds, “Is something bothering you?”

A few scenes later, Stabler is caught off guard when he gets Benson a soda, and she informs him that she doesn’t drink them anymore. “Any other major changes you want to let me in on?” he asks. “Well, you’re the one who traded in your suits for jeans,” she replies.

At the end of the episode, Benson mentions to Stabler that they’ve “been partners all these years” and she doesn’t know his blood type. They both realize they’re A+, and Stabler looks over at Benson and says, “I’d give you a kidney,” to which Benson responds, “Not if I gave you mine first.”

Season 8, Episode 11: ‘Burned’

Stabler tells Benson he's 'the longest relationship' she's 'ever had with a man'

Similar to “Fault,” “Burned” is another iconic episode for Benson and Stabler that truly tests their partnership. And like Season Six’s “Doubt,” this Season Eight episode is a he said/she said case. A woman named Valerie (Michael Michele) is grabbed from behind while she’s in the shower and later accuses her estranged husband, Miles (Blair Underwood), of raping her.

Like last time, Benson and Stabler's sympathies fall on opposite sides. Stabler, who’s also familiar with an estranged marriage as his wife wants him to sign divorce papers, makes points in defense of Miles. Benson, who grew up with an alcoholic mother, stands up for Valerie, who claims Miles has drug and alcohol dependencies.

During another heated exchange, Benson says Stabler’s “current situation” (a.k.a his divorce) is impairing his judgment and that he doesn’t “normally empathize with the suspect.”

“It’s not empathy, it’s outrage,” Stabler responds. “The guy never touched his wife.”

The pair go at it again in the squad room in front of Fin and Cragen when Stabler say to Benson: “I’m the longest relationship you’ve ever had with a man. You have no idea how bad things can get when a couple goes sour.” Benson is quick to shoot back with: “And eight years in this unit tells me that I don’t need to be married to know when an abusive man is escalating.”

And the jabs just keep coming from Benson, who clocks Stabler again after he suggests Valerie could have had sex with someone else and mentions his “dying marriage” and “a history of violence” in front of everyone in the room.

Season Eight in a word: tension.
Season Eight in a word: tension.Will Hart / NBCU Photo Bank / Getty Images

Benson then gets a call from Stabler’s wife, Kathy, and meets up with her in the park. The two somewhat awkwardly bond over not being a fan of Dani Beck before Benson asks Kathy to cut to the chase. Kathy admits Stabler won’t sign the divorce papers. “Do you have any idea how much I worried he preferred spending time with you than with me and the kids?” Kathy says.

“Come on now, you know that’s not true,” Benson responds. “Elliot talked about you all the time.”

“The truth is, you know things about him I will never understand,” Kathy says. “That’s what I’m counting on.” Then Benson realizes Kathy wants her to convince Stabler to sign the divorce papers. “You’re his partner. You give him stability,” Kathy says.

Later, Benson and Stabler go see Valerie in the hospital after Miles attacked her on the street by spraying gas on her and setting her on fire. Even on her deathbed, Valerie says Miles is the one who raped her. Turns out, Valerie was having an affair with an investigator for her lawyer, and he’s the one who grabbed her from behind that first night.

Stabler does eventually sign the divorce papers and leaves them on the porch for Kathy to find. Benson learns of the affair between Valerie and the investigator and realizes she was wrong all along.

In the middle of the night, 4:47 a.m. to be exact, an already awake Stabler gets a text from Benson telling him to meet her downstairs, where she’s sitting on his porch with a cup of coffee for him and tea for herself. “Is that a flower in your cup?” he says, before Benson responds with a smile and says it’s tea, hinting again at her changed drinking habits since she returned from being undercover.

Chris Meloni as Elliot Stabler and Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
"Burned" steps scene is a top-tier Benson and Stabler moment."Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

Both of them confirm they couldn’t sleep, and Benson tells Stabler she realizes Miles didn’t rape Valerie. “She knew that she was going to die, and she still lied to my face,” Benson says. “When love warps into hate, there’s nothing you won’t do,” Stabler responds, before telling her he signed the divorce papers. “That’s a step in the right direction, Elliot,” Benson says.

She goes to ask if their relationship is OK after the heated case. “I just need space to disagree with you so that I don’t feel it’s going to cost me our partnership,” he responds. “You’ve never been gun-shy before,” Benson says, to which Stabler replies, “Things change.”

“Well like you said, you’re the longest relationship that I’ve ever had with a man,” Benson says. “Who else would put up with me?”

The two agree to go get some food, and Stabler asks who’s buying. “Well you are going through a divorce and you do have four children so I guess you are,” Benson responds with a smile. “That’s what I thought,” he replies.

Season 8, Episode 16: ‘Philadelphia’

A psychiatrist concludes Benson and Stabler are 'too close'

Cragen requires Benson and Stabler to respectively undergo psychological evaluations after worrying they’ve become too close when Stabler helps Benson as she searches for her brother, Simon (Michael Weston) in New Jersey. A local captain, Julia Millfield (Kim Delaney), tells Benson her brother, Simon, is a suspected rapist.

Cragen's suspicions about Stabler and Benson's bond are right. After concluding her conversations with both, the evaluator tells Cragen that the two “have a degree of mutual reliance and emotional dependence that compromises their effectiveness as police officers.” Basically, they’re “too close.”

When Cragen asks if this means he should split them up, the evaluator responds, “If you want to lose your two best detectives.”

Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
If only Season Eight Benson could see future mom Benson thriving."Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

Season 8, Episode 19: ‘Florida’

Benson thanks Stabler for 'trusting' her

“Florida" shows the amount of trust Stabler has in Benson.

Benson’s brother’s case resurfaces in this episode, as does the feisty side of Benson — and Protelliot, who literally jumps to his partner’s defense when a suspect lunges at Benson during an interrogation.

Cragen pulls Benson out of interrogation. Agent Porter (remember him from “Infiltrated”) is there because he needs help finding Simon. Porter believes Benson sent Simon money and is surprised when Benson tells him Simon is her brother. He requests she call him the next time Simon gets in touch.

Benson realizes Millfield, the New Jersey captain, is the one who tipped the feds off to her and angrily confronts her about it.

Back in the squad room, Benson returns to the interrogation room, as Cragen and Stabler watch, to take another crack at their suspect from the beginning of the episode. During questioning, Benson snaps and hits the suspect before pushing him to the ground and repeatedly kicking him. Cragen throws her out of interrogation and says that “a 5-year-old could’ve done a better job,” to which Benson responds, “Then go hire one.”

Cragen tells her to go home, and Benson storms into the locker room, where Stabler finds her and confronts her about her behavior. “Oh, the poster boy for rage is going to tell me how to control my anger?” Benson says.

Benson then tells Stabler about the latest with her brother, which leads Stabler to ask why she’s helping Simon given all the evidence against him. “He’s my brother,” Benson whispers, before Stabler reminds her she doesn’t “even know the guy.”

“Look at what he’s doing to you,” he adds.

Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
Go off, queen!"Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

In the end, Stabler helps Benson, like always, find Simon and backs her play while she confronts Simon, who has Millfield and is pointing a gun at her.

Benson puts her weapon down as Stabler walks up behind her with his gun drawn and tells Simon to drop his weapon while Benson begs him not to shoot. Benson coaxes Simon into sharing his version of events, and it’s revealed Millfield set Simon up as payback for what happened between Simon and her sister as teenagers (her sister ran away after Simon kissed her, and the Millfields assumed an assault had transpired).

Benson realizes Millfield’s sister was molested as a child, which helps explain her jumpy behavior with Simon on the night of the dance — much to her older sister’s surprise at realizing the truth.

Benson talks Simon into giving her his gun after Millfield’s confession while Stabler keeps his gun trained on him the entire time.

Outside, Porter tells Benson, while glancing at Stabler, “If it was me, I would’ve shot (Simon).” Benson thanks both Porter and Stabler, and Stabler asks her why she’s thanking him as Porter leaves. “Trusting me,” she responds.

Season 9, Episode 9: ‘Paternity’

Benson helps deliver Stabler's child (and the two share their 1st hug)

In this episode, the lives of the women Stabler loves the most end up on the line when Benson and a very pregnant Kathy end up in a car accident after Benson offers to take Kathy to a doctor’s appointment.

(Kathy ended up getting pregnant during a one-night hookup with her husband while they were estranged. Stabler drops that baby news on a very shocked Benson in the Season Eight finale, “Screwed.”)

Benson offers to take Kathy to a doctor’s appointment after Stabler is pulled out of town for their current case. Benson’s and Kathy’s car gets slammed by what ends up being a drunk driver. When Benson comes to, she radios for help and attempts to help a pinned and pregnant Kathy. After the paramedics arrive, Benson ends up climbing back into the car to stabilize Kathy’s head and neck before the first responders can extract her from the car.

Fin picks up Stabler to bring him back to the city and fills him in on the accident. Benson stays by Kathy’s side the entire time, including in the ambulance, where Kathy ends up giving birth to a baby boy.

Once Stabler gets to the hospital and sees Kathy and the baby, Kathy says that Stabler is the little one’s father.

Then Stabler meets up with Benson in the hallway, and after telling her the baby’s doing great, he goes to walk past her. At the last minute, he spins around and pulls Benson into a hug. (In a 2016 interview, Meloni revealed he was the one who insisted that “spontaneous” hug be included in the scene. “It has to be this outpouring of everything that, over all these years, that has never been spoken or physically acted on. So there was a depth and a little sexuality to it — something that went beyond that. … I think it worked out even better than I could’ve hoped for.”)

When they pull apart, Benson breaks their silence — and intense, emotional stare — by asking if Stabler picked a name for the baby. “Kathy wants to name him after me,” Stabler answers. “Just what the world needs — another Elliot Stabler,” Benson says.

Kathy and Stabler stay together.

Season 9, Episode 14: ‘Inconceivable’

Stabler tells Benson he'd support her if she wanted a child

A case involving missing fertilized embryos from a cryobank causes Benson to think about her own fertility and eventually leads to Stabler expressing he’d support Benson if she wanted to have a child.

The partners don’t get off to a great start as Stabler, fresh off welcoming his fifth child that Benson helped bring into the world, seemingly struggles to grasp that not everyone is able to naturally have children. “I had kids the old-fashioned way,” Stabler says to Benson after she points out how much effort went into getting those embryos made. “Well, some people aren’t as blessed as you are,” she responds.

Later on, Benson and Stabler clash again during a heated discussion about older women having children. Stabler mentions the risks of Kathy having their most recent child since she was over the age of 40. “And you know what, Eli turned out perfect,” Benson says. “So, spare me the perils of women over 40 having babies.”

Once settled in the car, Stabler looks at Benson and says, “You know, you’d make a great mom.”

“Oh, my God, I’m not having this conversation,” Benson replies. Stabler tells her she’s “great with kids” and adds, “Maybe you should start thinking about having kids, and any way you want to do it, I’ll support you.”

“Elliot, do me a favor?” Benson replies. “Shut up and drive.”

During a private moment at the end of the episode, Benson tells Stabler she had recently explored adoption, but she was turned down by the agency. When Stabler expresses his disbelief, Benson explains, “I’m single. I don’t have an extended family support system. I work all hours. They didn’t see me as prime parent material.” Stabler responds, “They’re wrong.”

Season 9, Episode 16: ‘Closet’

Stabler confronts Olivia's boyfriend to 'save her job'

“Closet” is an underrated Benson and Stabler episode in which Stabler’s loyalty to his partner shines, and it turns out Benson’s been (un)intentionally keeping something from Stabler.

The case’s suspect is a famous football player, who turns out to also be a closeted gay man in a relationship with the victim. After the player’s hidden sexuality unexpectedly becomes the subject of a media leak, Cragen thinks Benson and Stabler are to blame.

Then the head of the Internal Affairs Bureau, Ed Tucker (Robert John Burke), who dates Benson in a much later season, interviews Benson and informs her they pulled her phone records and found that she talked multiple times to a reporter named Kurt Moss (Bill Pullman). Tucker believes Benson “tipped off” Moss, so she fesses up to talking to Moss because she’s in fact been dating him.

Tucker suspends Benson, and after hearing the news, Stabler says to Tucker, “You are a son of a b----.” Then Tucker drops the news on a shocked Stabler that Benson has been sleeping with Moss. Even though Stabler was in the dark about that, he tells Tucker he knows Benson “would never torpedo a case.”

An A+ Protelliot and Jelliot scene.
An A+ Protelliot and Jelliot scene.Will Hart / NBC Photo Bank / Getty Images

"Protelliot" emerges and immediately goes to Moss’ office to confront him. “You must be Elliot,” Moss says. “Olivia has a picture of you two in her living room.”

Moss won’t name his source and says, “You two have worked together for a long time. There must be a reason she why she didn’t tell you about me.”

Stabler responds saying Benson’s personal life is “her business” and that he’s there to “save her job.” He tells Moss he wants him to “tell the Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) Olivia wasn’t the source of the leak” as Benson walks into the room and asks Stabler why he’s there. Benson says she doesn’t need help from them. “Nice meeting you,” Stabler tells Moss as he brushes past Olivia.

Benson later apologizes to Stabler for not telling him about Moss. “I’m just glad you have someone. I mean, you could’ve said something,” Stabler responds. “I just wasn’t ready,” she says.

Season 9, Episode 17: ‘Authority’

Stabler's loyalty to Benson shines during a moment of terror

Stabler’s loyalty to his partner is quite literally put to the test in “Authority” after an engineer named Merritt Rook (played by the legendary Robin Williams) abducts Benson.

The detectives initially investigate Rook as a person of interest after a restaurant manager strip-searches an employee and claims he did so because a detective called him saying the employee was stealing. Turns out, Rook, who also goes by the name “Milgram,” was behind the fake call. The Milgram nickname is important as it’s a reference to psychologist Stanley Milgram, who conducted shock experiments to test how far someone would go to follow instructions, despite the moral feeling of his or her conscience.

Rook abducts Benson. When Stabler finds the two in a recording studio, Rook reveals that Benson is tied to a chair behind the glass dividing the recording studio. Rook also pulls out a remote and claims he’s wired the door with explosives, which will go off if Stabler tries to open it to get to his partner. Rook tells Stabler he wants to “conduct a little experiment” to see how far he’ll go to save Benson.

Rook also informs Stabler that Benson’s chair is wired with electricity that will release shocks when a remote is pressed — a recreation of the Milgram Shock experiment. Then Rook presses a button, and the sounds of Benson’s screams fill the air.

Stabler refuses to press the button when Rook asks him to, so Rook presses the button again, eliciting more screams. Rook threatens to hold the button down longer and double the voltage of the shocks. Rook's stated intention is to teach Stabler “a little lesson about power and authority” since Rook believes cops “own the streets.”

Stabler says he doesn’t abuse his authority, to which Rook responds, “Every cop abuses his authority.” After conversing more with Stabler, Rook eventually confesses to his crimes.

Rook continues to repeatedly ask Stabler to press the button. Stabler refuses and says, “Too many people have suffered already.” Rook then tells Stabler he’s “a human being,” and he passed the test. He says Benson was never hurt by shocks and that her screams were prerecorded.

Season 10, Episode 3: ‘Swing’

Benson secretly meets Stabler's mom to help his family

“Swing” shows Benson’s undying loyalty and concern, both professionally and personally, for her partner after Stabler’s daughter Kathleen (Allison Siko) gets arrested.

A doctor tells Stabler and Kathy he believes Kathleen has bipolar disorder and suggests medication after hearing about her recent erratic behavior. Kathleen defies advice to seek psychiatric help and is instead detained. Benson promises Stabler she’ll go with Kathleen and stay with her for as long as she’s able to.

Stabler goes to New Jersey, where viewers are introduced to his mom, Bernadette “Bernie” Stabler (Ellen Burstyn), for the first time. He asks for her help with Kathleen. The conversation implies that Bernie also has bipolar disorder. Their meeting ends in an argument, and Stabler’s attempt at getting his mother’s help is unsuccessful.

Benson later brings up Stabler’s mom during a discussion, saying, “We’ve been partners for 11 years. You know everything about me — even the parts that I’d rather forget. How come you never told me about your mother?” Stabler deflects and says, “Never came up.”

Benson mentions his anger issues and that “bottling it up inside hasn’t worked” for him. “Kathleen may be sick, but you’re the one with the problem,” Benson tells him.

Benson takes the step to visitsBernie in New Jersey. “I can see why you scare the pants off of Kathy,” Bernie says, before pulling out an old family photo album with childhood photos of Stabler — including one of him dressed as a carrot.

As the conversation turns more emotional for Bernie, Benson says, “Elliot is a good man, and I know him well enough that he didn’t get it from his father.”

Bernie visits Kathleen in jail, with help from Benson getting her access. After the conversation, Bernie asks Benson not to tell Stabler she visited his daughter.

In court, Stabler appears surprised to see his daughter plead guilty and cooperate with the judge to get the help she needs. “What the hell just happened?” Stabler says to Benson as she walks out of the courtroom. “Maybe God remembered how cute you were as a carrot,” Benson responds.

Season 10, Episode 7: ‘Wildlife’

Benson and Stabler take it all off to get out of a dangerous situation

Who knew one word, “Wildlife,” could hold so much power among Benson and Stabler fans? This episode is absolutely laced with moments between the two, including the most physical one they’ve shared (so far).

Stabler goes undercover as an animal smuggler, which means more time away from Kathy and their young son, Eli. Kathy calls Benson’s phone at one point since Stabler won’t pick up and wants to know when he’ll be home. Stabler tells Benson to say he’s in the field. At night, Kathy thinks her husband’s finally home, but it’s actually Benson at the door, telling her that Stabler is undercover. Benson talks Kathy out of leaving home and assures her she’ll make sure Stabler calls.

Part of that promise involves Benson visiting Stabler at his temporary undercover residence. When a shirtless and pants-less Stabler realizes it’s Benson knocking on his door, he hurriedly pulls her inside since the animal smugglers warned him not to have any sort of contact with anyone. Benson explains she’s there because they lost contact with him, and she also gave him her phone so he could call Kathy. It doesn’t take long for the door handle to start rattling as the animal smugglers try to get inside since they saw Stabler let a guest in. Stabler tells Benson to go hide while he answers the door.

One of the smugglers finds Benson’s jacket, and then she emerges from the bathroom without her shirt.

Pretending be a sex worker, Benson famously says, “Are you ready for me Daddy?” And once she realizes they have company, she adds, “Oh, didn’t know we were having a party. That’s going to be $100 to watch, $250 to join — each.” Then she wraps her arms around Stabler as he says, “Guy’s gotta eat, huh?”

The scene was a joy for fans who long wanted Benson and Stabler to get together. They are both shirtless and pressed up against each other, with Benson running her hand down Stabler’s chest at one point.

After kicking Benson out, one of the smugglers takes Stabler for a ride. He pulls over in front of a building and tells Stabler to go inside. As Stabler gets out of the car, the smuggler shoots him twice. Witnesses rush over to help Stabler, as does Benson, who calls for help.

At the hospital, Benson is surprised to hear from the doctor that Stabler is fine. When she goes into his room she says, “You’re supposed to duck,” to which Stabler responds, “You’re supposed to leave.”

“When my partner hangs out with scumbags, I like to stick around, see what happens,” Benson says.

Season 10, Episode 22: ‘Zebras’

Benson proves she knows Stabler better than anyone — and saves his life (again)

“Zebras” highlights that no one knows Stabler better than Benson, especially in a life-or-death situation. A young tech named Dale Stuckey (Noel Fisher) is with Benson and Stabler at various crime scenes throughout the episode, and at one point, even makes a careless mistake that ends up setting the suspect free.

Stuckey further gets under Stabler’s skin at one point after saying a photo on a piece of evidence looks like “a little younger” version of Benson. Protelliot again emerges, grabbing Stuckey by the throat and saying, “You are an obnoxious little jackhole.”

Evidence ends up revealing Stuckey is the killer they're searching for. When Stabler is in the lab and makes the connection, Stuckey hits him over the head and knocks him out. Stuckey answers Stabler's phone when Benson calls, and explains that her partner went out for sushi (a crucial detail) and left his phone behind.

Benson shows up at the lab only to find Stabler tied to a chair. Then Stuckey comes up behind them both with his gun drawn. Benson strategically alleviates the situation by manipulating Stuckey into thinking she doesn't like Stabler.

“Somebody needs to take him out,” Benson tells Stuckey about Stabler. “And when this son of a b---- it out of the picture, I’m going to need a new partner,” she adds.

Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
They were crazy for this one!"Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

Stuckey turns to shoot Stabler, but Benson grabs him and says, “I want him to watch.” Then, to further the ruse, Benson kisses Stuckey. During the kiss, Benson opens her eyes and connects with Stabler, who nods and kicks Stuckey in the groin from his spot behind him in the chair. Benson knocks Stuckey out and frees Stabler from the chair.

Chris Meloni as Elliot Stabler and Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
"You and raw fish?'"Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

When Stabler asks Benson how she knew he was in the lab and possibly in danger, she responds, “Stuckey said you went to get sushi: You and raw fish?”

Season 11, Episode 6: ‘Spooked’

Stabler rushes to Benson's side after thinking she got shot

Like Protelliot, fans also love when Stabler’s jealous side comes out (this alter ego is nicknamed Jelliot). Jelliot makes an appearance in “Spooked” when Porter returns since the FBI is interested in Benson and Stabler’s latest case.

Porter catches up with Benson as he waits for the elevator. As he gets on, he tells Benson, “You have my number.” Then Stabler crashes the scene and says, “Yeah, we all do.” (Jelliot!)

Later on at the airport, the suspect, Manuel Rojas (Jose Yenque), realizes Benson is a cop and tells her to come with him or else he’ll start shooting people. Stabler watches from afar and calls for backup. Stabler confronts Rojas in the parking lot, and Rojas holds a gun to Benson’s head. A shot rings out, and both Rojas and Benson go down.

Chris Meloni as Elliot Stabler and Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
"Spooked" cradle supremacy."Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

Stabler rushes over to Benson and turns her over. Thankfully, she wasn’t hit, and Stabler cradles Benson in his arms on the ground. Turns out, Porter was the one who shot Rojas.

Back in the squad room after going over the latest with the case, Porter asks Benson if she’d like a ride home. Stabler slyly jumps in and responds, “Nah, I’m good thanks.” (Don’t sleep on the smirk Stabler gives Benson as he walks away.)

Benson and Stabler later realize Porter had bugged all of the phones in their office. Basically, Porter has been lying to the SVU team this entire time, so the detectives lay a trap to call him out on it.

Benson dresses up and invites Porter over to her apartment, saying she wants to cook for him after he suggests they go out. Meanwhile, Stabler and the team’s tech guy, Ruben Morales, are in Benson’s bedroom so that they’re close enough to get into Porter’s phone and eventually track him.

Stabler texts Cragen once they’re in Porter’s phone to call Benson, who’s started kissing Porter. Since Porter and Benson were already close, Porter overhears Cragen on the phone telling Benson they’ve located their latest suspect, whom Porter is somehow connected to.

In interrogation, Benson attempts to arrest Porter for being an accessory to murder. Cragen then informs Benson and Stabler that Porter and the suspect are off the hook since the situation is out of their hands.

“I trusted you. Why didn’t you tell me?” Benson asks Porter. “Why didn’t you trust me?” she says through tears. “Our feelings don’t matter,” Porter responds. (We know who Benson will always trust, though!)

Season 11, Episode 9: ‘Perverted’

Stabler mortgages his family home to bail Benson out of jail

In “Perverted,” Stabler goes to very extreme and personal lengths to save Benson, who’s being framed for murder.

Stabler goes to Benson’s apartment after finding his partner’s card on a victim. Benson’s home sick, and when she opens the door, Stabler says, “You look terrible.” She responds, “Stop with the sweet talk."

Protelliot asks Benson if she’s been to the doctor, and she says, “It’s just a bug.”

Stabler asks Benson if she recognizes the victim who had her card and says he’ll handle finding out why the victim had it, before tucking her in on the couch and asking if she has anyone taking care of her. He feels her head and notes she’s burning up before going to the kitchen to make her tea.

Stabler also makes sure to get Benson back in bed before he leaves and jokes, “I’m getting my hazard pay coming to see you.”

Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
Stabler checking in on his partner at home."Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

Benson is taken for questioning by IAB after evidence makes her the case’s prime suspect, and she ends up in jail unless someone can post her $250,000 bail.

Cue Benson being released to a waiting Stabler, who mortgaged his house to post her bail. He says, “What was I gonna do — let you get shivved in Rikers?”

“Does Kathy know you mortgaged the house for me?” Benson asks.

“Well, it’s not at risk. You’re innocent,” he responds.

Benson is innocent, of course, and ends up saving herself after the real suspect breaks into her home. Stabler appears shortly after to make sure she’s OK and to arrest him.

Season 12, Episode 10: ‘Rescue’

Stabler supports Benson while she's 'playing mom' to a young boy

“Rescue” is another example of Stabler backing Benson’s play and being there for her during a moment that toes the line between personal and professional. In the words of Stabler, Benson continues “playing mom” for a boy named Calvin (Charlie Tahan) whom she found during a case and took in after his mom disappeared.

Stabler comes across a DNA sample from Calvin in Benson’s desk and assumes his partner failed to send it in as a stall tactic to avoid finding Calvin’s dad — so she could keep Calvin longer. When Stabler tells Benson he found the swab, she calls him out for snooping and says she forgot to send in the swab and will send it in. Stabler responds that he already did.

Cragen wants to bench Benson from their current case since she has custody of their suspect’s son, and he also takes Stabler off the case. As ADA Gillian Hardwicke (Melissa Sagemiller) points out, Stabler has had Benson’s back for over 10 years. “Juries see how close partners get,” Hardwicke tells Stabler. “Some are tighter than married couples.”

Benson, apparently solo, locates Calvin’s mom, who offers to let Benson keep Calvin in exchange for not arresting her and leaving her alone.

Then Stabler appears behind Benson in the middle of his partner’s tough personal and professional decision and says, “Well Liv, make a decision. Your call.” Benson chooses to take Calvin’s mom in for questioning.

Chris Meloni as Elliot Stabler and Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
Stabler and Benson share a moment with Calvin shortly before he's taken away."Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

In the end, while Benson watches as Stabler and Calvin play rock, paper, scissors, Child Services arrives and takes Calvin from Benson to bring him to live with his grandparents while his mom goes to rehab.

Stabler holds Benson back as Calvin is taken away and reminds her that the situation was “always temporary.”

Season 12, Episode 17: ‘Pursuit’

Stabler and Benson share their 2nd hug

This episode gifted Benson and Stabler fans with the duo’s second hug in the series, commonly referred to among the stans as the “Pursuit hug.”

Stabler’s away at Quantico while Benson continues working as normal with SVU. In one scene, Benson is video chatting with Stabler when Fin, who at this point is more aware than almost anyone about what these two mean to each other since he’s worked with them both almost since the beginning, walks in after Stabler asks Benson if he should cut his visit short.

“Well, Fin may have your six, but he’s definitely not me,” Stabler says.

“No, I’m better. I actually watch her back and not her backside,” Fin responds.

The current case takes an especially dark turn after the team’s ADA Sonya Paxton is brutally attacked and dies in a shaken Benson’s arms.

Chris Meloni as Elliot Stabler and Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
Twelve seasons in, this was just the duo's second hug."Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

Cut to Benson and Stabler later spotting each other in the precinct’s hallway. Stabler runs toward Benson, and the two embrace as she says, “I’m really glad you’re back.”

“I should’ve come back sooner,” he responds as he tightly holds her. Benson then briefly rests her head on Stabler’s as she says, “I’m fine,” to which he replies, “Like hell you are.”

Season 12, Episode 19: ‘Bombshell’

Benson and Stabler go undercover as a married couple

Benson and Stabler go undercover as swingers — need we say more?

This episode was a great opportunity for fans to see what Stabler and Benson would look like as a couple. The two walk hand-in-hand, with their fingers laced together, into a swingers club — posing as a married couple.

This scene is also a rare opportunity to see Stabler and Benson all dressed up: Stabler in a suit and Benson in a strapless dress and heels with her hair and makeup done. Stabler approaches the hostess and says, “This is my wife, Olivia.”

The partners continue holding hands as they move further into the club and only break apart when another couple pulls Benson away.

This scene was basically a parallel universe moment for the fans who always wanted Stabler and Benson to be more than partners and friends. (That parallel universe may soon be reality for these two since Stabler recently returned to Benson’s life after a 10-year absence and confessed in a letter he wrote to her: “In a parallel universe, it will always be you and I.”)

Season 12, Episode 24: ‘Smoked’

Stabler's final episode of 'SVU'

This episode is significant in the worst kind of way for Benson's and Stabler’s relationship since it ended up being Meloni’s last episode of “SVU.” (Thankfully, he returned to the “Law & Order” universe for Stabler’s spinoff, “Law & Order: Organized Crime,” in April 2021.)

In “Smoked,” a survivor of sexual assault is killed in front of her daughter, Jenna (Hayley McFarland), before her trial begins. At the end of the episode, Jenna shows up at the SVU office asking Benson if they found her mother’s killer. Benson confirms they did find both the killer and her mom’s suspected rapist and walks Jenna over to see where the two are being held in a cell.

Jenna walks away then returns a few seconds later and starts shooting the suspects in the cell. Then she shoots Sister Peg, a woman in charge of a local homeless shelter who had been helping Benson and Stabler with the current case.

Stabler crouches behind a desk with a gun drawn and tells Jenna to drop her weapon, as Benson crouches over Sister Peg in front of him. Jenna begins lowering the gun until one of the wounded suspects in the cage starts taunting her, so she raises her gun to shoot him again.

Chris Meloni as Elliot Stabler
Thank the "Law & Order" gods that Stabler eventually returned 10 years after what many thought was his final scene."Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

Then, Stabler fires and hits Jenna, who ends up bleeding out and dying in front of him. The episode ends with Benson and Stabler staring at each other across the squad room amid the carnage.

Season 13, Episode 1: ‘Scorched Earth’

Benson learns Stabler isn't returning

In the premiere episode of Season 13, Benson learns the news that Stabler “put his papers in” from Cragen — not from Stabler himself. In fact Stabler doesn’t appear onscreen again until Meloni returns to the franchise in the Season 22 episode “Return of the Prodigal Son” 10 years later in 2021.

In “Scorched Earth,” we are also introduced to Detective Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish), who ends up delivering an unforgettable line to Benson about Stabler years later in the Season 23 finale. In later seasons, Rollins ends up in a romantic relationship with her former partner and ADA Dominick “Sonny” Carisi (Peter Scanavino). Ffans call the couple Rollisi.

Later on, Benson goes into Cragen’s office after seeing IAB and says, “That was a good shooting, captain. Stabler was cleared.” Cragen responds Stabler was cleared only “on that one,” but now Internal Affairs wants to investigate “his entire jacket.”

Benson continues to defend Stabler and says, “Let ‘em. There’s nothing to find.” Then Cragen stands up and points out it was Stabler’s sixth shooting and that “the whole squad is on notice.”

“So what? So he’s the sacrificial lamb,” Benson responds. “You’re just going to give him up?”

Cragen calmly responds, “You know me better than that. He’s like a son to me. I’ve been pushing as hard as I can. I just don’t know how it’s going to shake out.” Cragen adds Stabler would need to submit to a psychological evaluation to keep his job and go through anger management training, among other things. “And he’ll tell them to go to hell,” Benson replies before walking out.

The episode ends when Cragen calls Benson into his office and tells her Stabler quit. “There was nothing I could do," he said.

Benson, clearly getting emotional, says, “He’s earned it.” Cragen asks Benson if she wants to talk about it or take some time off, but she says no.

Before going out with the squad for their next case, Benson tells the detectives she’ll meet them in five. She goes into an empty interrogation room and breaks down.

Season 15, Episode 1: ‘Surrender Benson’

Benson thinks of Stabler during one of her darkest moments

While Stabler isn’t in this episode, he is mentioned during one of the most terrifying moments of Benson’s life.

The show’s 14th season ended with a sadistic killer named William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber) pointing a gun at Benson’s head in her apartment. Lewis torments Benson throughout the entire premiere episode of Season 15, and moves her to a remote location and cuffs her to a bed.

Eventually, Benson is able to pull an iron rod from the bed and hits Lewis with it before getting her gun, which has Stabler’s mini shield on the bottom.

Now, Benson is the one in control. She starts talking to Lewis about the things she could do to him after everything he did to her. “My old partner, he’d know what to do,” she says, a rare reference at this point to Stabler.

“He wouldn’t question himself after what you’ve done. He would kick your teeth in, break your legs, break your arms, break your back — break your face. Maybe I should call him. Maybe I should get him to use that metal bar on you and make you beg for your life," she says.

Lewis continues to talk about “that old partner” of hers and says, “It must’ve been tough for you — all those long nights alone in the car.”

“You don’t get to talk about him,” Benson interjects.

“Did he ever do you? He did, didn’t he? You still want him. I can hear it in your voice. You’re all bottled up,” Lewis says.

The conversation takes even more of a turn after Lewis brings up Benson’s father and taunts her to the point that she ends up beating him with the bed pole.

In later episodes, Lewis again puts Benson through even more horrific things, like a game of Russian Roulette, which results in his death.

To this day, fans are still waiting for a discussion between Benson and Stabler about what Lewis did to her while Stabler was gone.

Season 22, Episode 9: ‘Return of the Prodigal Son’

Stabler returns and apologizes to Benson

This moment was 10 years in the making — Stabler finally returning to Benson’s life!

Benson gets a call to go to a scene and to her surprise, sees Kathy on a stretcher being wheeled into an ambulance. Then she hears “Liv” and turns and locks eyes across the scene with Stabler. The two walk toward each other.

The moment Benson and Stabler first saw each other after 10 years apart.
The moment Benson and Stabler first saw each other after 10 years apart.Christopher Del Sordo / NBCU Photo Bank / Getty Images

Turns out, Kathy was injured in a car bombing, as she and Stabler were in town to see Benson receive an award. SVU helps investigate, and there are a few scenes laced with tension between Benson and Stabler, including Benson subduing a heated Stabler in the interrogation room and an argument between the two on the roof about it.

While in the hospital, Kathy says it feels “like the old days,” seeing Stabler and Benson in the room together “always so in sync.” She’s surprised to find out Stabler never once contacted Benson in the time they left.

The most honest conversation viewers witnessed to date about why Stabler left happens in a hospital waiting area after both Stabler and Benson visited Kathy. Stabler apologizes, and Benson asks him if he’s “sorry for leaving” or for not giving her the “courtesy” of telling her, to which he responds, “Both.”

And then he delivers a line that continues to haunt fans until this day: “I think if I talked to you about how –” Sadly, Benson cuts him off at this point, so viewers still don’t know how Stabler was about to finish that thought.

She emphasizes to Stabler that he “walked away,” and she had to find out about his exit from Cragen. With tears in her eyes, Benson says, “You were the most, single most, important person in my life, and you just disappeared.”

During a “Law & Order” virtual fan event earlier this year, former “SVU” showrunner Warren Leight said Hargitay came up with the “single most important” line herself for Benson. Hargitay also told TODAY in February that the scenes in this episode were her favorite ones to film with Meloni since he returned to the franchise.

And as for why Stabler abruptly left without telling Benson himself? “I was afraid,” he says. “If I heard your voice, I wouldn’t have been able to leave.”

The episode also contains a golden conversation between Stabler and Fin, who briefly fills Elliot in on Benson’s life over the past 10 years. Fin tells Elliot that Benson has a kid now, and Stabler quickly responds, “A son? Good for her. Who’s the guy?”

Fin shoots back, “You have to ask her that.” (Another conversation fans are still waiting for Benson and Stabler to have: How Benson got Noah, her adopted son.)

Chris Meloni as Elliot Stabler and Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
Hug count: three."Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

Stabler later calls Benson — before any of his kids — to tell her Kathy passed away. Benson meets Stabler in the hospital, where he crumbles and falls into her for a hug (only their third one ever onscreen, but who’s counting!)

(‘Organized Crime’): Season 1, Episode 1: ‘What Happens in Puglia’

Stabler gives Benson a letter

The series premiere of “Law & Order: Organized Crime” introduced an item that fans became so fixated on, it became an entire social media movement: the letter. #WhatsInTheLetter trended for weeks online, and "SVU" fans on Twitter also put a letter emoji on their profiles.

Who knew a small letter could hold so much power?
Who knew a small letter could hold so much power?Virginia Sherwood / NBCU Photo Bank / Getty Images

Stabler meets up with Benson in a park on a snowy day, and the meetup also marks the first time Stabler sees Noah, who's sledding nearby.

While talking about living in Rome, Stabler describes his apartment and tells Benson she “would’ve loved it.”

“You know what, Elliot,” she responds. “I can’t.”

Before the two go their separate ways, Stabler takes out a letter and hands it to Benson. He tells her he was asked to speak at her award ceremony, but instead opted to write his thoughts in a letter he planned to give to her that night. “Just take it — read it, don’t read it, throw it away. Whatever you decide, I understand,” Stabler says.

Benson joins the Stabler family in the cemetery after Kathy's death.
Benson joins the Stabler family in the cemetery after Kathy's death.Virginia Sherwood / NBCU Photo Bank / Getty Images

Later in the episode, Benson attends a service for Kathy in the cemetery with Stabler and all his children, whom Benson has known since they were young. Stabler grabs Benson’s arm and thanks her for coming. Benson, who’s clearly still struggling with the unexpected return of Stabler after all this time, pulls away and leaves.

At the end of the episode, Benson waits for Stabler in his building and says she wants to talk about the letter. Stabler says he also wants to talk about the letter but is too distracted by work at the moment, so viewers have to wait to find out what’s.in.the.letter!

(‘Organized Crime’): Season 1, Episode 2: ‘Not Your Father’s Organized Crime’

Stabler tells Benson she means the world to him

Stabler tells Benson what she means to him (spoiler alert: “the world”) in a scene between the two during the second episode of “Organized Crime.”

Stabler joins Benson in her car after she drops Noah off at school and brings her coffee (just like old times).

Stabler tells Benson she’s “a good mom” after she says she brings Noah to school whenever she can. The line is especially meaningful because all Benson wanted for years was a family, especially a child of her own, and no one knew that more than Stabler.

Benson asks Stabler why he was so jumpy the other night when she went to his building to talk about the letter.

“You startled me. That’s all,” he responds. “You never startled before,” Benson says, before adding she doesn’t want to push him, and will “back off” if that’s what he wants. “I do,” Stabler interjects. “Back off.” 

“You have PTSD,” Benson says. Stabler laughs, in denial, and says he’s “been on the job 35 years.” No one knows PTSD better than Benson after her ordeal with Lewis, which Stabler still apparently doesn’t know about.

Benson emphasizes that in her role as a captain, it’s her job “to take care” of her people. Stabler responds that he’ll “take care of it.”

Benson tells Stabler she’s “worried” about him, given his behavior after the death of his wife and the grief associated with that loss.

“It felt good to hear that,” Stabler tells her, clearly relieved to know that after disappearing for a decade, Benson still cares about him.

“Liv you mean the world to me,” he says. “I just think I needed to hear you say that.”

Then he gets out of the car and again tells her to “back off,” most likely out of fear that if she gets too close, whoever targeted Kathy will go after Benson next.

(‘Organized Crime’): Season 1, Episode 4: ‘The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of’

Stabler says 'I love you' to Benson

Nothing says “I love you” quite like spilling those three words out in the middle of an intervention with all your kids present, and that’s just what Stabler does in episode four of “OC.” Meloni told TODAY in February that this scene, which he also wrote, was his favorite one he’s filmed with Hargitay since his return in April 2021.

Stabler’s daughter Kathleen meets up with Benson and says the family needs her help getting through to their dad.

Stabler comes home one night to see Benson and all his kids. Kathleen informs her dad that “this is an intervention,” and Benson chimes in that the intervention is related to what the two of them recently discussed in the car. Stabler assumed that conversation was private, and Benson informs him that “it's not a secret.”

Kathleen tells her dad she went to Benson to ask for help. Stabler tells Benson he didn’t ask her to be here. Benson brushes it off and emphasizes that his kids are worried about him amid his recent erratic behavior.

Stabler refuses to sit and listen to what everyone has to say and instead says all questions should go to his supervisor, Sgt. Ayanna Bell (Danielle Moné Truitt).

“Elliot, tell us what you need,” Benson says. Then Stabler, without breaking eye contact with Benson, emphatically declares, “I love you.”

A shocked Benson stares back at him as all of his kids look on, and the Benson and Stabler love theme (yes, these two have their own music) starts to play.

Benson glances toward Stabler’s kids then back at him and shakes her head. In that moment, Stabler snaps back to reality and realizes what he’s said and who else is in the room and adds, “I love all of you.”

He leaves shortly after and says, “I don’t think I can do this.” He eventually returns, and Benson again points out Stabler is the only person who doesn’t realize he’s not OK.

“I’m drowning,” he responds. “How’s that for an admission?”

“Then take our hand,” Benson says. “Grab onto us.”

“I know you’re all just trying to help,” Stabler says. “You’re reaching out, but all you’re doing is pushing me further under.”

(‘Organized Crime’): Season 1, Episode 5: ‘An Inferior Product’

Benson and Stabler hold hands in the hallway

This episode is the continuation of a crossover with “SVU’s” “Trick-Rolled at the Moulin,” which ends with Stabler shielding Benson in the car after they’re both shot at (classic Protelliot).

In this “OC” episode, Stabler kisses Angela Wheatley (Tamara Taylor), who’s the wife of the suspect behind Kathy’s murder — Richard Wheatley (Dylan McDermott). More on that later.

Stabler learns from Benson in this episode that her brother, Simon, is no longer alive and died a few years back after a suspected overdose.

Benson and Stabler share what’s considered among the fans a significant moment in the hallway of the “OC” office when Benson reaches for Stabler’s hand as she walks past him to exit, and the two linger in their handhold until the last minute when she has to pull away to leave. This is a big deal since there was limited physical contact of any kind between the two during Stabler’s original run.

It's worth noting that, at the end of this episode, Stabler finds out Angela was actually the one who ordered to take Kathy out, not Richard.

(‘Organized Crime’): Season 1, Episode 7: ‘Everybody Takes a Beating Sometime’

A suspect hints at Benson being 'the one true love' of Stabler's life

Richard Wheatley becomes the unofficial Benson and Stabler relationship hero among the fans at the end of this episode, when he (basically) makes it canon that Benson is “the one true love” of Stabler’s life.

While talking to Stabler and Angela, Richard says he recorded Angela plotting to kill Kathy, and Angela denies it. “Girl, you are a hot mess,” Richard says. “Still trying to seduce him? You know you’re not the love of his life.”

Here comes one of the biggest “plot twists” of the series so far: Richard says Kathy also was not Stabler’s “love of his life.” He adds, “But, plot twist! There’s someone else — another woman who’s the one true love of his life.”

He further taunts Angela and says, “Every time he was looking into your pretty brown eyes, touching your face — or wherever else he was touching you — I’m willing to wager he was thinking about her.”

“What was her name again, Elliot?” Richard adds as Stabler just glares at him and exits the room.

In the “OC” Season One finale, Angela asks her attorney to find out exactly who Richard was talking about, and later learns that people believe Richard was referring to Benson.

Season 22, Episode 16: ‘Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing’

Stabler tells Benson he's staying in New York City

In the Season 22 “SVU” finale, Fin is set to marry his first partner, Phoebe. (And so the foreshadowing begins).

Rollins and Carisi also share a moment — and kiss — at this ceremony, which turns into a non-wedding when Fin and Phoebe decide not to get married that day.

Stabler shows up to the ceremony late since he was looking at apartments in New York City, which is a subtle confirmation and assurance to Benson he’s staying.

While Benson stares at her squad happily celebrating the event with their partners, Stabler approaches with her coat and drapes it over her shoulders while she hands him a glass of wine that she got for him.

Stabler notes Fin and Phoebe are a “good-looking couple” and asks Benson how the two met. “She’s a cop — his first partner,” Benson responds and then shares a knowing look with Stabler.

They both turn around to face the water, and Stabler’s already holding out his glass before Benson lifts hers to toast “to partners.”

Months later, former “SVU” showrunner Leight tweeted that the Season 24 premiere was supposed to pick up with Benson and Stabler sharing a dance alone at the event, but in real life, Hargitay had suffered a broken ankle and Meloni had grown out a beard to go with his undercover arc to kick of “OC” Season Two.

(‘Organized Crime’): Season 2, Episode 1: ‘The Man with No Identity’

Stabler's told to tell the person he loves how he feels

“Organized Crime” has dropped many references to Benson throughout the series, including in the Season Two premiere.

As Stabler begins an undercover arc investigating an Albanian family involved in the drug trade, he shares a personal moment with the mother of one of the men, Reggie, working for the family.

Chris Meloni as Elliot Stabler
That moment when yet another person clocks you about the love of your life."Law & Order: Organized Crime" / NBC

The mother, who rarely speaks, decides to read Stabler’s coffee grounds while the two sit together at the table. She relays the message from the grounds to Reggie, who tells Stabler: “She wants to know why you don’t tell her how you feel.”

“Why I don’t tell her how I feel?” a confused Stabler responds.

“The person you love,” Reggie translates from his mom.

Cue the Benson-Stabler love theme, which starts to play, while Stabler just stares.

“Hey, what do I know? It’s in the grounds,” Reggie says.

(‘Organized Crime’): Season 2, Episode 2: ‘New World Order’

Stabler's mom confuses Benson for his late wife

Stabler’s confused mother, Bernie, unexpectedly returns and ends up at the OC office. She has quite the slip of the tongue during a discussion with her son.

Chris Meloni as Elliot Stabler
The moment Stabler's mom confused his partner for his wife."Law & Order: Organized Crime" / NBC

Stabler reminds his mother that his family had been living in Rome and notes they had come back to visit “about four times.”

Bernie instantly remembers that something bad happened to Stabler’s wife, and he assures her it’s OK.

“I know I missed it, but I was going to attend,” Bernie begins. “And then I’m not sure what happened. I think I had an episode.” She adds: “I’m just so sorry — your beautiful bride. How was Olivia’s funeral?”

Oop!

Rather than correct his mom, Stabler says, “It was beautiful.”

Season 23, Episode 3: ‘I Thought You Were on My Side’

Benson says she knows Stabler 'better than anyone'

This episode is the beginning of an epic crossover between “SVU” and “OC,” which ends in a jaw-dropping confession from Stabler about *that* letter he gave to Benson.

On “SVU,” viewers finally see Benson and Stabler together for the first time since last season’s finale. In the Season 23 “SVU” premiere, Benson was run off the road while on the phone with Stabler. While hallucinating, she imagined he was first responder who helped her.

Benson tells Fin that she hasn’t heard from Stabler in a few months and that he’s been “off the grid” working. She also has a telling reaction when Fin says Phoebe was trying to get in touch with Stabler “to hook him up with her sister.” Benson responds with a big “oh.” She does tell Fin that at least this time Stabler gave her a heads-up not to worry about him.

Benson also tells Fin her therapist asked if Stabler being MIA again “was triggering” for her. “I lied and said that it wasn’t,” she says.

“SVU” and “OC” have to work this case together, and Benson sees Stabler for the first time in months when the teams meet in a warehouse.

During a briefing, Benson and Stabler have a sidebar conversation, in which Benson calls out Stabler for not telling her he was undercover. Stabler says he couldn’t, and at this point, the others in the room take notice of their bickering. After Stabler affirms to Benson he texted her, she responds, “So I wouldn’t think that you ghosted me, again?”

“Liv, let’s not go into that,” Stabler replies before Sgt. Bell cuts the chat short.

During a later private conversation, Benson again mentions Stabler’s “radio silence for three months,” and the two briefly catch up. Benson notices Stabler isn’t in the best place mentally, especially when he says, “It’s kind of nice not to be me for a while,” about being undercover.

When an FBI agent approaches and asks Stabler to make a call, Stabler respects his former partner’s authority and responds, “She’s the captain. It’s actually her call.”

Viewers are also treated to seeing Benson and Stabler interrogate a suspect together, not missing a beat just like old times. The two also meet up at night ahead of a raid, and Stabler gives her his word that he’s got her back. “Trust me,” he tells her. “I guess I’ll have to,” she responds.

Before the raid, Benson again picks up on Stabler wilting mental state after he chats with their informant, who’s also SVU’s current suspect in a rape case. “There goes months of counseling down the drain,” Benson says.

When the informant/suspect is given a deal, Benson and the SVU squad feel betrayed by the OC team.

Benson tells Rollins she talked to Stabler before he went back undercover, and he promised her he didn’t know the suspect was being put in witness protection.

When Rollins questions Stabler’s recent actions, Benson defends him. “He told me to trust him, and I know him better than anyone,” Benson says.

“You used to,” Rollins responds.

(‘Organized Crime’): Season 2, Episode 3: ‘The Outlaw Eddie Wagner’

Stabler tells Benson he didn't write the letter (!)

This is arguably *the* episode that changes everything for Benson and Stabler since the contents of the letter are finally revealed — and it’s a doozy.

Stabler, who was drugged while undercover, immediately goes to Benson’s apartment late at night. Benson opens her door and reaches for Stabler across the hall. Stabler tells her someone drugged him, and he denies needing to go to a hospital as he puts his arm around her for support as she leads him into her apartment.

In his drug-induced state, Stabler tells Benson he felt he had to see her since they “never talked.” Benson assumes he means about their last case, but then Stabler says “us.” She tells him now isn’t the time for that discussion and instead says she’s going to call in that he was drugged to figure out what’s in his system.

Then Stabler drops the bomb of all bombs when he declares that he “didn’t write the letter.”

He says Kathy (!) wrote it. Benson forgets the phone call she was about to make and takes a seat for this conversation.

Stabler tells Benson that the letter was Kathy’s idea, and Kathy thought it would be an easier way to start a discussion since the two hadn’t seen each other in years. Stabler says he “tried and tried,” but in the end, “Kathy helped dictate.”

At this point, Benson starts reciting back lines from the letter, that she has memorized, including that what Benson and Stabler “were to each other was never real” and they “got in the way of each other being who and where” they needed to be.

The letter also had a line implying if Benson had a man in her life, that Stabler hoped “he’s the kind, faithful, devoted man” Benson deserved.

After each of these lines, Stabler confirms Kathy actually wrote those words — not him.

But there was one line that Stabler did write himself.

“In a parallel universe,” Benson begins. “It will always be you and I,” Stabler finishes and looks up and locks eyes with Benson before adding he “slipped it in there before sealing the envelope.”

Still haven't recovered from this scene, it's true.
Still haven't recovered from this scene, it's true.Will Hart / NBCU Photo Bank / Getty Images

The letter was obviously written when Kathy was still alive, and that last, one line Stabler wrote himself speaks volumes and basically confirms that Benson’s always been it for him — the circumstances just haven’t allowed it.

But now after the death of Kathy, that can, for the first time in over 20 years of them knowing each other, change.

After the admission, Stabler stumbles out of the chair across the floor toward Benson, who holds Stabler up as he wraps his arms around her. Stabler looks up into Benson’s eyes from the ground and runs his hand through her hair while his thumb grazes her mouth.

(‘Organized Crime’): Season 2, Episode 4: ‘For A Few Lekë More’

Stabler brings up saying 'I love you' in a voicemail to Benson

Stabler prepares to enter an extremely dangerous meeting while undercover — a meeting that could very easily go south and end in his death. So, who does he call to seemingly make a confession of sorts to in what could be his last few hours? Benson, of course!

Chris Meloni as Elliot Stabler
Whatever happened to this voicemail??"Law & Order: Organized Crime" / NBC

During a moment of reflection at home before the meeting, Stabler sits outside in the back garden and leaves Benson a voicemail.

“I wish you were there,” he says. “I’m just calling to say — I want to thank you for everything that you’ve done for me, for the kids. You’ve been my rock. And when I said that ‘I love you,’ I think you –” Stabler is then cut off by an automated voice telling him to press “1” if he’s satisfied with his message, “2” to rerecord and “3” to listen to his message.

He tries to dial Benson again, and it goes quickly to voicemail then he hangs up.

(‘Organized Crime’): Season 2, Episode 5: ‘The Good, the Bad and the Lovely’

Benson tells Stabler she wants him to come home

We’re familiar with Jelliot, but this episode gives us a little of Jelivia, and also shows Benson wants Stabler to “come home” from his undercover job as much as the rest of his family does.

Bell calls in SVU to help with the Albanians. While Benson is surveilling the Albanian crew with Stabler and Bell, she notices slight changes in Stabler when he talks about Flutura (Lolita Davidovich), the wife of the drug crew’s main man. (Oh, and Stabler, while undercover, also slept with her!)

Benson assumes, based on what she’s seeing below, that Flutura has a hand in trafficking girls through the family business. “If she does, it’s news to me,” Stabler responds, much to Benson’s visible dismay.

Jelivia comes out strong at the end of the surveillance when she spots Flutura talking to a man, the buyer, after the young girls walk away.

“And I’d say that your friend, Flutura? Is that how you say her name? She’s much more than a party planner,” Benson says to Stabler.

Later, Benson and the SVU squad help Stabler’s team infiltrate a party with the young girls and the Albanians. At the end of the episode, Bernie tells her son that his partner came by to check up on him.

Benson delivers an unforgettable “howdy” after Stabler says, “Hey partner.” She offers to get hydrogen peroxide to clean a cut on Stabler’s face, and she runs into Eli as he’s exiting the bathroom.

Benson notices a bunch of pills on the floor of the bathroom and calls Stabler over to let him know. Bernie had previously noticed her pills were missing and picks up on her son’s conversation with Benson. “He took my pills, didn’t he?” she says.

Benson asks if there’s anything she can do to help, and Stabler assures her he can handle it. Stabler walks Benson out through the back garden.

Benson says she agrees with Bernie and wants him to come home.

“I intend to,” Stabler responds.

“Before it’s too late,” Benson says.

“Liv, I’m being careful,” Stabler assures her.

Then Benson reaches out and rests her hand on Stabler’s face and whispers, “I mean, before Eddie Wagner takes over, and Elliot Stabler is nowhere to be found,” referring to his undercover name.

They share a longing look before Benson turns and leaves.

Season 23, Episode 9: ‘People vs. Richard Wheatley’

Benson calls Stabler out for not asking about her life since his return

The “SVU” Season 23 winter finale was all about Kathy Stabler’s murder trial, and it was also really the first time Benson called out Stabler for being so self-absorbed since his return to her life.

Despite now knowing Kathy wrote the letter, Benson still shows up in the cemetery to meet the rest of the Stabler family at Kathy’s grave. “It’s nice to see your face,” Benson says to Stabler, noting he shaved off the beard that was part of his undercover persona.

Benson’s longtime friend and former SVU ADA Rafael Barba (Raúl Esparza), decides to defend Wheatley, much to Benson’s dismay.

In between testimonies, Wheatley meets with Benson and taunts her about the love of his life, Angela, who’s taking the stand tomorrow.

“You might want to make sure Stabler’s children aren’t there. They probably don’t want to hear what she has to say,” Wheatley tells Benson, who up until this point, seemingly has no clue about Stabler’s brief history with Angela. “And I guess neither do you,” Wheatley adds before Benson walks away.

Benson confronts Stabler outside of the courthouse about Angela’s upcoming testimony and asks him if there’s any reason she shouldn’t attend. “Why would you ask me that?” Stabler responds.

“Whatever happened between you and Angela, Wheatley knows,” Benson says.

She clocks Stabler for not answering her questions, and he responds, “That’s none of your business. Or the court’s. The question is: Why are you really asking?”

“I wish I could trust you, Elliot,” Benson replies.

Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson
Benson finally gets a moment to unload on Stabler about how he hasn't asked about her life since his return."Law & Order: SVU" / NBC

Stabler asks what she means as she walks away, and Benson finally unleashes months of pent-up frustration. “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. You have not asked me one question about what has happened to me since you left,” she says.

Then she recalls how he showed up drugged at her apartment in the middle of the night while Noah was there asleep. “That was hard for me, scary,” she tells him.

“And this letter,” Benson continues. “Why did you give me that letter? A letter that you didn’t even write. What was that about?” she asks.

“I’m not sure I know,” Stabler responds. “I guess I didn’t know how to begin,” he adds.

“Well that makes two of us,” Benson says.

During Angela’s testimony, which both the Stabler children and Benson witness, Angela reveals she kissed Stabler and that she was in love with him.

Stabler later arranges to be in the restroom at the same time as Wheatley, who brings up Angela’s testimony and says to Stabler, “I was surprised to see Olivia in the gallery. She didn’t hear enough after Angela’s testimony? You must’ve had some mansplaining to do.”

Stabler responds, “Well, Olivia knows a lot more about what went on between me and Angela than the jury does. She’s good like that.”

In a blow to Stabler and his family, the judge declares a mistrial, and Wheatley is remanded.

Stabler also receives a call from Eli's mom saying her son was missing, which continues the crossover into “OC.”

(‘Organized Crime’): Season 2, Episode 9: ‘The Christmas Episode’

Benson says she and Stabler are friends 'for now.' Stabler invites Benson and Noah over

“The Christmas Episode” was an actual gift to Benson and Stabler fans since it was peppered with some of the best-ever moments between the two.

Stabler calls Benson to help him find Eli, who went missing with Bernie’s pills. Viewers know he went home with a girl he met on the street and woke up hours later to find her dead in the next room. Knowing he’s in trouble, Eli calls Elliot and tells him his location.

Cut to Stabler in the car with Benson, who reassures him. “Whatever happened, we’re going to go, and we’re going to bring him home,” Benson says. “We’re going to find out what’s going on here and take it one step at a time,” she adds, before reaching over and grabbing Stabler’s hand.

This moment was teased in a previous promo and sent fans into a spiral. Meloni told TODAY in February that little moments like holding hands, which among the fans are obviously a big deal, are ones he and Hargitay add into the scenes themselves. “That’s our thing,” Meloni said. “There’s nobody who knows these characters better than she and I. With all due respect to the writers, whatever you see is really she and I figuring it out — figuring out what the exact words are or the exact emotions are.”

Benson stares at Stabler across the car, as her partner grips her hand in response and thanks her for coming.

After a New Jersey cop coaxes Eli from jumping off a ledge, Benson and Stabler go to the precinct to talk to Eli. The cop wonders if Benson is Eli’s mother, and Benson quickly clarifies that she’s a family friend. Benson is surprised when Stabler invites her into the interrogation room to speak to Eli after he begs with a “please.”

After Eli runs through what happened, Benson springs into action and assures him she’ll handle this. Benson goes to the scene and finds out the cops think the girl was murdered, and calls Stabler to explain. With the help of his team, Stabler is able to prove Eli didn’t murder the girl, but another man who entered the apartment did.

Benson and Stabler go to the hospital to pick up Eli, and in a very married moment, Benson steps in to calmly ask the nurse how to get to Eli since a frazzled Stabler can’t politely string two sentences together.

While waiting to see Eli, Stabler finally starts to ask Benson about her life during his 10-year absence.

“I want to know,” Stabler begins, “about your life — what you’ve been through, the things I’ve missed. Seeing anyone?”

“Seriously?” a surprised Benson replies.

“Is that too awkward?” Stabler asks. Benson confirms she’s not seeing anyone at the moment.

“But you did,” Stabler says.

“Well, it has been 10 years, Elliot,” Benson replies.

“About how many?” Stabler says with a smile.

“Do you want to know my dating history, detective?” Benson says with a smirk. She then tells him about the one man she thought she may have settled down with for good, and only offers up his first name, Ed. Stabler does not yet realize that it was Ed Tucker — yes, that Ed Tucker from IAB — but Benson does tell him Ed is dead.

Benson continues to calm Stabler at the hospital, including when the doctor talks to him about Eli. The top-tier scene, however, comes at the end of the episode when Stabler spins Benson around as they’re leaving the police station to thank her for being there for him.

“I want to find balance here in this — whatever this is,” Stabler says.

“How about we call it a friendship,” Benson says to a beaming Stabler. “How’s that for now?” Note the "for now" part.

Then Stabler responds, “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.”

Benson, clearly caught off guard, emotionally says she needs to think it over and asks if she can get back to him.

“Just come,” Stabler says.

The episode ends with Stabler’s family, which includes Stabler's grandchildren, gathered at home getting ready to welcome visitors, presumably Benson and Noah.

Stabler gets all excited and announces to everyone, “They’re here,” and as he opens the door he says, “Hey guys.” But it’s not Benson and her son at the door. It’s Bell, who wants to tell him a piece of news, presumably about Wheatley’s release, that she didn’t want him to be "blindsided" by.

(‘Organized Crime’): Season 2, Episode 15: ‘Takeover’

Stabler asks if he can take Benson and Noah to lunch

By this episode, it's clear Benson and Noah didn’t make it to Stabler’s Christmas gathering. Stabler again tries to spend time with them both by asking Benson if he can take them to lunch.

After staging a fake fight with Bell, followed by another fake fight with Benson, in the lobby of One Police Plaza where other cops would see, Benson goes to the OC office to debrief with Bell and Stabler. The pretend arguments were part of setting a plan in motion for Stabler’s next undercover assignment with a group of dirty cops within the NYPD known as “The Brotherhood.”

Benson and Stabler share a personal conversation on her way out, and Stabler tells her the father of the current leader of The Brotherhood, Frank Donnelly (Denis Leary), was friends with his dad, who was a cop.

“Elliot,” Benson begins as she steps closer to him. “My friend, you’re doing the right thing.”

“Olivia, my friend, can I take you and Noah out to lunch this weekend?” Stabler asks.

Benson tells Stabler she wants to wait since Noah “gets attached very easily” and Stabler’s going undercover again.

One of their best photos.
One of their best photos.Virginia Sherwood / NBCU Photo Bank / Getty Images

During an interview with Seth Meyers in March, Hargitay said she had never seen that scene until that moment during the interview. “I didn’t realize it came out so sexy,” she said.

Season 23, Episode 20: ‘Did You Believe in Miracles?’

Stabler meets Benson's son

In this episode, Stabler finally meets Benson’s son, Noah, during a coincidental run-in on Mother’s Day.

Stabler spots them on the street as he’s picking out flowers for his mom. Benson goes to introduce Noah to Stabler, but Noah jumps in that he already knows whom Detective Stabler is, his mom’s former partner.

The two most important men in Benson's life meet on Mother's Day.
The two most important men in Benson's life meet on Mother's Day.Virginia Sherwood / NBCU Photo Bank / Getty Images

Stabler extends his hand for Noah to shake and tells him he can call him Elliot.

Stabler then wishes Benson a happy Mother’s Day and tells her she looks great.

A message from work cuts Benson’s Mother’s Day plans short, and Benson tells Stabler she’ll call him since he’s familiar with the officer she got the message about.

(‘Organized Crime’): Season 2, Episode 20: ‘Lost One’

Stabler confides in Benson about his father

“Lost One” picks up where the end of “SVU” left off, with Benson consulting with “OC” about a missing girl, who happens to be the daughter of one of the members of The Brotherhood.

There are many nostalgic moments in the episode for Benson and Stabler fans, including the two entering a scene before backup arrives, despite Bell’s order not to.

Stabler confides a few personal things to Benson, including that Donnelly named his kid, whom Stabler helped bring into the world in a parallel moment to Benson bringing Stabler’s son into the world in Season Nine of “SVU,” after Stabler. A shocked Benson points out it sounds like Stabler and Donnelly are “getting pretty close.”

This leads to an interesting exchange between the two that echoes how complicated their relationship is. “I just think the older I get, I’m beginning to understand that people are complicated,” Stabler says.

“Yeah, ain’t that the truth,” Benson responds.

Then Stabler confesses to Benson something that’s been on his mind: His father staged a shooting while he was on the job years ago.

Later, Stabler and Benson prove that after over 20 years, 10 of those being apart from one another, they are still in sync. They both glance down at their watches at the same time and choose to enter a facility they believe holds the missing girl before backup arrives.

They walk through the home with their flashlights raised (also in sync) and don’t even have to speak to communicate, just like old times. Stabler also shields Benson from gunfire and takes down the shooter as they eventually rescue the missing girl.

Benson drives Stabler back to his office, where he says, “It’s always good to work with you, Liv.”

Benson also asks about how Stabler’s “search for the truth” is going related to his dad. At that moment, Donnelly approaches and Benson says she’s “just playing Uber driver” for her old partner.

“Well, I got to tell you, I’m a little jealous because Elliot here tells me you’re the second-best partner he ever had,” Benson cracks.

“Really? I have to work on changing his about that — see if I can’t make myself No. 1,” Donnelly says while walking away. Benson and Stabler share another long stare in the car in what turns out to be their last scene together of the season.

Season 23, Episode 22: ‘A Final Call at Forlini’s Bar’

Benson's therapist encourages her to explore a romance with Stabler — or move on

Even though Stabler isn’t in this episode, he’s mentioned multiple times to Benson by various people throughout. And, for the first time ever, Benson is seriously encouraged to explore a romance with Stabler! Took long enough.

During a session with her therapist, Peter Lindstrom (Bill Irwin), Benson says that while her son is doing well and her job is great, she’s hasn’t been happy for about a year. She notes there’s been change with her chief and squad, and she still doesn’t have closure with Barba after he defended Wheatley against her wishes.

Well, guess what else changed for Benson in the past year? Stabler reentered her life after disappearing from it a decade ago.

Lindstrom brings up the subject of Stabler and also notes that Benson’s co-workers are in “stable relationships.” He then asks Benson when she thinks “her turn will come.” Benson assumes Lindstrom thinks she has intimacy issues. She asks him to tell her his honest opinion, and boy, does he deliver the words many have been thinking for over two decades.

“I think that you and Elliot either need to see whether there’s more there, or move on,” Lindstrom say, explaining that “this idealized relationship is hanging over” Olivia and holds her back from “true intimacy” with Stabler or anyone else.

Lindstrom ends the session by telling Benson to think about what she deserves and emphasizes she “deserves happiness.”

Later, in an unexpected clocking of sorts, Rollins asks Benson how she and Stabler are doing before offering some personal advice, which may come as a surprise given Rollins’ previous hesitations about Stabler. While talking to her mom a year ago about Carisi, that Rollins' mom suggested the two of them get a hotel room to get it out of their systems.

“That’s some advice,” Benson responds, picking up on the implication.

At the end of the episode, Benson meets Barba at a bar after wrapping a case he helped on. Barba mentions Benson hasn’t let go that he defended Wheatley and adds he was “trying to protect” her by doing that. “I didn’t ask you to,” Benson responds.

“What I don’t get: why you feel more anger at me than you’ll ever let yourself feel towards Stabler?” Barba says.

Benson responds, “You don’t know anything about my feelings for Elliot, and you don’t know him.”

Barba says he got “a glimpse,” to which Benson reminds Barba she’s known Stabler for 23 years and he always had her back.

Then Barba mentions Benson grew up without a father and attempts to equate that with his experience being bullied as a child and how they’ll both see Stabler “through different prisms.” Benson tries to steer the conversation back to her and Barba only, but Barba says Benson’s defense of Stabler is out of unconditional love.

“Please don’t tell me how I feel,” Benson responds.

“In this case I can because I do know what it means to love someone unconditionally,” Barba says. “When you’re ready to stop being betrayed by me, I’ll be here,” he concludes.

Benson adds she also misses Barba as he walks away.

Some fans wondered if this scene was setting up a love triangle for Benson with Barba and Stabler.

Raúl Esparza, who portrays Barba, spoke to TVLine about the ending and said the dialogue can be “can be taken in a number of ways.”

“There are fans that have always wanted to kind of spin off that story,” Esparza told the outlet about Barba and Benson. “And Mariska (Hargitay) and I kind of laughed about it, too. Like, ‘Well, are we suddenly in a triangle here? What’s going on?’ (Laughs) Which is hysterical, because it really isn’t how we play it.”

He added that he and Hargitay “play it as best friends and almost brother and sister sometimes.”

“However… I don’t know, I know what I was thinking when I said the words that I said onscreen … I like that it can be read in number of ways,” he said.