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The Complete Timeline of Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler's Relationship

The former SVU partners have known each other for 25 years. Look back at their time together.

By Jessica White

​There are standard TV police partnerships, and then there's the dynamite relationship between Law & Order: Special Victims Unit's Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni). 

How to Watch

Watch the Season 26 premiere of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Thursday, October 3 at 9/8c on NBC.

Benson and Stabler, who have become known as "Bensler," were partners for over a decade, taking down countless heinous criminals in NYC. While many legal dramas will star a good cop and a bad cop who argue back and forth, SVU instead embraced two complex and flawed characters who play to the other's strengths.

Benson is vulnerable and empathetic, while Stabler is cryptic and brash but, at the end of each shift, they always treated each other with respect and compassion. After 12 seasons of SVU, however, Meloni took a step away from the series, to the regret of many fans. Meloni then returned to the franchise a decade later in Law & Order: Organized Crime, reprising his role as Stabler and frequently crossing paths with the SVU leading lady.

With 25 seasons of SVU and four seasons of Organized Crime, Benson and Stabler's relationship has evolved fairly dramatically throughout the years. Read a complete breakdown, below. 

Olivia Benson with medium length hair that's curled at the ends

Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler met in Season 1 of SVU

Fans met the captivating Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler in Law & Order: SVU's debut episode ("Payback") in 1999, and the whole first season was packed with countless great scenes between these two rockstar detectives. Benson and Stabler knew how to get the villain and always found moments of connection with each other while doing so. 

Season 1 of SVU also saw the introduction of "Protelliot" — the nickname fans gifted Stabler,  inspired by his protective nature with Benson. In Season 1, Episode 8 ("Stalked") after Benson became the obsession of a local stalker and murderer, Stabler took it upon himself to become Benson's chauffeur around the city. After dropping her off at home, Benson refused to let him walk her up, so he insisted she flicker the lights to show she got inside safely. Benson knew Stabler would wait all night for those lights to flicker, so she complied.

Then, after After Benson attempted to break off her workplace entanglement with fellow SVU detective Brian Cassidy (Dean Winters) in Season 1, Episode 10 ("Closure"), Stabler told her that the coupled hadn't been a secret to him. After Benson asked Stabler if it was really that obvious, he told her, "I'm your partner — for better or worse." (The exchange is easily one of the most iconic Bensler moments of SVU's debut season.)

Olivia Benson told Elliot Stabler about her family in Season 6

Throughout the early seasons of SVU, Benson and Stabler grew very close, resulting in Benson opening up about her childhood. In Season 6, Episode 13 ("Quarry"), viewers learned Benson was a child of rape, growing up with an alcoholic mother and an absent father.

Her tough upbringing caused our SVU powerhouse to question if she should become a parent due to her family history, but Stabler wouldn't hear it. Stabler was always there to assure Benson of her worth and did so in a touching way.

"Look how great you turned out," Stabler commented, adding, "It's not all about the genes, Liv."

Elliot Stabler told Olivia Benson his wife left him in Season 6

While Benson has had a few romances throughout her Law & Order tenure, Stabler was married to Kathy (Isabel Gillies) throughout his SVU run. Predictably, Kathy and Stabler's marriage was rocky due to the strain his job put on her and their four children at the time, and that toll led Kathy to file for a legal separation in Season 6 of SVU.

RELATED: Olivia Benson's Had So Many Legendary Hairstyles on Law & Order: SVU 

A fan-favorite SVU episode was Season 6, Episode 8 ("Doubt") when Benson and Stabler took opposite stances on a rape case, with Benson taking the survivor's side. The pair argued and, throughout the deliberation, Stabler grew increasingly irate. It was later revealed that his wife left him and that the stress of the separation was likely contributing to his vitriol. After Stabler's dirty laundry was aired, Benson attempted to get her traditionally tight-lipped partner to open up. 

"The job — it makes me kind of hard to live with," Stabler told her.

"She should try working with you," Benson teased, earning a smile from her partner after a harrowing day.

While the verdict was deliberately left unrevealed to the audience, the episode ended with Benson comforting Stabler as he approached a potential divorce, proving that the pair would always be friends even if they disagreed as partners. 

Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler briefly ended their partnership in Season 7

Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) appear in Law & Order SVU

Season 7 of SVU was when Benson and Stabler's partnership began to get complicated. Seven years is a long time to be anyone's coworker, and in Season 7, Episode 19 ("Fault"), the pair were forced to confront their close bond after both Stabler and Benson chose to help the other at the expense of a case. Stabler prioritized helping a wounded Benson rather than chasing down their perp, and later, Benson refused to take a shot at the man while he held Stabler hostage.

The consequences were a messy investigation and additional victims. Their actions resulted in the partners realizing that they had gotten too close to be effective at policing. 

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

RELATED: A Complete Timeline of Olivia Benson's Romantic Relationships 

“I can’t believe you’re saying that,” Benson responded. 

“You and this job are about the only things I’ve got anymore,” Stabler confessed. “I don’t want to wreck that. I couldn’t take it.”

So, what did Benson do? She asked for a new partner.

Stabler struggled with the idea of working with someone else and missed Benson dearly in Season 7, Episode 20 ("Fat"). He was upset by Benson's decision to get a new partner without talking to him first so he decided to confront her.

“We needed a change,” Benson told Stabler after pointing out they were partners for seven years, much longer than anyone else at the unit. “I’m sorry, I should’ve talked to you. It’s just — it’s just too complicated.”

Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler reunited as SVU partners

Thankfully, it was hard to keep Benson and Stabler separated for too long. While Benson and Stabler took a brief hiatus as SVU partners, they reunited in Season 7, Episode 21 ("Web").

While Benson's return to the unit was initially awkward for both of them, the pair fell back into their typical banter very fast.  

Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson got closer in Season 8

Olivia Benson with a short dark brown haircut

With Benson and Stabler back as partners, their friendship only continued to intensify over time, with many fans questioning whether or not they had romantic feelings for each other. Season 8, Episode 6 ("Infiltrated") further fueled these fan theories after Benson landed in the hospital and began repeating Elliot's name in her sleep. After the nurse told her she was repeating his name all night, Benson tried to say it was nobody, to which the nurse responded, "It doesn’t sound like nobody.”

Another classic Bensler moment happened in Season 8, Episode 9 ("Choreographed") after Benson returned to the SVU from an external assignment (Hargitay was on parental leave at the time of production.) Toward the episode's end, Benson commented that she and Stabler had been partners for years but she didn't know his blood type. After discovering they were both A+, Bensler had one of their cutest exchanges ever. 

“I’d give you a kidney,” Stabler told her.

“Not if I gave you mine first," Benson quipped.

Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler were officially classified as codependent

Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) appear Law & Order SVU

How Benson and Stabler's allegiance to one other and could affect their productivity as cops came back up in Season 8, Episode 16 ("Philadelphia") when they were both analyzed by a workplace psychologist. Captain Donal Cragen (Dann Florek) was informed that Benson and Stabler “have a degree of mutual reliance and emotional dependence that compromises their effectiveness as police officers.”

RELATED: The Sweetest Things Chris Meloni and Mariska Hargitay Have Said About Each Other  

So, did their boss split them up? No dice. Even the psychiatrist explained that by separating Benson and Stabler, NYC would be losing two of its "best detectives."

Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson shared their first on-screen hug in Season 9

While Stabler and his wife Kathy were  separated, they hooked up one night, which resulted in Kathy getting pregnant and the two getting back together. In Season 9, Episode 9 ("Paternity") Benson volunteered to drive Kathy to a doctor's appointment while Stabler was out of town, which resulted in a life-threatening car crash and Kathy going into labor prematurely. 

Benson was there for Kathy the entire time, helping deliver the child successfully while two two still in the car. After Kathy was whisked to the hospital and Benson alerting her partner, Stabler rushed there as quickly as possible. Stabler was immensely thankful for Benson's role in helping Kathy, and the tension over the day led to the first Bensler embrace, a rare and memorable moment for many SVU fans as Stabler held her tight.

Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler blurred platonic lines while undercover in Season 10 and Season 12

In Season 10, Episode 7 ("Wildlife"), Stabler went undercover as an exotic animal smuggler, and after failing to hear from her partner, Benson visited his undercover house. When the real smugglers unexpectedly showed up, Benson was forced to get creative to maintain Stabler's facade. Benson and Stabler took off their shirts to make their meeting appear as a harmless hook-up, leading to one of the most physically intimate (and hilarious) scenes between the two partners as they successfully sold the con. 

RELATED: What Chris Meloni Remembers About *That* Shirtless SVU Scene With Mariska Hargitay

Benson and Stabler had another iconic undercover scene in Season 12, Episode 19 ("Bombshell") when the partners went undercover as a married couple to investigate a swinger's club. The pair got all dressed up for their undercover date, holding hands throughout the majority of their investigation as Stabler introduced Benson as his wife. Their mission only got complicated after Benson was pulled away, leaving Stabler to make chit-chat with interested paramours. The look of panic on Stabler's eyes? Iconic. 

Elliot Stabler left the SVU in Season 12, devastating Olivia Benson

SVU fans truly believed Bensler was forever, but Stabler's final episode as a member of the elite SVU squad was the Season 12 finale ("Smoked"). Stabler resigned after getting caught up in a grueling courtroom shooting that led to the tragic death of a teenager. 

The Season 13 premiere ("Scorched Earth") delivered the dreadful moment when Benson learned Stabler resigned from his post. Even worse? Stabler didn't give Benson any warning of his exit — he just took his entire life and family and moved to Italy. Fan rarely see Benson break down, but with Stabler gone, she was forced to have a minute alone to process the sudden loss.

Olivia Benson mentioned Elliot Stabler to her torturer in Season 15

The insidious William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber) was easily one of the most horrifying SVU villains, and the only serial killer-rapist to successfully jeopardize Benson's safety. In Season 15, Episode 1 ("Surrender Benson"), the typically invincible Benson was kidnapped by Lewis and taken to a remote cabin, where he planned to torture and kill her. Fortunately, she was able to escape his clutches and apprehend Lewis using an iron bar from the bed to which she she had been tied

RELATED: The Scariest Villains in Law & Order: SVU History

After flipping the script on her kidnapper, Benson questioned how she should proceed after the traumatic experience. “My old partner, he’d know what to do,” Benson told Lewis, referencing 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." 

Benson rarely brought up Stabler during his Law & Order hiatus, so this moment was heart-wrenching for Bensler fans everywhere.

Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler reunited after a decade apart in SVU Season 22

Stabler returned in SVU's Season 22, Episode 9 ("Return of the Prodigal Son"), which was also the launch of Law & Order: Organized Crime. Stabler visited New York City to see Benson after she was chosen to receive a prestigious NYPD award. But the former partners failed to even attend the award ceremony because there was a horrendous accident: Kathy was seriously wounded in a car bombing intended to kill Stabler. 

Stabler was left shell-shocked by the attack, and then he saw Benson for the first time in over a decade. The scene was powerful as Benson instantly ran to her former partner's side for support, ditching the award ceremony to instead remain with him and his family in the hospital. (Kathy eventually died of the injuries she sustained as a result of the bombing.)

Elliot Stabler apologized to Olivia Benson for abandoning her in SVU Season 22

Did you think Stabler was going to get away without having to talk about how he left Benson without a word? No way. In Season 22, Episode 9 ("Return of the Prodigal Son"), Benson and Stabler shared a tense scene in the hospital while waiting to hear about Kathy in the wake of the accident. 

Benson tearfully asked Stabler why he left her without any heads-up, curious about if he was sorry for doing so. Stabler then admitted that telling Benson that he was leaving had been more complicated than she knew. 

“You were the most, single most, important person in my life, and you just disappeared," Benson told him.

“I was afraid,” Stabler confessed. “If I heard your voice, I wouldn’t have been able to leave.”

Elliot Stabler gave Olivia Benson a sealed letter in Law & Order: Organized Crime Season 1

Stabler and Benson in the Law And Order Premiere

The Law & Order: OC Season 1 premiere ("What Happens in Puglia") began with Stabler giving Benson a letter, and it left fans in an uproar.

After attempting to swap pleasantries about Italy, Benson made it clear she wasn't going to indulge Stabler's deflection. Stabler told her he was asked to speak at her awards ceremony but he instead wrote down his thoughts in a letter, handing her over the envelope. Stabler told her, “Just take it — read it, don’t read it, throw it away. Whatever you decide, I understand."

RELATED: Stabler's Most Heart-Pounding Moments on Law & Order: Organized Crime

Later in that episode, Benson attended Kathy's funeral to further support Stabler. As he attempted to thank her for being there, she pulled away from his touch, clearly upset after reading the letter. The contents of the letter were left unrevealed, even after Benson visited Stabler to talk about it. Stabler told Benson he was busy with work — a continuation of his refusal to be vulnerable with those he loves most.

Stabler was still processing the death of his wife at this time and Benson, understanding the turmoil Stabler was going through, was there for her friend. But there were ultimately a few more complications along the way. 

Elliot Stabler told Olivia Benson he loved her in Law & Order: Organized Crime Season 1

Stabler was left reeling after the death of Kathy, largely due to the guilt he felt not being the one to die in the car bombing: PTSD and survivor's guilt are no joke. But, after many years in the SVU, Benson had become very good at identifying those issues and upon noticing that Stabler's life was in shambles, she arranged an intervention for Stabler by his children in OC Season 1, Episode 4 ("The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of").

Bensler fans fantasized for years about Stabler telling Benson he loved her, but no one can say they expected that moment to happen in the middle of an intervention. After his children voiced their concerns over his alarming behavior, Stabler panicked. At one point (while making eye contact with Benson), Stabler blurted, "I love you." 

He quickly processed his words, adding to the group, "I love all of you."

Stabler later referenced those three words while leaving a voicemail for Benson in OC Season 2, Episode 4 ("For A Few Lekë More").

“I wish you were there,” Stabler told her. “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 –” 

Before Stabler could finish the voicemail, he was interrupted by an automated message asking him to confirm he wanted to send it. He didn't. 

Elliot Stabler revealed the contents of his letter to Olivia Benson in Law & Order: Organized Crime Season 2

Bensler fans everywhere couldn't escape the burning question: what was in the letter that made Benson get so upset at Stabler? They finally got answers in Season 2, Episode 3 ("The Outlaw Eddie Wagner") after Stabler confronted Benson about the missive.

But before arriving on Benson's doorstep uninvited to have the talk, Stabler had been drugged during an undercover operation and he was still under the influence when he arrived.

RELATED: Mariska Hargitay Revealed Benson and Stabler's Friendship Song, and It's Perfect 

During their heated exchange, Stabler revealed the letter's contents: It had said Benson and Stabler hadn't been good for one another, they'd both gotten in the other's way of growing individuals, and he'd hoped Benson found a loyal and faithful man in her life. Benson had been understandably upset after reading this, but the shocks didn't end there. 

Stabler then revealed that he hadn't even written most the letter — it had been penned by Kathy. But, he said, line of the letter came from him.

"'In a parallel universe, it will always be you and I,'" Stabler quoted to Benson. "I wrote that. I slipped it in there before sealing the envelope." Stabler then passed out from the drugs, leaving SVU fans and Benson with their jaws on the floor. 

Elliot Stabler asked to meet Olivia Benson's son in Law & Order: Organized Crime Season 2

Stabler Invites Benson and Noah Over for Christmas | NBC's Law & Order: Organized Crime

Upon Stabler's return to NYC, he soon learned that his former partner — whom he'd always insisted would be a good mom — had become just that after adopting her son, Noah (Ryan Buggle). Stabler instantly set out to connect with Benson's son, but Mama Bear Benson was apprehensive about allowing Noah to meet him. 

Stabler was committed to mending his relationship with Benson and knew that her new life is centered around her son. After working with Benson on a case in OC Season 2, Episode 9 ("The Christmas Episode"), they began to make progress after Stabler opened up about wanting to fix their relationship. 

RELATED: Did You Know There Are Law & Order: SVU and Organized Crime Christmas Episodes?

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

“How about we call it a friendship,” Benson said. "How’s that for now?” 

With that "for now" dutifully noted, Stabler then invited Noah and Benson over for his family's holiday celebration, but she turned down the offer.

Stabler made another attempt to meet Noah in OC Season 2, Episode 15 ("Takeover") when he asked Benson if she and Noah would like to have lunch together. Benson told Stabler that it wasn't time due to Noah getting attached easily. 

Elliot Stabler told Olivia Benson he was back in NYC for good in SVU Season 22

In Season 22, Episode 16 ("Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing"), while attending the almost-wedding between Fin (Ice T) and his fiancée, Phoebe Baker ("Jennifer Esposito), Stabler revealed to Benson that he was looking for apartments in the city.

The proclamation effectively signaled to Benson that he was back in for good. 

Elliot Stabler finally met Noah Benson on Mother's Day in SVU Season 23

Detectives Benson And Stabler with Noah on the street

After several attempts to meet his best friend's son, Stabler finally met Noah in SVU Season 23, Episode 20 ("Did You Believe in Miracles?") after he ran into the young boy and Benson while picking out flowers for his own mother, Bernie (Ellen Burstyn), for Mother's Day. As Benson made moves to introduce her son to Stabler, Noah clarified that he already knew that Stabler was Benson's former partner. 

Stabler delightfully shook Noah's hand and encouraged him to call him Elliot. Stabler told Benson she looked great after wishing her a happy Mother's Day, but a text from work pulled her away before they could chit-chat. 

Elliot Stabler admitted to being in love with a mystery woman in OC Season 3

Stabler on Law And Order OC

In OC Season 3, Episode 8 ("Whipping Post"), fans saw Stabler reconnect with an Italian detective from his European era — a woman named Tia Leonetti (Ayelet Zurer) with whom he seemed to once had some kind of a flirtatious entanglement. While having a few drinks together after the case, Stabler drunkenly opened up about his love for a certain mystery woman. The next morning, Tia asked him about the drunken confession, effectively shutting up any suspicions that he'd hooked up with her that night.

"You said there's a woman you're in love with," she told him, and while the woman was never explicitly named, all signs pointed to Benson after Stabler became immediately dodgy about the topic. 

"Love shouldn't be complicated. Love affairs, yes," Tia teased. "They can get messy. But love, that's different."

Olivia Benson admitted she'd had feelings for Elliot Stabler in SVU Season 24

Olivia Benson on Law and Order SVU

In Season 24, Episode 9 ("And a Trauma in a Pear Tree"), Benson and Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish) got honest with each other after sharing some boxed wine. In the wake of Sonny Carisi (Peter Scanavino) and Rollins' wedding, Rollins asked Benson when she would be open to a relationship. 

Benson then confessed she once felt she could have a romantic future with Stabler, despite admitting she never had any claim to him as Kathy's husband. Additionally, she was struggling to trust Stabler after everything he did, and found it difficult to explore her emotions without feeling horrible about Kathy's death. 

"And with her gone, there's nothing but possibility, which is paralyzing," Benson admitted. 

Elliot Stabler tried to kiss Olivia Benson in SVU Season 24

Bensler Get Steamy and Almost Kiss | NBC’s Law & Order: SVU

Throughout recent seasons of SVU and OC, the former partners have established they both feel some type of way about each other, and it all came to a head in SVU Season 24, Episode 12 ("Blood Out"). Stabler and Benson found themselves in close quarters for the first time in a while after Stabler picked up Noah from a play date when Benson got roped into a case. After realizing Benson was hurt on the job, Stabler asked her why she didn't call him. Benson told him that she'd known he'd come to help her.

“Is there something wrong with that? I care for you,” Stabler explained while scanning Benson’s every movement. “Liv, look at me.”

Benson and Stabler finally locked eyes, and the chemistry between the two ignited. As Benson and Stabler inched closer, it became clear: They may have officially passed the point of no return. But just as Stabler leaned in for a kiss, Benson pulled away at the last moment. 

“Elliot I want to. I want to, but I can’t," Benson admitted, clearly conflicted. 

“Why not?” Stabler asked.

“Because what if it doesn't work out?” Benson asked, echoing the worries that she'd shared with Rollins during the Season 24 midseason finale about ruining their longtime friendship.

“And what if things work out?” Stabler countered.

“Elliot, I'm not ready for this,” Benson told him. 

Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler talked about their almost-kiss in SVU Season 24

Benson and Stabler Reunite | Law & Order: SVU | NBC

Fans were reeling to know how Stabler and Benson would come together after his failed attempt to kiss her, but true to their nature, their reunion wasn't too awkward in SVU Season 24, Episode 21 ("Bad Things"). 

“That was a bad time for me,” Benson told him, referencing their almost-kiss. Stabler then teased that the timing was objectively worse for him, earning a chuckle from Benson.

“I know that you were just trying to make me feel safe,” Benson told him. “I think we both felt that.”

"Just not the right moment,” Stabler shrugged, tucking away their tension for another day. 

Elliot Stabler accused Olivia Benson of fearing normalcy in SVU Season 24

Detective Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni) and Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) appear in Law & Order: SVU.

Despite decades of grinding away in the SVU, Benson has openly bristled at the idea of retirement, and Stabler pointed out her fear of monotony in Season 24, Episode 23 ("All Pain Is One Malady") after they teamed up on a late-night stakeout. Stabler clocked that Benson hadn't yet opened a Christmas present she'd received from a "wholesome, TV family" five months previously. Stabler asked if he could open it, but Benson told him to back away.

“Whatever’s inside this box you are afraid is too normal,” Stabler guessed.

“I didn’t know there was such a thing,” Benson said.

“There is, and it scares you more than anything you’ll ever face in your life,” Stabler explained.

“Well, thank you, Dr. Stabler,” Benson teased. “I have normalitis.”

“Liv, deflect all you want — it’s the truth,” Stabler told her. 

Elliot Stabler carried Olivia Benson to safety after being shot in OC Season 3

Stabler Carries Benson After She Gets Shot | Law & Order: Organized Crime | NBC

When the going gets tough, you can trust Stabler to be flocking to Benson's side when all hell breaks loose. Case in point: OC Season 3, Episode 22 ("With Many Names") when Benson and Stabler were targeted by hitmen while attempting to enjoy a nice "normal" lunch together. Benson was shot during the pandemonium, and despite being blinded by tear gas in the attack, Stabler didn't hesitate to pick her up and be verbally guided to safety.

RELATED: Elliot Stabler's Wife, Romances, and Relationship History on Law & Order

Benson was able to pull through from her injuries, later waking up in the hospital to find Stabler there, checking on her condition. Benson could instantly tell Stabler was rocked by the shooting. After she asked if he was OK, Stabler said he wasn't out of fear of losing her. 

“I can’t imagine what that brings up for you,” Benson admitted, sympathizing with Stabler's tragic history.

Elliot Stabler gave Olivia Benson a meaningful necklace in OC Season 3

Benson and Stabler

The mystery of what was inside Benson's neglected Christmas gift was solved in the OC Season 3 finale ("With Many Names"). After solving one of their most nefarious cases yet, Stabler stopped by Benson's office to tell her he was leaving the city on a temporary undercover assignment — a move she appreciated, given their past.

He also arrived with a present — but, before he'd allow her, to open it, Stabler wanted to know what was inside the aforementioned Christmas package. She told him he could open it as long as he kept whatever was inside, and he happily accepted the offer — finding it contained a Christmas tree ornament that read "Live Laugh Love." Benson smirked at the anti-climatic discovery, teasing that Stabler likely regretted the deal. 

"No, you can always fix things," Stabler told her before breaking off the last "e" in "live" so that the ornament read "Liv, Laugh, Love." 

"Now, I'll treasure it," Stabler told her, before encouraging her to open his gift. Benson opened up Stabler's present to find a stunning gold compass necklace inside. She was twinkly-eyed upon seeing the beautiful pendant, asking Stabler if the compass was supposed to lead her to anything.

“Lead you to happiness, Liv,” Stabler said.

“I sure as hell am going to try,” Benson told him.

“Me too,” Stabler said before adding, “Partner."

Olivia Benson has worn the compass necklace for all of SVU Season 25

Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) appear in Season 2 Episode 15 of Law & Order: Organized Crime

It was clear Benson had Stabler on her mind in the Season 25 premiere of SVU ("Tunnel Blind") after she was spotted wearing the compass necklace while attending a celebration for Rollins and Carisi's newborn son. Benson was hit on by one of Carisi's cousins, who had been told she was single (much to her chagrin).

The hopeful suitor attempted to strike up a conversation with Benson about the compass necklace and noted the lettering: Instead of reading North, South, East, and West, Benson's compass had the letters L, C, J, and E.

"The letters are all wrong," he commented.

"The J is for Joy," Benson told him. "The C is for compassion."

"And the L?" he asked. 

"The L is for love," Benson explained.

"It's been pointing you in the right direction?" he asked as Benson's gaze drifted away.

"Not yet," Benson mused... without clarifying what the "E" stood for.

Elliot Stabler left Olivia Benson a sweet voicemail after returning to NYC in OC Season 4

Benson And Stabler with incredulous looks on their faces

True to his promise to come back soon, Stabler returned to the city in the OC Season 4 premiere ("Memory Lane") and made quick work of reconnecting with his former partner. After getting a voicemail from a victim from Benson and Stabler's shared past, he reached out to Benson, sadly getting her voicemail. Stabler left her a touching message that seems to be setting the tone for an emotional reunion for the pair. 

“Hey, Liv, it’s me. I just got back,” Stabler said. “Um, I got a message from someone, an old case of ours, and I don’t know, maybe I just wanted to hear your voice. Call me. Bye.”

Find out what happens next for Benson and Stabler by watching Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: Organized Crime on Thursdays on NBC and the next day on Peacock.  

Originally published Jan 27, 2023.