Benjamin was working through case files when he came across one marked “urgent” and “top secret.” He had been back at the ZPD's front desk for a week, and he stared at the file perplexed. This wasn't the sort of language the ZPD used to mark their files. He should probably run it up to Chief Bogo's office to see if that could clear things up. He probably shouldn't open it.
(This wasn't just an excuse to visit the Chief's office. This was a serious matter and clearly needed to be dealt with immediately by someone with more authority than Clawhauser. It wasn't like he was looking for reasons to see his intimidating boss who had recently removed him from his position for nothing more than being a predator—when the Chief himself had called him a sorry excuse for a predator before. The exact words had been, “You couldn't take down an antelope if you tried, let alone a rhino or a hippo. Anything you were fast enough to catch would crush you. Stay behind that desk and count yourself lucky.” Not that Benjamin's brain insisted on replaying that quote on a loop in the background some days or anything. So, clearly, finding reasons to see the Chief wasn't high on his priority list. It's not like he liked being on the business end of the Chief's daunting horns or being reminded how huge and defined the muscles in his arms were—which the Chief was always rubbing in everyone's face by keeping the sleeves of his uniform rolled up.)
So, in any case, Ben was shuffling the folder around, preparing himself to take it up to the Chief's office, when something slipped out of it, and fluttered to the floor.
Ben leaned down to pick up the small piece of paper. He huffed, and his exhalation blew the tiny scrap under that incredibly narrow gap between the bottom of his desk and the floor. Benjamin groaned, stood back up, and grabbed one of the empty and unimportant folders from his desk, before getting down on all fours and peering into the darkness that the vital piece of paper had disappeared into. He flipped on the flashlight app on his phone and directed it into the darkness. There were more things down there than he would've expected, and littered across the floor were dust bunnies—oh, Judy probably wouldn't want him to use that phrase, he'd have to ask her, or, no, he shouldn't ask her, he should look it up probably, how would he even—there it was! The beam of light from his phone passed over the paper and he shifted it back to illuminate the scrap. Then he used his other hand to push the folder under the desk, trying to catch the edge of the paper and slide it back out from the dark recess. He grunted, and wiggled, and adjusted the folder slightly, and breathed shallowly so he wouldn't push the paper even farther back. He'd almost got it, the folder had caught the corner of the paper, and he just needed to ease it toward him, gently, gently, when there was a gruff voice above and behind him.
“Clawhauser, what do you think you're doing?”
Benjamin tried to jump to his feet, hit his head on the underside of his chair, yelped, knocked the chair over, and finally managed to stand—wobbling only a little bit and resting a paw on the desk to keep himself steady.
Chief Bogo was staring at him, his eyebrows drawn together in such a way that Benjamin couldn't tell whether he was angry or confused or both.
“Uh, nothing, sir, well, nothing much, that is. Something just blew under the desk there, and I was trying to get it. It won't take me another minute, and then I'll be back to official business.”
“Was this item, perchance, some sort of food?”
"No, no sir,” Ben shook his head emphatically, and was glad he was telling the truth. He didn't think he could lie to those big, brown eyes.
Ben tried to reach out and subtly place his paw over the large block print declaring “top secret” and “urgent” on the folder he was currently missing items from.
The Chief's eyes followed the movement, but his face remained impassive. “Well, then, hurry up.”
Benjamin nodded briskly, and waited for the Chief to leave. When he didn't Ben slowly got back on all fours and turned toward the desk. It was only then that Ben heard the clopping of the Chief's hooves as he crossed the lobby. Ben stopped himself from breathing a sigh of relief just in time, and the paper trapped under his desk only fluttered slightly, instead of sliding deeper into the darkness.
Finally, after what felt like hours, Benjamin had moved the paper close enough to the lip of the desk that he could reach under and grab it. When he pulled it out to see what the heck it was that had been causing him so much trouble—and embarrassed him further in front of the Chief to boot—his mouth dropped open. It was a ticket to a Gazelle show. In two weeks. He stood up hastily—managing to avoid the underside of his chair this time. He looked at the ticket, and then at the imposing folder it had come from, and then back at the ticket. Why was a ticket to a Gazelle concert that hadn't even happened yet in a case file?
Ben glanced around the lobby. There wasn't anyone nearby. He leaned closer to his desk and flipped the manilla folder open quickly. Inside was another ticket, and a yellow post-it note that said:
Benjamin didn't know how long he stared at the tickets in open-mouthed astonishment. Just, what? He'd been trying to get tickets to this Gazelle show since it'd been announced, but he hadn't found any that came even close to being in his price range. Even for Gazelle. There were necessities like donuts to consider. Could “B” be Chief Bogo?
Well, he just wasn't going to question it. This obviously wasn't an official file. Benjamin shook his head to clear it, and looked in awe at the tickets he held in his hand again. How could this have happened? Maybe this was worth that awful week of working next to the boiler when everyone had looked at him like he was going to pounce on them at any second. He knew just who he was going to invite.
After half an hour he started to shuffle paperwork around on his desk.
After an hour and a half he started to reply to emails.
After two hours he had to lead a briefing. His mind wasn't on it, but he managed to get through it anyway.
After three and a half hours most of the day shift had left the office and he could've been heading home, too, but instead he shuffled some more papers, and answered some more emails, and wondered where exactly that invitation was.
After four hours and fifteen minutes he stepped out of his office and looked over the lobby. Clawhauser wasn't at his desk. Chief Bogo breathed out a brief, sharp gust of air that in no way could be called a sigh and stepped back into his office.
After four hours and twenty-five minutes he paged the front desk. The night receptionist, a panda named Amanda, answered. “Hello, Chief! You're here late. What can I help you with?”
“Nothing,” he grumbled, and hung up before Amanda could say anything back.
He closed the open folder on his desk, and checked the current price of tickets to the Gazelle show on his computer before shutting it down. He'd give Clawhauser another day to figure it out, and then he'd just buy himself a ticket. He was going to see Gazelle one way or another.
He surveyed the array of shirts spread across his bed once more. He'd tried them all on at least twice, and assessed the reflection that stared back at him in each one, but he just couldn't decide. Couldn't focus at all. He liked the green satiny button-up. And he liked the black tank top. His imagination, which had been spinning out of control all day, presented him with an image of himself getting yanked up on stage by one of Gazelle's back-up dancers, shimmying next to the star herself. He giggled and flailed his paws a little at the thought—caught between indulging in the fancy and feeling ridiculous. And this of course was followed by a wave of panic at the thought of so many eyes on him. He looked at the green and black tops again, and then reached out and picked up the chocolatey brown t-shirt. He held it up and wiggled it, trying to image it on stage next to Gazelle. Trying to imagine himself on stage next to Gazelle. Trying not to imagine himself on stage next to Gazelle. Just in the audience, in the crowd of happy, dancing mammals.
There was a brief quiet moment, and then the next track started. Benjamin spun around in complete circle twice, and then peered at the array of shirts before him again. How was he ever supposed to pick an outfit for the most important night of his life?
Bogo shook his head, as his brain caught on the unintentional pun there, and his horns jostled against those of a moose dancing wildly nearby. Bogo pretended that was what he'd been doing, too, and swung his horns again. The moose responded in kind and soon they were posturing and gesturing at each other. The beat picked up in Gazelle's next song and Bogo and the moose were moving even faster, even more dramatically. Bogo stamped and twisted and shook with this moose almost intensely enough to dislodge the mammal he was supposed to be here with from his head. He stomped his hooves in time with Gazelle's back-up synth beat and snorted at the moose. The moose snorted back and they circled around each other, playacting at attracting the attention of some imaginary third mammal who might be watching and appraising. Really, they were posturing only for each other, and Bogo knew it. He squared his shoulders and drove his hooves harder against the floor. Then, for just a moment, through the moose's antlers, Bogo caught sight of the flicking ringed tail of a cheetah. His posturing evaporated and his shoulders slumped. The moose looked confused, but soon shrugged and turned away, looking for some other creature to dance with wildly.
Of course this was when Gazelle said, “We're gonna take things down a notch. Play something a little slower and sweeter for you all. Zootopia's gone through a real rough time recently and I want you to find someone you care about, someone you came with, a stranger you've never met before, the ocelot who sold you your drink, anyone, and I want you to look them in the eyes and tell them you love them.” Then she started singing it, the slow song from her new album, the one that—when Bogo had been listenig to it in his office between briefings on the day it'd been released—had made him tear up. He tried not to look around, tried not to listen, but he saw that flicking tail again anyway, and he couldn't drag his eyes away from it.
Bogo sidled through the crowd. It seemed like everyone had paired up, limbs wrapped around each other, swaying in unison, so at least it was easy to push through—no more antlers or tusks flailing about. It wasn't until he'd almost reached the small mammal section—a raised platform where mammals one foot in height or less (voles, mice, ferrets, and such) could enjoy the artists without worrying about being inadvertently squashed—that he spotted the flicking tail again. It was indeed attached to Benjamin Clawhauser. And Benjamin Clawhauser himself was attached to a Labrador retriever. Their limbs wrapped around each other, swaying in unison. Bogo froze. His jaw dropped open and everything went silent. Or at least he couldn't hear anything through the thunderous noise of blood rushing in his ears. He tried to move away, but couldn't manage it. He tried to sway on his own, like he didn't need anyone to be in unison with, but couldn't manage it. He tried to close his mouth, but couldn't manage it. He stood there, stuck, immobile, until Gazelle's song ended, and then all the sound came rushing back into the world.
Somehow he had never considered that Clawhauser might have someone to sway in unison with. It just, hadn't occurred to him. Bogo didn't spend a lot of time considering his officers' personal lives as a rule. It was none of his business and should have no effect on their performance on the job. Somehow refusing to imagine Clawhauser's personal life had led to Bogo imagining that he simply didn't have one.
Gazelle started to sing her next song. It was another slow sappy one. The sort you couldn't dance to on your own. Bogo turned and trotted out of the venue as fast as he could.
“I'll be right back!” Ben shouted in Matthew's ear and ran after the Chief. He just wanted to say hi, maybe get the Chief to dance with him for a song or two. Maybe this would be the moment, outside of headquarters, out of uniform, that he could finally find out if he and the Chief actually had anything in common. He'd been hoping, ever since he stumbled into that office and heard “You are one hot dancer” echoing out of the Chief's phone that maybe there was a soft spot under all that gruffness. And the gift of the tickets, well, that had just encouraged Ben to think maybe the whole force had been misreading the Chief all this time. If there was ever going to be a moment to find out, this was it. Ben couldn't let the Chief leave without talking to him.
The Chief wasn't stopping. Ben's breathing was starting to get a little ragged. Where was he going? So fast and so determined. Ben's heart skipped a few beats in his chest and he didn't know whether it was from hearing Gazelle live, or the speed at which he was moving, or the vision of the Chief's powerful form moving imperiously through the crowd. Mammals parted on either side of him without seeming to realize that they were. Ben gasped again, pulling oxygen into his lungs desperately. He could do this, damnit. He crouched down, bunching up the muscles in his hindquarters, gathering all his momentum together like a compressed spring, and then pushed off, sprinting after the Chief. He caught him just at the doors to the venue, pouncing on the Chief's shoulders without fully meaning to, instinct kicking in as he drew on his reserves of speed. The Chief stumbled under his weight, wobbling. Ben tried to jump back, mortified by what he'd done—especially so soon after the turmoil Zootopia had just been through, but his claws were stuck and he only succeeded in entangling himself and the Chief even further. The Chief was trying to spin, trying to dislodge Ben from his back—still having no idea who he was—and after another moment of this awkward topsy-turvy flailing they both went crashing to the ground.
Ben landed on top of the Chief, prone against his chest, staring into his liquid brown eyes in confusion and embarrassment and fear and about a thousand other emotions he didn't have time to think of the name for. He tried to say something but all his words got caught, and he just kept staring at the Chief as a mess of emotions flashed across the buffalo's face, all of them even harder to name than Ben's own.
“Get off me,” the Chief growled, and shoved Ben hard, knocking him over and onto the floor beside them.
Ben yanked himself up as quickly as he could, brushing at his shirt. “I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm so sorry I didn't mean I just I'm sorry I--”
The Chief glared at him, the expression on his face easy to read now. “Quiet.” And he turned and stomped out the door.
The door slammed shut and Ben stood staring at it for a moment, his mouth working soundlessly. Then he ran through it, and out into the parking lot. The Chief was already halfway across it. His shirt was shredded from Ben's claws—he really hadn't meant to do that—and a few of the scratches on his back were deep enough that blood was welling up from them.
"Chief!” Ben shouted.
The Chief whirled and snorted so vehemently the shape of his whole face changed. “What?” he demanded.
Again, Ben found himself tongue-tied, and again he hated himself for it. Just before the Chief was about to wheel back around Ben managed to say, “Where are you going?”
“Why? She hasn't even sung 'Fiery Star' yet! Come inside and dance with me.” The last two words were out of his mouth before he'd even realized what he was saying.
“You obviously already have someone to dance with,” the Chief said and made to turn around again.
The Chief just glared at him. His stare as imposing as it ever was, leaving Ben feeling wobbly and uncertain, even here, where the Chief wasn't really the Chief and Ben wasn't his subordinate, he still felt that stare all the way to his core, felt his whole body shivering in response and his fur standing on end.
“Matthew?” he asked eventually, something close to realization—but not quite—dawning on him.
“Is that his name?” the Chief said, working hard enough to sound dismissive and callous that Ben almost believed it.
“I mean, I guess? The dog I was with? Yeah, his name's Matthew. But it's not what you think, Chief. Really.”
“Oh, it's not? What do I think it is? And what is it?”
“Well, it's, uh, I mean.” Ben didn't want to tell him. He didn't want the Chief to think less of him once he knew the truth. A little flicker of annoyance shot through him. Why was it even any of the Chief's business? “He's a friend,” Ben said finally, as firmly as he could muster.
“Is that what you're calling it.”
“He is,” Ben insisted, almost shouting now. He could hear his fourth favorite Gazelle song through the walls behind him and he didn't want to be out here, in the parking lot, shouting at the Chief. He wanted to be in there, dancing with him. “And I don't know why you even care! I think you're probably breaking at least five different regulations even asking me!” Ben crossed his arms. It made him feel more confident for a second, but the power of the gesture almost immediately wore off.
“It's a very ungrateful and inconsiderate way to use my gift,” the Chief said.
“It was a gift! You don't get to tell me how to use it! I could've thrown the tickets out if I wanted and you wouldn't get to say anything.”
They stood in the parking lot, staring at each other. And then Ben heard Gazelle's next song start, and it was his second favorite Gazelle song of all time, so he mustered up all his courage, pretended the Chief's gaze wasn't making him wobble for just a moment, and said, “Well, I'm going in to dance. You should come.”
He turned and went inside. The door opened and shut. He didn't hear it open and shut again behind him.
He was going through reports at the end of the day when he came across a manila folder marked “urgent” and “top secret.” Inside was an invitation printed in gold leaf lettering on thick cardstock. It looked like the sort of invitation one might receive to a wedding, or the mayor's ball. It said, “You are cordially invited to dinner at 542 North Acacia Lane, Savannah District. Sunday, 7pm.” There was a robin's egg blue sticky note stuck to the inside of the folder, scribbled on it in a barely legible script—somehow made even less legible by the fact that whoever had written it had clearly taken great care to shape each letter, to try and make it as clear as possible—was,
Bogo sat very still at his desk, except for his ears, which twitched, like they were trying to take in information from all directions at once, and his tail, which twitched like it was trying to dislodge phantom insects from his hide. Faintly, in the back of his head, he heard a line of that slow, sappy song from Gazelle's new album.
He had the music turned all the way up and as he stepped from one dish to the next he sashayed a bit, shimmying from the stove to the cutting board, bumping the fridge door open with his hip. When there was a knock on the door he jumped so high he nearly hit his head on the ceiling.
“Coming!” he shouted, and scrambled down the hallway to the door. Realizing in that moment that there had been a part of him that really didn't believe the Chief would show up at all. He didn't know whether he was relieved or terrified. Probably both.
He swiped a paw over his head, trying to smooth his fur, took two deep breaths, and realized he was still wearing his apron (one of those novelty ones with a superhero uniform—Captain Claw's, in fact—outlined over the wearer's torso. It had been a gift) as he pulled the door open.
The Chief looked even larger than usual standing in the hall of Benjamin's apartment building. He probably wouldn't make it through the door without stooping.
Then the Chief grinned. “It smells amazing in here, Clawhauser. What have you been doing?”
Benjamin stepped back, almost tripping over the edge of his carpet as he did so and tried not to stare in awe as the Chief actually walked into his apartment. This was actually a thing that was happening. “Oh, please,” he stammered, trying frantically to catch up with all the things that were happening—well, it was only one thing, but this one thing felt like more than Benjamin could quite handle, “call me Ben.”
“Alright, Ben,” the Chief said, and he sounded almost as awkward saying it as Benjamin had. “So what are you making?”
“Uh, just a couple things.” Ben caught the sir that had been on his tongue just before he said it. “I'll be done in just a minute. Would you like to take a seat? What would you like to drink, Chief?”
“No, no, no,” the Chief said. “That won't do at all. I suppose you'll have to call me Francis.”
Ben's eyes bulged. He couldn't stop them. “Fr-Francis, sir?”
“Yes. That is my name. And the 'sir' will have to go to.”
“Of, of course, si—of course.” Ben gulped again. “So, uh, right, can I get you something to drink?”
“What have you got?”
Ben was about to rattle off a perhaps embarrassingly long list of options, but caught himself once again, and said, “Well, I do have a Cabernet that should complement the first course nicely.”
The Chief—Francis, raised his eyebrows, “The first course? Well, I won't argue with the chef.”
The fur around Ben's neck was standing up in a fear response—which often overtook him when he was embarrassed—and he darted off to the kitchen for a moment's respite, hoping the Chief (he just couldn't call him Francis! not yet at least) hadn't noticed.
Nothing was burning, nothing was melting. The eggplant only needed another minute or two and then everything should be set. He poured the Chief a glass of wine and brought out the bowl of red oat grass salad drizzled with an algae dressing. “If you want to get started,” he stammered, backing into the kitchen again. “I'll be right out.”
Ben looked around the small space and took a deep breath in, actually noting the aromas the Chief—Francis?!—had complimented. It did smell good in here. Everything was set. The meal was prepared. It was the best Ben could offer, and the Chief had accepted the offer. That had to mean something. This was going to go well. Ben had done everything he could to make it go well. The food could do the brunt of the work from here. He hoped. He'd do what he could about the conversation, but ultimately, the food was the apology, and that would have to be enough. It would be enough. Clawhauser took another breath, poured himself a glass of wine too, and with the second course in hand, walked back out into the dining room.
Bogo was sprawled across the couch, one arm draped across its back, hooves up on the coffee table, his massive frame covering the couch cushions with ease as he luxuriated in the full, warm feeling that radiated through his body. He wouldn't have imagined that a creature who appeared to live off of donuts—at least for all that Bogo had ever seen—could've managed such an impressive meal.
“That really was quite a feast,” Bogo murmured.
“Aw, shucks,” Ben waved a paw at him, as if the compliment was floating in the air and he was trying to dispel it. “I like having someone to cook for.”
Bogo peered at the cheetah from under half-lidded eyes. “I don't think I've felt this good since before the mammals started disappearing.”
Ben stammered some sounds in response, but didn't quite form words. Finally he managed. “Well, I'm glad. I really am sorry about the misunderstanding the other night. We should go to the next Gazelle concert together.”
Bogo looked at him a little more intently, and took another sip of his drink. “What about your canine friend?”
“Yeah, wouldn't you want to go with him?” Bogo was slightly surprised to find himself asking these questions. But if Ben hadn't figured it out by now, well, he probably wasn't going to, so why not act the jealous fool? Bogo shifted his gaze onto the glass of brandy he was holding and wondered how long it'd been since he'd drunk this much, or eaten this much, every aggressive and defensive instinct in him was feeling quelled.
“I told you, he's my friend.”
“Looked like more than that,” Bogo said, and wished for the first time that he'd stop talking.
“I mean, it's complicated,” Ben said. “He, well, he's...”
Bogo stared at him expectantly.
And Ben managed to say all in a rush, “He's my companion dog. Or he was.”
Ben looked at him uncomfortably, and twisted the glass in his paws. He didn't say anything, like he expected Bogo to just figure it out, but Bogo was still baffled, so he continued to stare at Ben expectantly. He knew in a different context his expectant stare could be very intimidating—even if he did go a little cross-eyed if he held it too long—but he tried to make it gentle here. He was sure the meal and the drinks softened it a bit, too.
“You know that cheetahs are more prone to anxiety than many mammals, right, si—Francis?”
Bogo shook his head slowly.
“Well,” Ben cleared his throat. “Well, we are. We're social, but in very particular ways, and so, often, life in Zootopia can feel isolating or overwhelming.”
And so Ben told him. He told Bogo about moving away from his family to go to school and how he hadn't been able to make any friends there, and how the counselor—that he'd only worked up the nerve to visit after months—told him about the companion dog program. How he'd met Matthew for the first time only a week later. How Matthew had been so easy to get along with right away, and had dragged Ben out to actually do things and get involved in the world. How it had been Matthew who had first ever introduced Ben to Gazelle's music, and how when Ben felt like he just really couldn't handle other mammals instead of going out the two of them would have “exclusive” dance parties in Matthew's living room set almost entirely to her music. How Ben didn't think he would've made through the police academy without Matthew, without calling him every week—sometimes more often than that—without listening to Gazelle and staging his own "exclusive" dance parties like Matthew was there, too. How he knew how to make friends because of what Matthew had taught him, and so, when he'd gotten those tickets to a Gazelle show he knew he had to invite Matthew.
“I mean,” Ben said, he hadn't looked at Bogo this whole time, but he did now, “I didn't realize I could've invited you. That seemed, well, is this even allowed?” he gestured generally at the dirty dishes and the half-finished drinks and encompassed the whole evening in the motion. “Surely you can see how you don't seem like the type to spend time with subordinates outside of work, can't you?”
“I suppose I can, at that,” Bogo agreed. “And I suppose I do it intentionally, too. In any case, I'm glad you invited me over.”
“I'm glad I did, too,” Ben said, grinning. “You won't tell anyone about Matthew, will you? It's just, I don't know if the guys on the force would understand.”
“Of course not.”
The tip of Ben's tail was flicking lazily and contentedly against the carpet. Bogo watched it, the motion blurry in his vision, and swirled his brandy.
“Next time, though,” Ben said eventually, “next time we'll go to Gazelle's concert and I'll make you dance with me.” He said it in a dismissive, self-deprecating way, knowing it wasn't a threat he'd be able to follow through on. No one could make Bogo do something he didn't want to do.
“I've got a better idea,” Bogo said, and with three quick taps he had Gazelle's latest single blasting from his phone's speakers. He stood quickly, wobbling only a little as he did so, and held out a hoof to Ben, who just stared up at him, disbelievingly, for a minute—even though he'd been the one to suggest it. Then he stood to.
Bogo shimmied back into the middle of the living room and Ben followed him. And then they were circling each other, swaying and turning. And then they were spinning each other around, dipping and weaving. And then Ben was in Bogo's arms—those bulging forearms—sweeping and diving. The room whirled around them and they grinned at each other and neither of them quite knew how they'd ended up here, but neither of them wanted to leave.