"They were there together?"
"You're sure they were there together?"
"Only the entire night."
Those were the first words Bogo heard as he approached the front desk that morning, but it didn't take a seasoned investigator to deduce whom they were talking about. It was the same conversation he'd heard every morning since Wilde had been assigned here... no, long before that, even. Ever since Bellwether's arrest, everyone on the force had become fixated on the same new case. It was highly amusing; just a few months ago, the city had been in a panic – riots in the streets, protestors on a rampage, chaos on every corner, every unpleasant interaction escalating into an uproar, but did anyone talk about that anymore? Were they talking about the city's narrowly averted destruction? Their concerns for the future? The improving but lingering tension, the upcoming election, the question of whether the Mammal Inclusion Initiative and its like-intended programs did more harm than good, how the mess had started and what they should look out for to prevent a relapse...?
Yes. Mammals did discuss these issues, of course, he knew they did, he heard it all the time, but they were asides. Conversational filler. A small blip on the radar. Unimportant compared to the real center of attention. No, the topic everyone in Zootopia (in this office most of all) was most interested in at the moment, the burning question on everyone's mind, was: Are Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde just friends or a couple?
It seemed to be all anyone could think about these days. True, there were still some old-fashioned mammals who thought the very possibility of interspecies romance was ridiculous if not impossible and not even worth discussing. But the reaction to such arguments was universal: they were laughed at. Justly or not, logically or not, nobody took that seriously. In fact, many who had previously always been unable even to entertain the thought of such a bizarre concept were now claiming that the story of the rabbit and the fox had caused them to reconsider the matter. No one could resist joining the debate. After all, there was nothing fun about dirty politics or persecution or power-hungry dictator wannabes robbing mammals of their sanity. Who would want to dwell on stuff like that? But love was always fun to dwell on. The question in this case was, what type of love? Friends or a Couple? Friends or a Couple? The world must know, and their colleagues never got tired of reviewing the evidence.
Apparently, some new evidence had just come to light that put the Friends lobby on the defensive. "Come on – I go to concerts with my friends all the time... oh, morning, chief," he heard Francine say as he picked up a stack of files from his inbox on the desk. He grunted his own greeting (not hostilely) at the impromptu gathering that had formed and tried to ignore the now routine chatter as he scanned a few pages.
"What did they look like, Clawhauser?" he heard Wolford ask next in a challenging tone. Typical – most of the Friends side seemed to be female, while most of the Couple side seemed to be male.
Clawhauser swallowed the last of his current pastry, then answered, "Oh, Judy looked thrilled. She was having the time of her life! Of course, who wouldn't at a Gazelle concert? Oh, you guys should've been there! The light show was so amazing, and..."
"Wilde look like he was having a blast, too?"
Clawhauser sighed softly. "No, not really. So sad. I mean, he didn't look like he'd been forced to go or completely hated it or would rather be anywhere else but there or anything like that, but he didn't look too excited. Didn't even dance except when Judy nudged him. He just... didn't seem into it." Another, deeper sigh. "What a shame... I guess some mammals just can't appreciate fine art."
"Ooh, shocking," said Francine. "The loner fox doesn't like pop music."
"So what was he doing there?" someone else asked.
"Judy must've dragged him along," was her answer.
"Exactly, but a girl only has the right and the power to drag a guy to anything if they're dating. She wanted to be there, he didn't. Meaning, he only went to be with her. Meaning, it was a date."
"What, Gazelle's biggest fan doesn't think one of her patrons was enthusiastic enough, so he must've been there on a date? Come on."
"I know what I saw!" Clawhauser insisted. "Ask chief, he was there, too. We both saw them, right, chief?"
Bogo raised his head with a laconic, "It's true." He handed Clawhauser one of the folders. "Tundratown precinct captain should be coming by in an hour – make sure he gets this."
Clawhauser took it but quickly pushed it aside. "Sure, chief. But do you think Wilde looked...?"
"No comment," Bogo said firmly. "Bullpen in 20 minutes, everyone." He turned and headed for the break room as the others nodded and murmured various brief replies before resuming their hearing on whether or not this concert qualified as a date:
"There's no proof it was a date."
"There's no proof it wasn't."
"A date makes the most sense; you can't say that doesn't count just because there's no definitive evidence it was."
"You can't say they're obviously together because there's no definitive evidence they aren't! You have the burden of proof here!"
"Which we have, by a preponderance of the evidence."
"Why can't a male and a female ever be just friends?"
"What, there's something degrading about being in love...?"
The front desk was out of earshot now, but Bogo didn't expect that would make a difference. He had only half-finished the thought when two female officers passed him deep in discussion about, what else?
"It would be so romantic – two star-crossed lovers who found each other while their tribes were at war, whose love survived and conquered the hate that had divided an entire city... Just like that play The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedie of Kovu and Kiara."
"I think 'cliché' is the word you're looking for."
"But I liked that play."
"Now that you mention it, it kinda reminds me of that play about how Zootopia was founded, how the different species stopped feuding and came together to live in harmony. As friends. It's always been friendship in cases like this. How does that song go? 'The fire of friendship burns in our hearts'..." Bogo groaned in agony at that last sentence, but, thankfully, they, too, passed out of earshot.
Court was already in session in the break room as he made his way to the coffee pot:
"I'm telling you, I was there the night Manchas disappeared. He came to her rescue like a knight in shining armor."
"Judy doesn't need a knight in shining armor to defend her!"
"From an attacker, no, but from getting grilled by the chief? You ever try standing up to him?" (Bogo grinned but kept his mouth shut as he hunted for a clean mug.) "He was throwing her out. Girl was crushed, distraught, probably overwhelmed after nearly getting killed by a savage jaguar, not to mention humiliated when no one believed her. How's some newbie supposed to deal with that?"
"I don't blame her for not feeling confident enough to stand up for herself, and I'm glad Wilde stood up for her. I would do the same for my friend."
"Didn't look like a 'friend' to me. I was there, too. You didn't see the way he gallantly escorted her away like her bodyguard. Even opened the sky tram door for her like they were on a date." (Bogo couldn't help but recall how confused he'd been when he'd seen that. It was the first time he'd wondered himself if Hopps and this fox he'd just met were a couple.)
"Wonder what happened after that. What do you think they did when they left? Think anything changed?"
"Well, if he was in love with her by then, he probably opened up and told her all about his dark, tragic backstory. Let her see his vulnerable side nobody else is allowed to see – the ultimate demonstration of love and trust!"
"Thank you for that insight, Mr. Romantic..." a female's voice said sarcastically, before her tone abruptly changed to one just as melodramatic as the previous speaker's. "Well, if he did, she'd definitely be in love with him after that – no girl can resist a bad boy with a sad, tragic backstory. Probably had to fight the urge to take him in her arms and wish she could take all his pain away!"
"Desperate to comfort him," a friend of hers added in the same tone, "she touches his arm, and he shrinks away, sensing where this is going and afraid to let it go further."
There was a brief pause before Bogo heard everyone on both sides burst into laughter. "Oh, I'd have paid money to see that!"
"Why? Don't friends open up to each other and want to comfort each other?"
"Yeah – even if we'd seen them do all that, it wouldn't mean anything."
"So it doesn't sound romantic?"
"Oh, it sounds very romantic, especially with the rain, the darkness, the flying, the view of the forest, the sunrise..."
"Perfect mood, all right..."
"How did Hopps look when he jumped to her defense?"
Grateful and impressed, Bogo silently answered as he threw away the stirrer (Didn't that novel he had to read in his college Lit class say something about "gratitude and esteem" being the perfect foundations for love? He couldn't remember who wrote it, but the girl who sat next to him claimed the author was history's foremost authority on romance…), took a sip from his now full, steaming, well-sugared cup, and walked away, accompanied by choruses of...
"He's always calling her 'sweetheart,' 'darlin',' 'cute'…"
"That means nothing."
"They're just like the couples in those films – Wrangled, Floatzen... you know, where the girl bribes or blackmails the guy into helping her."
"That means nothing! The girl did that to the guy in Wreck-It Rhino, too, and they sure weren't a couple."
Once he was back in the hallway, the words "They hated each other from the start" floated towards him.
The response was louder, indicating they were heading his way: "That's how it always starts."
"Why does everyone think anyone who bickers must be in love?!"
"I know what you mean, that's annoying, but they're not like those couples in lame movies that treat constant bickering and squabbling as shorthand for madly in love. It sounds like they stopped bickering and became closer than they ever expected once they realized their first impressions of each other were wrong. Just like that novel what's-it-called? Prejudice-something...?"
"Appropriate title. But friendships can start that way, too."
"Which can then become romance..."
Several of his officers were already assembled in the bullpen when Bogo arrived. As the day hadn't officially begun yet, he let them chatter on while he reviewed today's docket, against his personal wishes.
"You saw her – the cameras caught everything."
"But you can't hear what they were saying."
"You don't need to. It's obvious they were breaking up."
"Friends can do that, too."
"She didn't look upset or sorry or angry – she looked heartbroken. Practically fighting back tears as she chased after him and begged him not to leave her."
"After what she'd just said, who wouldn't be devastated?"
"But she didn't think what she'd said was wrong. Not then. If she had, she would've told the reporters swarming her she didn't mean it that way or that it came out wrong, took it back, and fixed things then and there instead of weeks later, after the panic set in. She didn't realize how wrong she'd been until weeks later when she quit, so she couldn't have felt guilty for it then."
"Oh, she regretted it then, all right, but only because it hurt her new 'partner'."
"Because he was her friend."
"Never saw someone look that brokenhearted over a spat with a friend they'd only known for two days."
"Yeah, and since she wasn't horrified by what she'd said yet or what it might cause, the only thing upsetting her that much was losing him. Kind of an extreme reaction unless she was in love with him."
"That's what I thought when I heard them make up. When I transcribed the recording of Bellwether, I found something on the tape before it. Guess they forgot to erase it." Grizzoli dropped his voice at that point (a futile gesture when everyone in the room was listening). "It was Hopps sobbing like crazy and telling Wilde how sorry she was. I've never heard her sound so broken and tortured, I mean, she's completely breaking down. She can barely talk, no, barely breathe through the sobs. Pretty over-the-top if you're apologizing to a friend for saying something you didn't realize was offensive... but not if she was in love with him."
"But at that point, she did feel horrible about what she'd done. She blamed herself for everything."
"But she wouldn't be apologizing to him for that. She didn't break down talking about what she did; she broke down thinking he would never forgive her."
"You're saying fixing things with him matter more to her than saving the city? Didn't know Hopps was so shallow and selfish."
"No, just saying it mattered a lot more to her than it would if she'd only liked him as a friend. Heartbreak that severe can only be caused by love."
"Why did she go to him first, anyway? It would've been more logical to come here and tell Bogo – he trusted her by then." (Bogo grinned again briefly but frowned as he remembered first hearing the story from Hopps, learning she'd turned to Wilde for help, and wondering why she hadn't trusted him. When, terrified at what could have happened to her had they not had blueberries on them, he'd asked her, "Why didn't you report this right away and have us look into it?", she'd rattled off something about how this-was-something-she-needed-to-do-herself. He hadn't had the time to point out that that made no sense, as she hadn't planned or tried to do it herself.)
"Yeah, he didn't have anything she needed. We'd booked Weaselton for that theft, so we could've tracked him down, too."
"She wanted to make up with her friend."
"She could've done that after solving the case with us."
"She'd quit the force – if she'd let us in on it, she couldn't have worked with us."
"She never brought that up when she begged him to join her. To be her partner."
"Don't start on that word again – it means nothing."
"Didn't take him too long to agree, did it? Sure jumped at the chance to rush into danger with her."
"Because that's what you do for friends."
"Sure forgives her pretty quickly on that tape."
"Because that's what friends do."
"Even after what she said hurt him so badly that he never spoke to her between then and the press conference."
"Betrayal by a friend always hurts."
"Hurt her more than it hurt him – she was so depressed, she gave up and ran away. Not like her."
"She felt guilty about dooming the city."
"If that was all, then why not stay and try to fix it?"
"She was depressed."
"She never would've felt guilty or depressed about anything if he hadn't made her see what she'd done at the press conference."
"Yeah, why didn't she get as mad at him as he did at her that day? She didn't hate him for what he told her, she took it to heart."
"Because he was her friend! The reporters caught that word clear as day. She said, and I quote, 'He's my friend.' She used the word. Case closed."
"Well, what was she supposed to do? Say 'I love him' in front of an army of cameras?"
"Have you ever heard either of them say they're in love? Say 'I love you'? Have you ever heard them use the word 'love', when referring to each other, at all?"
Fortunately for Bogo's nerves, Fangmire walked in before anyone could answer, clearing his throat in a code everyone had come to recognize. When Hopps and Wilde entered a few seconds later, they found everyone scattered about the room in different groups, casually chatting about the weather and sports. Bogo couldn't resist rolling his eyes and shaking his head before he began the meeting. Craving some air, he moved through the items on the docket quicker than usual, then stayed behind with his nose buried in a report, hoping the halls would be clear when he ventured back out.
"Finally," he whispered in relief a few minutes later as headed for the entrance hall (he had a few minutes before he had to get back to his office for that conference call). Nobody around except a camel being led in cuffs to the cage, the rat from last night being led to arraignment, and, of course, Clawhauser. "That was quick, sir," the receptionist observed.
"Felt like forever," the chief said without elaborating. He didn't know how much longer he could take this. Friends or a Couple? Friends or a Couple? Day in and day out, the same debate. The molehill had officially been made into a mountain, turned into a riddle for the ages that nobody would ever let rest. Friends or a Couple? Didn't anybody realize how ludicrous the whole issue was? It was so silly! So ridiculous! So pointless!
Of course they were a couple! He knew the truth, and if he'd had the right to tell, he could have settled this whole thing once and for all. He'd been standing right here on Wilde's first day when he and Clawhauser had heard their voices over the radio (apparently, they'd forgotten to turn it off after checking in):
"You know you love me..."
"Do I know that...? Yes. Yes, I do."
That had been the smoking gun. Yes, by the tone in his voice, Wilde could have been joking, could have meant it completely sarcastically. But Hopps' reply had been 100% sincere. She hadn't responded like she was joking but like she meant it. Anyone who heard his question could have argued they were friends joking around but not after hearing her response. They had used the word. They were in love. Case closed.
Not that it mattered – cases of this nature were reopened and appealed over and over again for eternity, not just in this office but everywhere. Well, much better that mammals expended their energy debating whether two mammals were in love or not than in rioting in the streets. In fact, deep down, he was sure their fans would have been disappointed had Hopps and Wilde settled the matter by making some public announcement definitively stating if they were a couple or not.
After all, where'd the fun be in that?
Author's Note: If it matters, written by someone who thinks Nick's and Judy's relationship is the best part of the movie and that their final exchange on-screen is the most romantic exchange in any Disney movie.