Nick Wilde was dying. That was okay, though, because he was ninety-seven years old and so very tired. He lay in the hospital bed, his children and grandchildren surrounding him. Even some of his great grandchildren were here, and though the room was fairly large by his standards it was crowded with the Wilde-Hopps family.
His eldest daughter held his paw tightly. She was in her sixties, her tan fur streaked through with grey, but she'd always be his baby girl, even now.
He patted her paw with his free one. "Don't you worry about me, River," he wheezed. "Your mom…." He stopped to cough feebly.
"Dad," replied River with a worried expression, "Mom's been gone for a long time. She's not here."
Nick shook his head. "She's waiting for me. Said she'd wait for me. Have a date with her in the Other Place. I shouldn't keep her waiting any longer."
River's eyes turned glassy with tears, and most of the mammals around her followed suit.
Nick groaned, looked round at his progeny. "No tears," he rasped. "Don't cry for me. Had a long life."
The cancer in his bones drove the breath from his lungs again, for the last time, and he nodded to the doctor nearby to do her thing. He'd be going now, and he had no regrets.
He whispered his final words, the silence in the room so profound that all could hear them: "I'm proud of you all."
Dying was easy. It was simply no more or less complicated than falling asleep after a long day, and it happened almost without his noticing.
Nick had been walking for a long time. So long, in fact, that he'd lost all track of how long it had been. The dirt road along which he walked was quiet, the woods around him so dark he couldn't see into them; yet, there was a ghostly light upon the road itself, the source of which he could not see.
He didn't remember where he was going, only that he was looking for someone. He didn't even know for whom he was looking. The walk was not unpleasant, however, and as he walked he remembered things from his distant past.
As if playing from a television or a radio, he could hear his earliest memories playing, just the highlights, just the important parts. When he was four years old and his father died, leaving his mother a wreck. He'd felt so helpless then, his child's mind unsure how to handle the strongest person in his life breaking down.
When he was six, and he proposed to his mom. He loved her, and she loved him, and he was six and didn't understand why he couldn't marry his beloved mother. It made her laugh though for the first time since dad died, so it was worth the embarrassment.
When he was eight, and he proudly donned the green uniform of the Junior Rangers Scouts.
When he cried in the darkness alone only hours later, a muzzle laying mockingly on the ground nearby.
When he was twelve, and stress of his past trauma combined badly with the stress of his puberty, and he rebelled. Began conning other students at school. His straight-A's began to falter and fail, becoming B's, then C's, then finally he was flunking every class.
When he was sixteen, and his high school guidance counselor spoke to his mother with him in the seat next to her, saying words like "attitude problem" and "brilliant but unmotivated". He sulked and when he was spoken to he cussed. His mother cried that evening, and he couldn't find it in himself to not care.
Nick walked the dirt road in the darkness for an eternity, hearing and remembering these past events; each new scene flared within him, and he saw as if from the outside how it was good, how it was bad, how he could have been better or worse. He walked on, shame filling him.
And on he went, and the memories kept playing.
Like when he was nineteen and dating two vixens at once. They weren't happy when they found out about each other, and Nick was left behind.
When he was twenty-three and his street life became his only life.
When he was twenty-four and he met a vixen who stole his heart.
When he was twenty-five and that vixen stole his savings and left town. He'd become very poor company after that for a long, long time.
When he was thirty-two and he hustled the first rabbit cop during her first day on the job.
The next days, when she blackmailed him in return, dragging him into her investigation.
When he fell deeply, painfully in love with her.
When she betrayed him, bared her prejudice for the world to see.
Walking along the dirt road, Nick's heart clutched in his chest; the memory of that old betrayal and his response to it hurt him now as it had when it first happened. He almost stopped walking, almost turned back…almost. He kept walking, kept seeing new memories.
Like when he was thirty-three and graduated the Police Academy. How his mother cried, that day. How his rabbit beamed. They began dating that very evening.
When he was thirty-four and the rabbit asked him to marry her.
When he was thirty-six and against all possible odds they became pregnant, the first cross-order pregnancy in recorded history.
The memories of raising his children and of doing his job—becoming at long last a homicide detective, then a captain, and finally the chief of precinct three while his wife became chief of precinct one—they all began to blend together. Scolding his eldest for beating someone up; beating up a suspect who tried to kill him; helping his youngest son dress for his first prom; talking a young wolf off a very literal edge; walking his daughter down the aisle; letting old history blind him to a suspect's innocence.
Very gradually the good began to outweigh the bad. The scales tipped.
He relived with fresh pain the day his wife left him, gunned down during a speech when she was running for mayor; the last thing she said to him was, "I'll be waiting for you, my love."
He saw how much the loss hurt him, and how well he adapted in its aftermath. He had been lonely thereafter, but he never stopped helping. Never stopped talking the talk or walking the walk. In his wife's stead he became mayor, and he gave away much of the wealth he'd accumulated to helping the disadvantaged youths of the city, hoping to help head off what could have become so many lives of violence and crime.
And finally, in the evening of his life, the doctor, so very young compared to Nick, informing him that he had The Big C, and that he had a year left to live.
He'd gone quietly, and with dignity. He supposed he couldn't have asked for better.
Finally, at long last, the road ended. And at the end of the road sat, very demurely, a feral vixen with bright amber eyes and soft magenta fur. As he approached, she twitched an ear, and flipped her tail from round her forelegs.
"Welcome home, Nicholas," said the vixen. Her voice was soft and vibrant and subtle and ringing all at the same time, and there was a note of humor and relief in it.
Nick sat cross-legged before her upon the dirt and sighed. "For the longest time I didn't even realize where I was; I'm dead, aren't I? This is the afterlife."
The vixen smiled. It was simultaneously comforting and unsettling. "You are dead, Nicholas, yes. But no, this isn't the afterlife. Not really. You're at the end of the Road of Memories. The afterlife comes next."
Nick nodded as he experienced a flash of understanding. "You're Karma, aren't you? Here to judge me. I never worshipped you. Does that mean I'm going…."
"Going to Hell?" Karma's grin faltered and she frowned. "Do you think you deserve that?"
Nick shrugged, glancing around distractedly. He was looking for someone. Someone was supposed to meet him here. He didn't remember who, but it was important he wasn't late. "I don't know. I did some pretty bad things when I was young. And I didn't believe in you."
"I don't require belief, Nicholas," said Karma gently. "I only require balance. You did my work, bringing justice to the evil, and bringing comfort to the good."
"I suppose that's true," said Nick. "I did my best to be a good mammal. So how does this work? You judge me and I go somewhere befitting my judgment?"
Karma blinked slowly at him, let out a soft breath. "I never judge, Nicholas. I only facilitate judgment. Who can judge you but you? Only you can judge yourself; that's the purpose of the Road of Memories. You've seen and Remembered, Nicholas. Do you deserve damnation?"
Nick thought hard for a long time, and Karma sat patiently with him, chewing contemplatively on her tail.
Finally, Nick shook his head. "…No. I did my best, and that's all anyone can ask of me. That's what Judy always told me…JUDY!" He suddenly remembered, and sat up straighter. "She was supposed to meet me here, I made her wait so long…."
Karma smiled again, letting her tail fall. "She waits for you still. Patiently, lovingly. She's watched you since she arrived. Are you ready to reunite with her?"
Nick took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. He nodded, stood, and brushed his paws down his shirt, smoothing the grey ZPD tee.
Karma stood on all fours and trotted into the darkness at the end of the Road, sparing a glance over her shoulder at Nick, to make sure he was following. He did follow, and shortly they stopped before a plain door.
"If you're ready," said Karma, "go forth. Your rabbit is waiting."
Nick put a paw on the cool handle of the door, but hesitated. "You know…I'm a little surprised Serendipity wasn't here to greet me."
Karma smiled. "She wanted to be. But you fall into my domain, and so she had to take a step back."
Nick nodded. "Thank her for me, will you? She brought Judy and I together."
He opened the door and stepped through, into the Place Beyond.
Author's Note: The Road of Memories is loosely inspired by a creepypasta called Road of Recurrence, a fantastic reading of which you can find on CreepsMcPasta's youtube channel. Also, as always, I have to give credit for Karma to Kittah4 who first came up with the idea of her being a fox goddess.
This is a one shot, and thus will have no sequel and is not affiliated directly with any other story I've written.