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((in all universes) so far, things have only ended in tragedy. (in one universe) the world died while they kept living. (in one universe) they were torn apart before they could begin. (in one universe) they never met at all, and lived without knowing what they could have had together.)

(but (all those universes), all those worlds that were so real once upon a time, are dead now. gone. reduced to less than memories. reduced to an infinite number of possibilities that could have happened, that did happen, but that have less impact on the world than ghosts.)

(because ghosts can make their presence known by screaming and throwing things and scaring those who invade their homes. dead universes can only manifest in things that are less than dreams, in feelings that can't be explained but are known to be true. feelings that are just as easily brushed off and forgotten.)

(and now, padua, the half-fossilized seed of a world tree, has finally bloomed into a young girl with wings. and torunga the storyteller, and peccólia who dances the truth, and helmai the snake, and the witch amamori, and mamajo madeleine marmaladenokonokomajo ocochamadeleine ocochamarmalade ocochamajo ma koko - they were all there, watching padua fly away, up and up and up forever. and all the ghosts were there, too - of the lost traveler, of the king of the dead world, of sirius the dog-star, of the heroes from the age long forgotten. they were all there.)

(and as padua flew away on new wings, peccólia danced down from the heavens with her pearl arms and brass legs, and then she collapsed and turned to dust. and helmai was incinerated by his own greed, thinking he could have padua for himself. and torunga took up the golden shuttle, the one he had traded padua for, and he wove one final tapestry of blooming padua surrounded by all of these people and ghosts and legends. and then he breathed his last, there in the village of the end, and the forest died and lived again all at once.)

(and padua is still up there today, flying over what was once called the village of the end, soaring on wings of pure white feathers.)

(now there's (a new universe) because padua has bloomed. a new world tree taking the form of a young girl because she prefers it that way.)

and (in this new universe) he is called neither "julien" nor "torunga", and she is called neither "misako" nor "peccólia". but somehow it doesn't matter, because they manage to meet again either way.

and maybe there are still pieces of those dead worlds alive within them, because somehow they begin to remember again.

("if they couldn't remember it'd be the same as if it never happened," someone said, once. "having your memories reset every time you die and redoing everything over and over again... that's not rebirth at all.")

they remember, and remember. they remember falling in love, talking to each other. the tiniest little moments and interactions. they remember losing each other over and over again.

(they both remember when (in one universe) he killed her because he was afraid and hurting and lost. but neither of them wants to remember it. he still wants to think it was a dream.)

but one day she leaves, without warning. she disappears the same way he disappeared, long ago. and he misses her fiercely, more than she could know. and he writes about his mistakes and sends it off as a message in a bottle into the unknown, to maybe find her someday.

and one day he learns what happened to her, and he's overcome with joy and grief. but he never talks to her because he doesn't know what he would say. he doesn't know what he could say.

and then, two hundred and eighty seven days later, he looks again and she's gone. maybe, this time, for good. and he mourns.

so he finishes assembling these pieces of dead universes, the ones that did and didn't happen, and he makes them into three parts. and then he knows what to do for the fourth.

(padua, the newest world tree, the feather-winged girl, keeps flying up and up and up.)

he writes a last plea for her. wherever she is, somewhere out there. he writes of his hopes and dreams and fears, things that were said and unsaid. he stuffs his confession into a bottle and he hurls it up, so high into the sky that he can't see it anymore.

(but maybe padua can. maybe padua glides down to meet it at the top of its arc, and carries it off with her into the unknown.)

(maybe she gives it to the one it's meant for. but maybe she keeps it for herself, because the way the glass sparkles is so pretty when she holds it up to the sunshine.)

and now he's waiting, far below, for the flying world tree to land. for her to give away her only possession to the one it's meant for, and then to take root in the love left behind. and then to grow as big and tall and strong as a mountain, rooted in that love.

(and then for padua to live on long after they both have died, and for her to grow a new forest around herself in this world. and then for when the last tree becomes the first, and the cycle repeats.)

he knows that (in one universe) all of this happens the way he's predicted, because he's learned how to read the possibilities from the feather-leaves that padua loses as she flies. but he also knows that (in another universe) none of it happens at all, and that (in infinitely many universes) something in-between happens instead.

so (in this universe) he waits. someday, he'll know the answer.

and that's the best he can do.