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His hands curved around the stone he was holding. He slipped a thumb along the surface of the carving. It wasn’t right, still. It didn’t feel right. Though to be honest, no matter how many wrinkles and veins he got right, it would never feel the same. Stone couldn’t replace skin.

Koutarou put aside the carving tools onto the sandy ocean floor, and when he bent his tail and pulled it toward him so he could bury his face against the scales shimmering in the glow of the sunset the water splashed around him, washing bits of chipped-away stone from his lap and around him.

The stone hand fitted with just the right size with his, a familiar clasp—if it only had been a real hand, alive and moving.

It would never be the same, no matter how much he wished or prayed or searched for a way.

It would always be cold and dead and not what he really ached for.

He heard movements in the water and saw legs from the corner of his eye, though his vision was blurred by the tears that the sorrow and longing and guilt clenching at his heart so tight it felt it might break had forced into his eyes. The human sat down beside him in the water, bumped a shoulder lightly into his arm in the process, and wordlessly, he offered Koutarou a bottle. It was a little more than half-full with some sort of alcohol, and Koutarou glanced to the side at the human, whose face was flushed. For once he was very silent. Koutarou murmured a quiet thank you, accepting the bottle. Chuuya had another one with him that he opened, as Koutarou uncapped the bottle he had been handed.

Sorrow. So many of his friends held it within them, too. Not the same kind, but it was there, ever-present and painful, making itself known again and again with sharp stabs. It dragged them down toward the depths of the ocean, trapped their heart in the darkest caverns, bitten by sharp teeth and claws. It hated to let them go.

When Chuuya, not long after, tipped backward into the water, Koutarou was pulled out of his reverie and momentarily distracted from the pain that the alcohol did nothing to smother, at least not yet, and Koutarou shifted to prop the human spirit up against his tail, so he wouldn’t drown in the shallow waters. He capped his bottle again, before its contents mixed with the sea water and floated away. He put it in his lap under the carved stone hand, and he balanced the bottle he had been given on his lap and he brushed fingers along the stone thumb.

Koutarou would never hold his wife again, would never hear her laughter no matter where he searched, would never get to hold her hand in his again. And he couldn’t replicate the feeling to soothe the pain, either.

Chuuya snored and made a sad sound. Koutarou glanced over to look at him. He should try to catch the attention of one of the other land-dwelling spirits; Koutarou couldn’t take Chuuya to the library the water route.

But he wanted to stay a little while longer. Just a little while longer. Hoping that the pain would diminish a little, for at least a while, together with the sinking sun.