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for the tide washes clean all that we buried in the sand

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“Well,” Kaeya says, at last, once the dragon has flown off and Albedo has vanished and it is abundantly clear that Razor will not be magically appearing out of the bushes. “This certainly brings back memories.”

Diluc does not dignify that comment with an answer, not that Kaeya was really expecting one. His eyes are fixed on the horizon, narrow and watching, as if maybe if he stares hard enough at that sea-line sunrise a boat or maybe a new island will rise up and solve all their problems. Kaeya toes his boot through the sand, experimentally, and continues. “My, just look at it. Finer beaches than even Falcon Coast. And those seashells! What shapes. Father would have loved to paint this.”

Diluc twitches, shoulders gone stiff. Kaeya eyes him, grinning sharp.

“He always was fond of the coast,” Kaeya says, casual. “Right, Diluc?”

Diluc finally cracks. There’s really no use in him ignoring Kaeya; Kaeya is an expert at not being ignored, and Diluc of all people—soured familial relationship or not—has always been the easiest target. 

“Your point?”

“Oh, no point. Just that it’s a shame we’re here for business rather than vacation.” He hums under his breath. “Though I suppose that mystery is fun in its own right…”

He trails off. Diluc doesn’t pick up the thread of conversation. Kaeya rolls his eyes, and turns back to the ocean. Ah, Albedo. What a cruel deed, to vanish off and leave Kaeya here with Diluc alone. Who knew the mild-mannered alchemist had it in him?

The sea laps a bit at his boots. Kaeya edges a little further into the surf and summons his sword to his hands, thoughtful. He touches the tip of the blade to the water. Ice blooms—thin, fragile, already melting. In addition to fine beaches, this place also has warmer waters. Possibly that earlier ice bridge melting wasn’t entirely Diluc’s fault—but of course, Kaeya is never going to tell him this.

It’s still early, and the sun is just starting to rise, and the light casts a bright streak of gold across all the water, glittering like the finest of diamonds. It’s a very different view from Mondstadt’s hilled horizon; here the sea stretches on, endless, a gentle curve at the end of the world, distant islands and far-off mist the only thing to soften that otherwise harsh horizon-line. For all his mocking, it truly is beautiful.

Kaeya stares at it for a long moment, lost in thought. It’s been some time since he was by the coast—not years, no, not with Klee and her obsession for fish around, but still some time. As a child, Kaeya had gone far more often; Crepus had a love for the sky and the sea and also birds, and that had meant, when time and lessons allowed it, for occasional stops at the Falcon Coast. Though those shallow pools of river water and sea pale in comparison to the ocean surrounding him now, Kaeya can’t help but remember the Falcon Coast more fondly. It had been the first real ocean experience he’d had.

“Father really would have loved it here,” Kaeya murmurs, more genuine now, half to himself. High above he can see the circling of distant birds, and he smiles a little.

“Nostalgia can wait.” Kaeya blinks, startled from the memories. Diluc is frowning at him. “We need to start searching the island. There must be something here we can use.”

Ah, and there the moment goes—lost under the annoyance.

“What, like the broken half of that ship?” Kaeya wonders. He waves a hand, dismissing his sword at last. “Please, Master Diluc, do attempt to float on that thing. I wholeheartedly endorse this plan.”

Diluc shakes his head at him. “Is this some sort of game to you? Come on. I don’t want to be here all day.”

“Ahaha, so impatient…” But Kaeya stands from the surf, grinning a little. Despite his soured disposition, Diluc isn’t nearly as good at that poker face as he thinks he is; there is no real anger in his voice, and his eyes keep drifting to the water, to the birds overhead. Maybe he is thinking of the past too. 

It’s a strange thing. It’s a discomforting thing. The past is something Kaeya fully expects his wayward brother to view with distaste—and yet. All Diluc looks is distant, and maybe tired.

“This way,” Diluc says, finally, and turns away from the water. “I think I saw some driftwood. We might be able to make a raft.”

“Rowing to the next island? How undignified. Do you even know how?”

He gets a flat stare for that one. “What is that supposed to mean.”

“Come now. All that talk about the past, and now you’re ignoring the facts.” Kaeya waits, eyebrow raised, arms crossed. Diluc’s scowl furthers. “You are terrible at rafts.”

“The Falcon Coast was covered in sandbanks,” Diluc snaps back, at once. “And children have no sense of direction—of course we got stuck.”

“Funny! I remember being quite good at rafts when I was the one steering.”

“What I remember,” says Diluc, impatient at last, “is you hiding under the water waiting to shove me off the raft, you—”

“Details, details.” Kaeya is grinning. Ah, he can remember that. He’d been very good at it, too. Diluc’s single-minded focus, present even as a child, had been his downfall every time; all Kaeya’d had to do was wait for Diluc to get distracted by a crab or pretty flower or something before bursting out of the reeds to dunk him. 

His dear estranged brother is being very particular about his reminiscing, though. Kaeya can remember quite a few moments of Diluc shoving him into the surf, himself. Or setting said reeds on fire.

Now, years later and yet no better at avoiding Kaeya’s antics, Diluc pinches at the bridge of his nose. “This is ridiculous,” he says, voice flat. “I’m going to look for a way off this island. Relive your childhood if you must.”

“No need to be so dour about it, hm?”

Diluc runs a hand back through his hair, for once looking visibly frustrated. It is the most emotion Kaeya’s seen out of him in ages, and the sight is almost comforting—a reminder of long ago. Once upon a time, Kaeya’s brother had been an open book, laughing easily and often. Too serious for his own good, of course, that hasn’t changed. But it used to be Diluc could enjoy himself, and now, Kaeya suspects, if someone asked genuinely how Diluc’s day was going he would talk about shadows, and evil, and preparing for the next fight. It used to be he could at least talk about chess.

The train of thought is—tiring, rather than amusing. A small, bitter sort of thing. Diluc used to be happy, Kaeya used to be trusted... the two of them used to be able to talk. Kaeya glances back to the water, no longer smiling. The conversation falls flat, settles awkward and still.

“I can’t believe you even remember those days,” Diluc says, at last, into the silence. It is half-under his breath, quieter than anything else he’s said. Hesitant. Wary, perhaps.

“Of course I remember it,” Kaeya replies. He keeps his eyes on the sea. “It was important.”

It still is. He doesn’t say this. It is strange, this silence; Kaeya does not want to break it open into a fight. It would feel—well. At any rate, if Father had been here, he would have sighed to see it.

“I see,” Diluc says, neutral. Kaeya glances over at him. Diluc is looking away.

A longer silence, now. Diluc sighs under his breath a little, and lifts his head, eyes turning back to the ocean. For a moment they watch the water in silence—the sunlight and the distant islands and the gentle sway of the breeze, making white caps wave in the blue.

“You’re right,” Diluc says, finally, a little awkwardly. “Father… would have liked it here.”

Kaeya watches him for a long moment. Then he shrugs and smiles.

“But of course,” he says. “I’m always right.”

“…Hmph.”

Kaeya laughs and kneels back down by the surf. There is a shell, half-buried in the white sand; he digs it out and lets the tide wash it clean. It’s beautiful—mostly intact, and ringed with stripes of red and orange and yellow, like a sunrise. 

“Perhaps a raft is our best bet after all,” Kaeya says, turning the shell through his fingers. “I suppose it’s worth a shot, hm?”

“…I suppose so.”

Kaeya tosses the shell through his hands again, humming noncommittally under his breath. Klee would love the shell, he thinks, and he curls his fingers around it, intending to keep it in his pack for when they find her.

There is silence, again. It’s not surprising. Neither of them is very good at talking honestly anymore; if there are no insults, there’s just quiet. But it feels different from before. Warmer. 

Or maybe that is just the sun.

“Are you waiting for me to say something?” Kaeya wonders, aloud. “Are you gathering driftwood or aren’t you?” 

This time he can hear Diluc sigh. “Just an observation,” Kaeya says, shrugging casually, and turns back to the incoming tide. He is grinning. In the water he can see a shadow of his own expression; he looks strangely young. By his side, the Vision glows, the reflection glittering in the sea.

In the corner of his eye, he can see Diluc shake his head, beginning to turn away. He gets a single step—and then the ice that Kaeya has discretely summoned around his boot catches at his foot, and Diluc lurches forward, nearly face-planting the sand before he catches himself. 

And in that moment—wide-eyed, annoyed and exasperated and almost resigned, looking the closest to laughing that Kaeya has seen him in years—in that moment, Diluc almost looks as he did before, all those years ago. As if, even after all this time, some part of them hasn’t changed at all.

Kaeya tucks the shell away in his pack, and rises to his feet with a smile.