It was a puzzle. Kali and Solas thoroughly enjoyed decoding puzzles through their journeys and often marveled at the mysteries of old tales and ruins. In the past they would huddle together, read inscriptions out loud, and work through the mystery step by step.
It was awkward now, and they kept at a sizeable distance. The rest of the party had learned to adjust into this new dynamic between the two. At first there were questions; Cole wanting to heal hurts, Cassandra unknowingly asking questions that open the scabbing wounds, but eventually they all learned.
Their journeys have been quieter since. Kali read through the inscriptions in the ruins - the tale of Fairel, paragon of paragons. They have been coming across several journals now and this cave was their first real lead. They marveled at the wonders of Dwarven engineering with the Iron Bull making an off-hand comment comparing the grandeur to the lazy effort of Vints. Cole leapt from one pillar to another, touching the stone, and whispering things about how the stones are singing.
Kali has resisted every urge to look at Solas as she read each piece of story and strung it all together in her head. Solas had been watching her but kept to himself, giving her full reign in solving the puzzle. When it all clicked, she eagerly energized the braziers with magic. The veilfire crackled, breaking through the eerie silence that permeated the air.
As she lit the last brazier, the stone door made a deep, rumbling noise. They looked towards it and found that it opened.
“What did the old dwarves hide here?” Solas wondered out loud.
“A burial chamber, I think!” Kali responded almost immediately, unable to hide her excitement.
It was the first real back and forth they had since Crestwood and it felt strange and embarrassing, like being caught with your trousers down.
Cole’s eyes beamed larger as he looked at the two of them. He opened his mouth to speak but Iron Bull placed a heavy hand on his shoulder and shook his head slowly.
“But—“ Cole protested.
“Not the time, kid.” Iron Bull said simply.
Kali felt her cheeks get hotter. “Let’s go in.” she said, squaring her shoulders.
The interior was even more impressive than the ruins outside. Everything seemed completely intact, untouched, and kept pristine through centuries. Books were unsoiled by humidity, and dirt seemed to not have made their way into the cold, smooth metals. The group found a mosaic piece and several more items in a huge dwarven chest. Kali dug through the bottom and perused through all the items, showing each piece of treasure to the group.
“What is that?” Cole asked pointing at a jagged piece of metal.
Kali observed the piece and noticed the grooves on the side. “It’s... a fragment of something. Probably a key.” she said. “Let's look for the rest and see what door it opens."
“Grrreeeaat. I love looking for tiny broken things in the desert.” Iron Bull scratched the back of his neck.
“Regardless, the tale is a good one. I would like to see how it all ends.” Solas chimed in.
In another time, Kali would have responded to this. She would go into a long, eager discussion about the parallels of Fairel to other lores and legends and dissect what this reveals about Dwarven culture.
“Yes, well. Let’s get going then.” Kali said, quickly dismissing any and all conversation on the matter.
Cole looked up at Iron Bull again and whispered, “Now can I say it the Iron Bull?”
Bull shook his head but smiled. “Let’s not make things any weirder than it already is.” he ruffled his hair. They started going out of the chamber one by one, Iron Bull first and then Cole.
Kali looked around one last time to check if they missed any treasure while Solas waited for her nearby.
“Go on ahead without me. I’ll follow shortly.” Kali said.
“That will be unwise, inquisitor. You should not be left alone.”
“Funny you should say that as you seem to be the expert in leaving people alone.” Kali said.
Okay, I deserve that. Solas sighed, recognizing the path that this conversation will lead to. She had only talked to him once after Crestwood and it ended with them shouting at each other in the rotunda, making it known throughout Skyhold that they were no longer.
“This is not the time nor the place. Inquisitor please, I—“
“-Miss you. I miss you every waking day and every cold night. Close but infinitely distant. Proximity is pain. Distance is pain. Everything hurts. Wanting you close but hating it all the same.” Cole said. Unknown to them, he had quietly returned and now stood near the doorway.
Solas and Kali looked at Cole and then at each other. Silence hung heavy in the air. Neither dared to talk first.
“OKAY!” Iron Bull’s booming voice slammed through the tension like a sledgehammer. He seized Cole by the shoulders and turned him towards the clearing. “We’ll see you at camp, boss. It’s not that far away.”
As soon as they were alone once again, Kali sighed in exasperation. “What Cole said, was it your hurt or mine?” she asked.
The question surprised Solas, and his bewilderment told Kali more than he would ever let on.
“This discussion will benefit neither of us, inquisitor. We need to get past this.” Solas said in a hushed yet firm tone. It was the same voice he used when he brushed her off in Skyhold. A hurried, desperate tone, begging her to change the subject.
“Understand, Solas, that wounds take time to heal, and this is no mere flesh wound.” Kali put the key fragment in her pouch.
“What I do with these feelings is a choice that I alone can make.” she said as she walked past him. "I don't have to give up just because you did."
Out of all the fights, all the insults hurled in moments of passion, this stung Solas the most and it was because he absolutely loved this about her. The thoughtfulness to see through what is and to make a steadfast decision. This certainty and responsibility for actions that he admired so much. He wanted so much to hold her, to soften the edges made sharp by pain, the edges that he himself caused.
But I have done enough. Solas thought and dared not make a move. He only nodded, acquiescing his part in the argument, and let her walk past.