It’s like this:
Lance dies where Keith was supposed to. He dies in the midst of a battle, protecting the backs of the ones he loves, and he dies when no one is there to protect his. He dies in the midst of a battle, quietly and without sound, and that is how Keith finds him - long gone, with the words of goodbye waiting on his lips for someone who will never hear them.
Keith has never known his mother, his mother who left him with just a dagger, and Keith’s father left him when he was a small boy. He has not known what it means to have a home, having jumped from foster home to foster home, no family willing to put up with Keith for longer than a few months at most. Keith has not known the love of a mother or the patience of a father, but he has known the love of Lance, and for Keith, it has been more than enough.
Too bad Keith didn’t realize that until long after he lost Lance.
* * *
It continues like this:
Keith can’t stand to sleep in the room he shared with Lance. He can barely bring himself to step into the room, because his eyes are drawn to the memories Lance has left behind. Because all Keith can see in their old room is Lance: the jacket Lance never finished repairing (because he wasn’t a heathen, Keith, the jacket belonged to his older brother and Lance has - had - every intention of returning it to him), the mess of souvenirs Lance has brought back from the planets they have saved because they remind me of Mariposa’s eyes or Mama used to have a pair of earrings just like this or any other excuse Lance could find to remember his faraway family or the small gold-and-purple ring that sits inconspicuously next to Keith’s pillow as if it doesn’t cause Keith to scream and sob uncontrollably, as if it doesn’t cause Keith to lose the fragile control he has held over his emotions until he was alone, as if it doesn’t cause Shiro to close his eyes in grief because this is not something he can help his almost-brother with, as if it doesn’t cause Hunk to stop crying for just one moment because in that one moment there is someone who misses Lance more than Hunk ever could, as if it doesn’t cause Pidge and Coran and Allura unbearable grief that sits heavily in the Castle because Lance isn’t there anymore to dissipate the negative emotions before they could overwhelm them.
From across the Castle of Lions, Red and Blue join Keith’s screams with roars of their own, for the fallen paladin, for another cub they couldn’t protect, couldn’t save, couldn’t do anything but roarscreamshoutcry as they lost another person they loved.
When Keith leaves the room days later, it is with red eyes, an unwavering scowl, and a gold-and-purple ring dangling from a necklace around his neck.
* * *
They return to Earth, and any excitement that the (remaining, lucky and oh-so unlucky, because who will be the ones to tell Lance’s family that they are the reason Lance is dead?) paladins might have felt for returning home is gone. Pidge waits by their console with their father and brother next to them, and Keith can’t help the brief pang of jealousy and hate that he feels because why can they find their family but he has to lose the only home he has ever known?
When they get close to Earth, Hunk cannot stop the quiet whistle that escapes his lips at the carnage that is strewn across the Caribbean islands, cannot stop wondering what storm ravaged the seas of the Caribbean so hard that entire islands are destroyed (the answer is Matthew, and Irma, and Jose and Maria and countless others, but the thing that stands out to Hunk, when he finds out days later, is that the day Lance disappeared - died - was the same day Irma had made landfall in Cuba, and Hunk cannot stop wondering if the universe is simply laughing at them because this cannot be coincidence can it?).
When they land, it is just outside of Florida, so close to Cuba that they can almost see the lights of Havana glittering at them across the sea. When they land, they are immediately surrounded by hundreds of people, the crowd full of desperately afraid civilians, military personnel and members of the press that are impossible to ignore and impossible to escape. When they land, they are surrounded by hundreds of people, but Hunk still manages to hear the shout of his name, his real name, over the crowd, and then Hunk is crying because his moms are there, waiting for him in the crowd with the impossibly-tall forms of his older sisters. Pidge still manages to hear the quiet sobs of a certain Colleen Holt, who had thought that she had lost her entire family and has gained them back, broken and scarred and different but still her family. Shiro still hears the screams of his parents, his brother as they tackle him to the floor.
And Keith? Keith is left alone to hear the confused shouts of Lance’s family, who are desperately searching the crowd over and over again for the missing occupant of the chair at the dinner table, the youngest member of their family who has been gone for so long that they cannot bring themselves to have hope but at the same time, they can do nothing but hope because Hunk was one of the people who came off of the alien ship, and Hunk had disappeared with Lance, so Lance had to be with them, right? Right?
Keith, who has wrapped himself in Lance’s jacket, is left alone to approach the woman who watches him with too sharp eyes and watches the trail of his fingers as they wander to the ring (that looks far too similar to the one that glitters on her finger) Lance had left behind along with a heartbroken boy. Keith is left alone even as she tugs Keith into a fierce hug that only reminds Keith of Lance’s gentle hugs.
Keith, who has been alone for most of his life, has never felt this alone before.
* * *
It ends like this:
A week after they return to Earth, there is a storm that appears out of nowhere. It sits over the skies of Veradero Beach, where Keith has found himself having been forced to move into Lance’s childhood room. The storm is bad, battering away at the shores of the beach with unrelenting waves and never-ending torrents of rain. Keith watches it all dispassionately from the window in Lance’s room until Coran calls him, reporting frantically about Blue, who has not lifted her particle barrier since her paladin died, not even for Allura. Blue, who has not only lifted her particle barrier, but abandoned the Castle of Lions altogether. And Keith, who wants to help, is bound by the storm, through which it is impossible for even the best of pilots to fly through.
A week after they return to Earth, Keith opens the door of Lance’s old home to a dissipating storm and a Lion that he had never expected to see active again. Keith opens the door to a pair of familiar arms, that are ready to catch him the moment Keith flings himself into them, and the familiar voice that tickles his ears as it whispers a quiet, “Hey, mullet,” into his ears.