Hi! Your theories got me like "daaamn these are so good" and I've been thinking about it for days but what do you think about the pre-Kerberos period of time? What about Keith and Shiro meeting each other? What about the time spent together before Keith's hopes were crushed by a "pilot error"?
Oh, I love speculating about their relationship prekerberos. It’s really interesting, because the nature of it is kept in the dark most of the time. We only ever seem to get glimpses here and there. But, from what we know: when they’re stranded together, Shiro’s surprised Keith remembered Patience yields focus–“That really stayed with you, didn’t it?” And he looks so incredibly touched by it, you can see how much it really means to him. As for Keith, his response comes easy, “You’ve given me some good advice. If it wasn’t for you, my life would have been a lot different.” So we know whatever impact Shiro had, it was incredibly significant. He’s apparently been there for Keith when no one else has, offering words of comfort and helping to guide him through hard times.
I think we can all infer “Patience yields focus,” is something from their garrison days, and probably a mantra Keith got very used to hearing. He also very much internalized this–and likely a lot of other things Shiro said. That advice Shiro gave meant something to him, the fact that he took the time to be there for Keith when no one else would quite literally changed his life.
Guidebook says Shiro and Matt graduated a few years before Kerberos, so Shiro was an officer by then. But he was still around the garrison when he wasn’t running missions. So I suppose at first, it could’ve been that Shiro was trying to mentor Keith. He saw a cadet who had a lot of promise but maybe had a hard time playing by the rules or staying focused. Or maybe he sees that Keith doesn’t have anyone in his corner–can’t seem to make friends and is always off on his own. So Shiro decides to take him under his wing.
But I really want to stress that, however Shiro’s interest in Keith started, I don’t think he by any means saw Keith as some kind of charity project. Keith isn’t someone who lets others feel sorry for him, and he sure as hell won’t play the victim. I can see him really pushing Shiro away at first, insisting he doesn’t need anyone–that he’s always been his own and he’s doing just damn fine, thank you. Keith is someone who carves his own path, and I don’t think he’d take well to whatever help Shiro offered. He doesn’t need help. Never has.
So it starts slow. Shiro tentatively joining Keith at the commissary or offering to train with him in the sim. Studying together turns into sparring together and late night sim sessions where Keith breaks record after record. He’s good, better than anyone else Shiro’s ever seen. But it’s not long before what they have isn’t just a one-way thing. Keith approaches Shiro on his own and is always eager to see him. He starts opening up bit by bit, and pretty soon everything he feels is a flooded dam and he just bursts.
Keith’s always been touch averse, but the next time Shiro goes to shake his hand Keith pulls him into a hug. He doesn’t ever want to let go. The passing touches here and there start to linger–a hand on Keith’s shoulder or a pat on the back, their hands clasped before they come together. Keith’s never known this kind of intimacy, so cloying, sweet relief. Because we know Keith freezes up at anyone else’s touch, but when Shiro reaches for him he just melts.
We know from Joaquim that, “[Keith] latches onto Shiro at times because Shiro’s sort of the only thing that can really calm him down and keep him in check.” (source). Josh has also said, “[Keith’s] constantly scared he’s gonna say or do something wrong and he’s gonna lose Shiro.” (source). So we know Shiro is very much Keith’s anchor, the one person that can truly calm him down and help him stay centered. We know that Keith latches onto him, desperately clinging to that source of comfort and reassurance, for the safety and solace Shiro provides.
We also know this is in part linked to his galran heritage, that Keith’s emotions are volatile and oppressive. Lauren has said that his emotions are, “kind of exasperated by the fact that Shiro’s gone. Like he’s having a hard time dealing with [Shiro’s loss], he doesn’t really know how to feel. And I think he just goes back to that inner part of himself where it’s just—he can’t control his emotions. And that comes from the galra side.” (source)
And we’ve seen through how Honerva “softened” Zarkon that galra tend to look for partners who can help them manage that intensity, who are able to soothe the sheer overwhelming pain of those emotions. For Keith, Shiro was that partner. The only one. And when he loses that safety? He falls apart. I’m willing to bet the same thing happened after Kerberos–considering he was kicked out, wondered off to the desert feeling “lost,” desperately searching for some new sense of purpose until–“Then you showed up.”
He’s an orphan. He hasn’t seen his parents in years. If they kick him out of the garrison, he’s got nowhere else to go. The other cadets are likely either jealous of him or hate him. The other officers won’t give him the time of day. Everyone in his life’s already written him off as a lost cause, but not you, Shiro, never you, please don’t leave me too–“Shiro is the one person who never gave up on me. I won’t give up on him.”
So, yes. Whatever Keith and Shiro had prekerberos, by the time Shiro left, they were already incredibly close. And we know this sort of affection wasn’t one-sided either. I know a lot of people tend to believe Keith’s depth of feeling for Shiro isn’t reciprocated, but that’s not the case at all. Yes, Keith latched onto Shiro, thought of him as his greatest hope–saw losing him as his deepest fear. But I believe the feeling is entirely mutual. Because, when Shiro was about to takeoff? The person he brought to the launch wasn’t his family or even another officer. It was Keith. Out of everyone at the garrison, Keith was the one he was closest to, the one he wanted to see him off.
The truth is, Shiro also has his own walls. Even after spending a 6 month mission with him and having graduated in the same year, Matt is reluctant to approach Shiro, calling him sir. You don’t see that level of casual intimacy there. And Shiro has never once expressed any desire to return to Earth or reunite with his family, even after being gone for a year. Even knowing his family and friends would’ve been told he was dead. I believe he must have been estranged from his family. And as for friends, I imagine a lot of people thought they were Shiro’s friends at the garrison, that he was beloved and revered as a hero. But I think Shiro still kept them all at a distance. Everyone except for Keith.
It’s why Shiro wanted to spend his last moments with him before he left, wanted to take the chance to properly say goodbye. It’s why Joaquim said, “Keith and Shiro have the closest relationship, so there is that kinship there,” and Lauren added that, “And I think the Black Lion probably got from Shiro what Shiro saw in Keith.” (source). It’s why Shiro has fallen into this habit of pulling Keith aside and checking in with him whenever he’s worried. It’s why Shiro’s not at all surprised to see that Keith was the one who rescued him, the reason he asked “How did you know to come save me when I crashed?” instead of “Why?” Because Shiro knew without a doubt, if anyone would chase after him, always be there for him, it was Keith.