"You don’t constantly live in fear of losing someone who’s just like a brother. That’s not how anyone feels about their actual brother" - Don't get me wrong, I ship the heck out of S/K, but: I'd argue you absolutely do if you're an orphan who lost the only family they had at a young age and never really had anyone after that. And then you finally find someone who's like family, however you interpret that, and you have these huge abandonment issues. Of course you're gonna be scared of losing them
Hi! I got a few asks about this, so I’ll just cover them now. Okay so, while I agree that Keith would definitely have abandonment issues after his childhood either way, his relationship with Shiro still transcends what he has with the rest of Team Voltron–all of whom we know are also his found family. So it’s not just a matter of found family, but also this deeply personal, innermost connection he has with Shiro that he never quite manages with anyone else again. He holds a platonic love for all the paladins and thinks of them as his new family. But he’s not so terrified of losing them that he’d literally give up anything just to be with them. He only feels that way about Shiro. “He latches onto Shiro at times because Shiro’s sort of the only thing that can really calm him down and keep him in check.”
This idea of latching onto someone evokes a kind of desperateness and dependency you really don’t see in platonic relationships usually. Also, a relationship where one character is really the grounding force for another, the one thing that can soothe this volatile, emotional and alien side of them and bring out their humanity–that’s often a dynamic that’s meant to be interpreted in a romantic context. This is further supported by the fact that Zarkon, another galra who struggles with his overwhelming emotions, has Haggar to kind of act as his Shiro and be a balm for him, help steady him and guide him. Again, this kind of relationship is already established as blatantly romantic. So I don’t think it’s accidental that sheith mimics it.
There’s a singularity to Keith’s view on Shiro that feels distinctly romantic rather than brotherly. If someone’s just a friend or like a brother, then they’re not your entire world. You wouldn’t be “all alone” without them. And staying with what holo-Shiro said for a minute, his role there is pretty interesting. I’ve mentioned it before, but this idea of a knight having to sacrifice their love for the sake of their duty is a common theme, and we see that replicated here. And this idea of someone being sent to tempt the hero and try to lure them away from their duty, it’s pretty much always a romantic trope. Love interests are typically the kind of characters who would try to convince someone into believing they’re meant to be together and there’s no way the other person would be able to go on without them. It’s just not something that has a brotherly or platonic connotation.
There’s also the fact that holo-Shiro says “We’re your family.” As a reflection of Keith’s mind, he voices the fact that Keith sees all the paladins as found family. But he still views his relationship with Shiro as something much deeper. This makes Keith’s possessive mourning over Shiro all the more strange. When Pidge loses Matt and her dad, she doesn’t lash out at her mom about how she doesn’t care or isn’t doing enough. But Keith is another story.
If all of Team Voltron is his found family, then why act as if he’s the only one who cares about Shiro and no one else does? Why is pretty much everyone relatively understanding about Pidge’s situation–and why is she able to put her own feelings aside and carry on with the mission while Keith is portrayed as reckless and despondent with grief over constantly chasing after Shiro? Why does everyone have to pull him aside and tell him to move on when it seems like it’s been months but Pidge understands the mission has to come first in a matter of days? Pidge doesn’t seem to have any sort of dependency on her brother the way Keith and Shiro rely so heavily on one another. Obviously she loves Matt, but that love is shown to be very different from what we see between Shiro and Keith.
The fact that we have all these parallels established between sheith and zaggar also says a lot. Because saying that sheith isn’t meant to be read as romantic while still having it be so similar to zaggar is just…very strange. It’s pointing at one dynamic and saying “This is what a romantic relationship in our narrative looks like,” but then establishing essentially the same dynamic again and dismissing it. Especially when, right from the start, Keith is shown saving Shiro, and it’s something that Kuron actually makes a point of mentioning. So, given that the other black paladin who was terrified of losing the person they loved and willing to do anything just to be with them–given that that’s a distinctly romantic relationship, I think it’s important to take that context into consideration.
There are plenty of other close platonic relationships that Shiro and Keith could have been compared to. Hunk and Lance are also really good friends, but their interactions are clearly more casual and fun loving. There’s not this big dramatic weight bearing down on their relationship that you usually see from a will-they-or-won’t-they almost-couple, no tension. But sheith has plenty. Hunk and Lance obviously care about each other a lot, but they never pull one another aside and have a deeply personal, intimate, bleeding heart-to-heart. We see these quiet talks often with sheith though. Another telling sign is all the lingering, tender touches between Shiro and Keith.
Whether it’s the grounding weight of a hand on your shoulder or a warm embrace, these two are rather touchy-feely. Yes, Hunk is very huggable and he and Lance are very casual around each other. But again, their interactions aren’t regarded with the same depth and seriousness as Shiro and Keith’s. While it’s true that plenty of people have very close friends who they’re pretty openly affectionate with, it’s important to remember that this is a story, and most things they take the time to animate are meant to serve the narrative.
So, from a thematic standpoint, having these two characters with a hidden backstory who are always circling each other’s orbit, always exchanging little comforting touches here and there and offering quiet words of comfort, who are constantly scared of losing each other–typically, that’s how you build a romantic relationship. It’s not the way you’d usually establish a platonic one, and it’s not the way any other platonic relationships play out in Voltron either. Another sign that it’s not strictly platonic or brotherly is the fact that, while they’re still so close, there’s a noticeable distance. Like they’re both afraid and holding each other at arm’s length. Again, you don’t see this with Hunk and Lance; they’re perfectly comfortable being completely open with each other.
But Keith is always afraid one wrong move will cost him Shiro, always trying to do his best to make Shiro happy. He tells Shiro that he really changed his life, and it’s implied that maybe he thinks Shiro doesn’t realize just how much he means to him. That’s why, after Shiro does discover the full impact he’s had on Keith–after seeing how Keith’s worst fear is losing him in BOM–he never brings up the fact that something might happen to him again. Similarly, when Keith repeats “Patience yields focus,” Shiro’s whole face softens. His voice is nothing but fond when he asks, “That really stayed with you, didn’t it?” He didn’t know Keith cared that much, and he’s really touched.
And that’s something else–characters repeating each other’s deep, meaningful lines back to one another reads as distinctly romantic to me. Yeah, Hunk picks up on Lance’s favorite movie catchphrase, but it’s another example of how their relationship is more friendly and casual. It’s an effect used for comedic relief. That’s very different from Keith reciting Shiro’s mantra or the way these two greet each other with reversals of, “It’s good to have you back.” “It’s good to be back.” Context and tone are always so important.
I don’t mean to belittle platonic bonds in favor of romance though, or that one is more important than the other. Just that they’re both written very differently. That doesn’t mean they have to start off at completely separate points though. Shiro and Keith both really struggle with developing close, intimate relationships. Neither one really lets their walls down around anyone else, and they both often put on a brave face to shoulder the weight of the world alone. Keith especially struggles with social interaction, and he comes off as very touch averse. Both he and Shiro are also very private, reserved people.
So, I honestly can’t picture either of them falling in love suddenly. For them, I imagine romantic attraction would have to come from first developing a deep emotional attachment to the person platonically–and from there, the relationship would organically progress to something more romantic. I can’t see Shiro and Keith’s relationship the way it is now in canon as ending platonically though. If anything, I would say queerplatonic, because then the intensity and commitment level of the partnership is the same as a romantic relationship.
I mean, I might be bias because I have two brothers and what Shiro and Keith have does not read as brotherly at all to me. Not in the least. But I’ve had very close friends that I ended up developing romantic feelings for in the past, and that is what Keith’s feelings on Shiro really make me think of. Particularly when said friend is of the same gender and you’re unsure of your own feelings so you mistake that love for them being like a brother or sister at first. That’s very relatable to me.
I’m pretty sure it’s also common for a narrative to imply a gay relationship by referring to characters as having a very close, sort of brotherly camaraderie as well. And characters naturally progressing from a close friendship or seeing someone as being like a brother and then having those feelings change to romantic interest over time–it’s fairly common for straight couples in fiction. You even see it with Aang and Katara. Had Shiro been a girl, I feel like there wouldn’t be so much insistence that sheith is meant to be just brotherly or platonic. But again, that’s just how I see it.