ash ketchum as a doting father, but for his pokemon
he takes out his wallet and starts showing complete strangers individual photographs of every single one of his pokemon. he’s named all of the tauros. it takes him an hour to get through half of the pictures. he’s missed his bus stop
Shadow Selves, Intuition, & the Nature of Trust: Brucenat in AoU
I had a particularly enlightening discussion with nevermesswithteddybears over on twitter today and I thought I ought to share the revelations I had re: brucenat as a result.
So like Joss says, there’s something between these two characters that they “can’t deny,” and as Mark says, they’re “kindred spirits.” In order to unpack this language we have to look at their interaction in the first Avengers film.
This necessarily involves a discussion of the helicarrier scene. When Bruce begins to Hulk out in front of Natasha, she’s terrified, yet she calls him by his first name, a very intimate gesture (I don’t think she calls anyone else by their first name in the film? correct me if I’m wrong, but I think she uses last names and nicknames/titles for everyone else). There’s no more “Dr. Banner,” just a deeply troubled and empathetic “Bruce!” As scared as she is, she is scared for him as well. She knows he doesn’t want this and that the deception involved in bringing him in to S.H.I.E.L.D. (where he would unwittingly be helping them create the “phase 2″ Tesseract-based weapons of mass destruction) is part of what set him off. And she can empathize on a visceral level with his desire to do good works and she knows that she is directly responsible for depriving him of that opportunity by taking him out of Calcutta. Both of them have monstrous identities that they must not only live with but which they strive to atone for. And those identities can never be wholly separated from their total selves - there are strengths and skills that are based in those identities and will forever serve as reminders and potential triggers of them.
This is why I think Natasha later tells Bruce that they “could use a little worse.” She herself is “a little worse” than your standard heroic Avenger - her skillset can never be entirely divorced from her dark past, which will always cast a shadow over her heroic present. But some people work better within the shadows and can put them to use - and that is the case, I believe, for both her and Bruce. They can’t separate their present, nobler selves from their darker selves, but they can control how those selves manifest.
Bruce apologizes to her for what happens on the helicarrier, but Natasha makes the first substantive move in building their relationship into something stronger when she, who has no concrete reason to trust him after what happened on the helicarrier, decides to trust him to Hulk out responsibly and fight the Leviathan. When Bruce shows up, I don’t think he’s asking her permission to fight alongside the Avengers, at least not exactly. But somehow I don’t think he would be as willing to fight with them if he thought she would disapprove. But she chooses to give him her blessing - quite a gamble for someone who almost lost her life at his hands, especially for someone as careful and calculating as she is. Why does she do this? It’s probably due to a combination of pragmatic and intuitive/sympathetic factors - the fact that the Avengers stand to gain more than lose from unleashing the Hulk, given the Chitauri invasion, and also because of what she has seen in him. That ineluctable, humble nobility beneath all his weary cynicism and self-deprecating, dry wit that caused her to call out his name in hopes of pulling him back from the brink when he was losing himself to the beast within. She sees in him something worth admiring and trusting even when he does not extend the same courtesy to herself. Something that she may not realize is at the core of her true self as well - something she unconsciously empathized with and reached out to as a fellow creature hiding a selfless soul under layers of protective moral ambiguity.
This leaves them on roughly even moral ground - she deceived him, he nearly killed her, but they both find it in each other to reach out to each other and ultimately trust each other in spite of these initial encounters. They choose to seek understanding for both pragmatic and intuitive purposes, because of their belief in the Avengers’ cause and the use their skills could be in a team context, and on a more personal level, Natasha also does so because of her unconscious affinity to Bruce as a “kindred spirit” who recognizes that he is actively working towards his best self as she is (that is why she called out his name). Bruce doesn’t know Natasha well enough to realize their connection yet (Natasha’s moral character is far harder for him to decipher than his moral character is for her to decipher and she’s got him beat in the psychological analysis department to begin with), but he’s aware of her earnest desire to protect him in the helicarrier, and I’d argue that laid the foundation for him to trust her in turn.
A big part of their arc together in AoU, I think, will be Natasha helping Bruce to trust himself. I think Natasha’s decision to expose her past to the world in TWS shows that she has a handle on who she is and what she believes in, more than most in the MCU. She’s worked through a lot of her issues with trusting in a cause that might not ultimately be practical, and thereby trusting in her nobler self. Bruce is still struggling to trust himself, but Natasha’s position as his bodyguard, of sorts, will likely help him work through that. As Katarina/ nevermesswithteddybears pointed out in our conversation, this scene is a prime example of that:
As she puts it,
“it’s kind of like ruffalo said; in their relationship, she protects him. and i feel like right here, when they’re in danger he’s her first priority. she knows he doesn’t want to turn into the hulk, and i feel like she turns to him to reassure him that it’s gonna be okay, but also to reassure herself that he’s got it under control…i just find it so beautiful because everyone is looking at ultron and probably thinking about how to deal with that threat and the two of them are basically just checking if they’re okay.”
There is a visceral, wordless nature to their communication that is built out of that trust, or at least, that is the sense I am getting from the trailers (see the hand-touch scene as the ultimate example of this). That might manifest itself in Natasha going in for a kiss in that one scene in the farmhouse - again, that would be a leap of faith in which Natasha trusts Bruce before he trusts himself.
What it comes down to is that they both have identities that are shattered at their core, yet somehow, they can still see each other's essential being. That’s what that hand touch represents I think. Natasha sees and accepts all of Bruce while trusting in the nobility she sees in him, allowing him to begin to trust himself, and Bruce brings out the central part of her that is buried under all the assumed identities and personas and walls she’s put up. The core identity I don’t think even she’s entirely certain she has, because it was basically taken from her and unmade in her childhood. It’s there - Bruce doesn’t create it. Her true and best self is omnipresent (think of all the people’s lives she put before her own throughout the films, especially in TWS), but she doesn’t recognize it for what it is because she finds that “it’s easier to keep your true self buried under several layers of untrue selves, to protect yourself.” But I believe that through her ability to trust Banner with her life, no easy task, she comes to a point where she is able to trust him (and by association, the rest of the Avengers) with her true self. Selves can be manipulated in ways that the simple flesh and blood of a physical body cannot (she should know, as the manipulation of her self and the selves of others is Natasha’s stock and trade), so I imagine it might be harder, whether consciously or unconsciously, for Natasha to trust anyone with her true self. Including herself. But I think Bruce will be an important exception to the rule that’s kept her alive for so long, and in with that trust as a foundation Bruce will begin to reconstruct his own self-worth - a task which Natasha is, I would argue, somewhat further along in completing due to the events of TWS and her willingness to bare her soul to the world.