Full Summary: Natasha had no idea that such a coincidental meeting would change her life so dramatically. He spared her life, giving her a second chance to find purpose and a way to balance her ledger. Their friendship? She didn't over analyze it. It didn't need defining. It was hers. Hers and his. That was all that mattered. Until he was compromised and she came face to face with Loki and discovered herself unwittingly compromised as well.

Author's Note: This story kind of started as a simple vignette to explain the bond between Clint and Natasha as we see it during The Avengers, especially that final scene during Shawarma. But as I started to write a simple story that explained the relationship, I realized it wasn't so simple and that what I was writing would just be another shallow, short tale, easily overlooked and quickly forgotten. How could I treat such a complicated and beautiful relationship so lightly? Very simply, I cannot. I hope it's a tale worth reading. It's certainly been a tale worth writing.

Story will eventually be rated M for language, violence and sexual situations, but nothing gratuitous or overly graphic.

Many thanks to Alpha Flyer for her brilliant beta help. Without her, this story would be far less readable. Her knowledge has been an invaluable resource.

Defining Points

By Avenging Archer

Prologue

May 2012

New York

Shawarma

"So, when did you and Barton first meet?"

Natasha looked up, surprised that someone had broken the heavy silence that had accompanied most of their meal in the small café. Then she blinked as she realized the inquiry was directed at her.

It was an innocent enough question, especially coming from Steve Rogers, who asked out of curiosity, and not out of provocation as Stark would.

And yet, it wasn't.

Natasha could feel his eyes on her again.

Clint had watched her frequently during their meal, but whenever she looked back, he would only hold her gaze for a moment before looking away. She stared at him each time, trying to reassure herself that he was himself again, that Loki's hold was truly broken and that aside from a few survivable injuries, he was going to be okay. But he wouldn't look at her beyond a quick, curious glance, so she'd drop her eyes back to her food after a minute of studying him.

It was rude, she knew, the way they were watching each other while not watching each other and ignoring everyone else at the table, but she couldn't bring herself to care.

She was very aware of his foot propped up on her chair; he'd hurt his leg at some point during the fight. She'd seen the limp, though the others had not. His gaze burned into her as it always did, but she didn't turn to look at him this time.

Instead, she considered Steve's question.

She remembered that day well. It was, in fact, a day Natasha would never forget. It was a defining point in her life (she'd never admit that to anyone, least of all him, though he probably knew it), and while she couldn't honestly say he was the reason everything changed (because it had started before she ran into him…literally), everything that came after had a lot to do with him.

It was a day she remembered fondly, as evident by the slight tilt of her lips. But it was personal, complicated, twined too intimately with who she had been in that other life. Those were things she did not discuss, not even with those closest to her (she could count them on one hand), except him, and even then only rarely. Her almost smile slipped into a frown. At the moment, she could feel the awkwardness between them. It had been there since he had awakened from Loki's spell.

Steve's question made it seem even more awkward — until Clint bumped her with his foot, and she glanced up to see him look pointedly at Steve, who raised his brows and made her realize that the Captain would think she was ignoring his question.

Clint could just as easily have answered it himself, but he wouldn't. It hadn't been addressed to him. And now, since she had hesitated answering, she had the complete attention of the others at the table as well. They all looked at her expectantly. Why did she have that chilling feeling that she'd become a part of a predominantly male team that would gossip and stick their noses into her life worse than Maria Hill?

She took another bite, chewed slowly, then swallowed before answering. "We met briefly seven years ago. About a year later we met again, when Clint recruited me and helped me defect. It was almost a year later that we were assigned our first mission together."

She carefully did not look at any of them as she said the words, keeping her eyes on her food, but she could feel his eyes on her again, his amusement at her veiled answer. It was the truth, if the bare bones of the facts. She tossed him a meaningful glance to keep his mouth shut. His eyes crinkled ever so slightly at the corners with his hidden laughter, and her heart lightened to see it. The hell Loki had put him through hadn't damaged him as severely as she'd feared if he could laugh. She knew there was still a lot of guilt and repercussions to be worked through, but she could see her Clint there, lurking behind the shadow of fatigue and guilt. He acknowledged her silent demand to keep his mouth shut with a nearly imperceptible nod.

"So five years working together." Steve looked as if he'd figured out something important. "That explains it then."

The others nodded, each of the men staring at her with a knowing expression on their faces that made her want to run. Except him.

Clint looked smug, even though he was looking down at his food, as if contemplating whether to eat any more. He had only been picking at it for most of the meal. She ignored the others and moved her hand from her thigh to flick his leg. When he moved only his eyes to gaze at her from under his lashes with what she'd coined as his "puppy dog expression", she stared pointedly at his food then back at him. He sighed, dropped his gaze and took another bite, chewing slowly.

The others were watching them and smiling and making rather wrong conclusions as people always did. It rather unnerved her, the intensity with which these men did so. Were they really that curious about her and Clint and how long they'd known each other? She supposed it was only natural since she'd exposed how much Clint meant to her while he was under Loki's spell. It had been careless of her to expose that weakness. Loki had used that connection to the point of compromising her. Or rather, making her aware of just how compromised she was.

She swallowed down the rising emotions within her and focused on only what they wanted to know. "A lot can happen in five years," she said without expounding. Let them think what they would. Most of SHIELD assumed the two of them were fucking each other. It didn't matter if those assumptions were false. Denying it wouldn't change what people thought, and her new team was already thinking it as well.

Clint made a sound, then coughed a bit, but didn't add anything. He sipped his drink and kept his eyes deliberately on his food. He was trying not to laugh. She almost smacked him, but settled for shifting her foot against his on the floor and pressing her heel down on his toes. He winced and stuffed another bite into his mouth. She removed her foot.

Thor tilted his head, then nodded. "That is very true. You two have…an affinity for each other. It is like you can read each other's minds. You speak your own language without words. You do so even now. Throughout the meal, you have said not two words to each other, and yet you have spoken volumes with your body language."

Steve nodded in agreement with Thor's wordy statement of the obvious. Bruce's eye brows raised as if just considering it. Tony rolled his eyes. If it had felt awkward before, now she found it rather unsettling. All eyes were on her, even his. What was she to say to Thor's observations? What did they want her to say?

She gritted her teeth in annoyance. She really shouldn't be surprised that they'd noticed the level of intimacy she and Clint shared. Most people did within an hour of meeting the two of them, though most were wrong as to exact nature of the intimacy between them. Still, this wasn't a conversation she wanted to have with anyone.

The friendship — and that was all it was no matter how many people assumed there was more to it than that — between her and Clint was not something she could define or explain. It just…was. It was one of those things she chose not to examine too closely, just accepted. It was a gift, something special that didn't need defining. It was hers. Hers and his. That was all that mattered.

"Most long term partners are like that," Clint's voice rumbled softly as he answered for her. "You work with someone long enough, closely enough, you get to know their idiosyncrasies. Natasha and I just click, that's all."

He shrugged and then promptly took another huge bite of his food, making it impossible to say anything else about the matter. She could feel his eyes on her again, and she followed suit, taking a bite, figuring that if her mouth was full, she wouldn't have to talk anymore. It wasn't any of their business anyway.

Tony sat back looking a bit annoyed that they hadn't been more forthcoming. But she was grateful for small favors. So far he hadn't opened his mouth to comment about them himself. Nearly dying after having the crap beat out of you several times over several days would be enough to wear anyone out. Bruce looked rather bored. Or maybe he was just tired as well. They all were.

Thor set back into his food with a flourish. Natasha had never seen anyone eat like that and she'd spent the last five years mostly in the company of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, so that was saying something. Steve just drooped, dropping his head into one hand, his elbow propped on the table, his exhaustion palpable. And Clint went back to his watching but not watching her. So much for conversation.

But really, it was hardly the time to have a heart to heart pow-wow. First off, she didn't do those. Second, she was still too raw. There was too much she needed to process after all that had happened. But Steve's question stirred memories, and she suddenly found thinking about the past to be much more reassuring than processing the events of the past several days. It was easy to take comfort in remembering the past, especially the day Natalia Romanova first laid eyes on S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Clint "Hawkeye" Barton.

Her lips twitched with amusement. Stark had called him Legolas. But to her, he would always be Robin Hood, though she had never told him why. Maybe she should? She could feel his eyes on her again, but she ignored him, taking another bite of her pita wrapped whatever it was.

Funny how at the time Natasha had no idea that such a coincidental meeting would change her life so dramatically in ways she had never imagined possible. She didn't see him again for many months, but during that time, she thought about him. Everything had changed after that first encounter.

To Be Continued...