After briefly being brainwashed into fighting the Avengers, she returned to Russia and broke all ties with her former superiors. When she returned to the USA, she divided her time between freelance work for Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. and informal assistance on Avengers missions against the Sons of the Serpent, the Ultroids and others. When she and Hawkeye were captured by General Yuri Brushov, she learned Alexi Shostakov still lived as the Red Guardian; he protested his employers’ dishonorable treatment of the Avengers and seemingly sacrificed his life to save them. Unaware Shostakov had again survived, a depressed Natasha retired from action before the Avengers could induct her as a full-fledged member, and she contemplated a marriage proposal from Hawkeye which gained more emotional impact after she briefly believed him dead; however, when Ivan Petrovitch resurfaced in the USA to again serve as her friend and confidant, Natasha’s spirits lifted and she broke ties with Hawkeye to pursue a solo vigilante career, fighting the Astrologer, Watchlord and others.
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