Author's Note: Yep, still breathing.

Seventh Interlude

Director Nick Fury sat at his desk and ruminated over the newest report on Coulson's health. The man remained in his coma, carefully watched and guarded by the Avengers and their support staff. His physical condition continued to improve dramatically however, astonishing the doctors handling his case. Fury could have told them the man had a tendency to overcome people's estimations on a regular basis, but his mind had been focused on a different issue.

He had made an extremely bad miscalculation.

His agent's 'death' had given the team the necessary push to move beyond their doubts and come together to face Loki and the Chitauri, but now it had backfired. The Avengers and their people distrusted him. Even his agents only spoke with him when absolutely necessary. Rogers and Thor maintained disappointed airs, Stark gave him a double dose of sarcastic wit, Potts treated him with an icy formality, and Banner, Foster, and Lewis avoided him altogether.

His face still held a phantom pain from the slap Miss Lewis had landed.

Her anger had been unexpected. He knew of her relationships with Barton and Romanoff of course, but he had not realized how attached she was to Coulson. As soon as they moved Coulson to the Tower, he had reread all of the reports involving Coulson and Lewis. The early reports from Barton focused on a noticeable level of respect shown by the agent in regards to the girl, although later reports became less open. Fury gleaned the general start date of Barton's relationship with her to that point. Romanoff gave high marks to the girl from the start, but she would back almost any play by Barton anyway. The reports from the other agents in the field tended to be less circumspect. Upon rereading, he came to a startling conclusion.

Coulson had been deflecting attention from the girl.

Despite his notation of Lewis' potential, Coulson had downplayed several key aspects of her abilities – in particular her potential as a handler. Coulson's loyalty to SHIELD notwithstanding, he obviously wanted to keep Miss Lewis independent of the agency. The question was – why? Why would Coulson seek to prevent SHIELD from obtaining such an asset?

The memory of the slap gave Fury his answer – her loyalty was to people, not organizations.

Although Miss Lewis was gifted, highly gifted, at managing touchy, fragile, and frenetic egos, she could care less about an organization and its goals, however lofty. She would not be able to put aside the needs of the one to focus on the many. He could hear her arguments already. She would quote Hollywood, but the point would be the same – "Without the one, there is no many."

Darcy Lewis was not SHIELD material.

She was also outside of his reach. Stark and Potts made it quite clear by placing her on Stark's payroll while Thor gave quite the speech at a recent clearly claiming the girl as family and under his personal protection. Any attempt to send her home or convince her to leave would lead to even more dissention by two of his…SHIELD's best agents as well as the remainder of the Avengers and their group. Still, her presence gave a balance to the team – as someone they could all trust even while they still had issues with each other. It would be intriguing to watch how and if things shifted once Coulson woke up once more and both 'handlers' were active.

Would they remain centered on Miss Lewis or would they reform around Coulson as the original plan called for?