"...and as I was able to detect no attempts on The Eye in the last month, I cannot present an update, positive or negative, on the theorized danger to the Stones." Dr Strange concluded his report and sat back with a nod towards the head of the conference table.
"Alright then," Stark gave a wide, friendly smile to the gathered Avengers, but Bucky could see that it was polite rather than spontaneous. This was the first Board meeting he had attended, so he didn't know if they all brought out this professionally distanced side of the man, or if he knew what was coming and had put up his walls in preparation for the fight. "Since there is no additional business, we can-"
"I have new business, Tony," Steve interrupted. "Bucky wants a vote on his official placement on the team."
He kept a straight face out of habit, and wasn't going to start a fight in these circumstances, but really, Steve was the one who wanted his official Avenger status finalized. Though he supposed that agreeing to come to the meeting and ask meant he wanted it too.
Colonel Danvers frowned slightly. "Team placements don't generally require a Board vote unless they're contested. I thought Winter was proceeding through the assessments normally?"
"Yes, and he's passed all those assessments, Tony even made him a combat rated arm, but refuses to officially place him on the team. If he has an issue it should be voted on, not unilaterally decided."
Everyone at the table turned to look at Stark, who just pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. "While that is procedurally correct, I have veto power on Team placements, so I didn't see the point of calling the vote just to say no publicly."
"Damn it, Tony!"
"Also, to clarify, I haven't rejected Barnes as an Avenger. He is officially a Reserve member, which is why I upgraded his arm. I am simply unwilling to place him on the current roster due to concerns about team dynamics."
Steve sneered, "You mean because you don't like him." James couldn't help but flinch, both from the contempt in his friend's tone and the idea that Stark was still holding that much of a grudge. He had really thought that they had bonded a bit through shared experiences in the BARF therapy, and he respected the hell out of the man.
Barton was the one to respond from his lazy slouch across the table. "Don't be silly, Steve, if Tony kept people off the team because he didn't like them, Winter still would have been on long before you or me." Stark rolled his eyes but didn't deny it - tensions had been incredibly high for months after Steve's group had sought help from the inventor and the new team that had gathered around him.
"Fine, he doesn't trust him then, whatever."
"Pretty similar problem there-"
Col Danvers cut in sharply. "Or we could act like professionals here and wait for Iron Man to elaborate himself."
"Thank you Carol." Stark gave her a brief but more sincere smile before addressing the table at large. "The dynamic at issue isn't related to me at all, but Captain America's extremely protective behaviour towards Winter. We have a mandate to prioritize planetary security, followed by bystanders and civilian emergency crews. Captain-"
"I understand our priorities just fine!"
"In general, yes, but when Barnes is involved, you make bad decisions. Your presence on the main team is set, so Winter won't join it."
James was surprised steam wasn't coming out of Steve's ears. "So dedication to your team as individuals is a bad decision? I've always cared about every one of the Avengers, and just because I won't make cold blooded decisions about the men I fight with, I don't-"
"You closed the wormhole on me!" Everyone stopped - stopped talking, moving, even breathing for a moment. Most of them hadn't been there, but everyone knew what he was talking about. Iron Man pushing a nuclear missile through a hole in the sky to save New York hadn't been hard for Bucky to find more information on after they had shared the memory. Eyewitness reports and amateur videos showed clearly that it had almost closed before he fell back to Earth, but he hadn't known that the Avengers made the call.
Steve tried to placate Stark, which Bucky could have told him was a mistake. "Tony, we had-"
"JARVIS recorded all the comms traffic, and that little clip of me coming through that was everywhere the week after makes it pretty clear in any case. You made the call to shut it down, and Romanoff did it." His tone was slightly pained, but calm, and when Steve leaned forward, he was cut off before he could even open his mouth. "And I have never held it against either one of you. If anything, it was what made me think you could be trusted to lead Fury's little superpowered boy band."
Dr Banner nodded. "Practicality. After the fight on the Helicarrier, you needed to know he could make tough calls, even if they didn't fit his ideals."
"That's why you're my favorite, Brucie." The smirk was tired though, and he turned back to Rogers with a hard look. "It was the right call, the only call really, because I wouldn't have been grateful to come back only to be followed through by the explosion I'd worked so hard to send elsewhere. And I figured you weren't a total Honor Before Reason type after all. That you could do what needed to be done, even if you felt bad about it."
This time is was Rhodes who spoke up. "But you don't think he could make that kind of call if it was Bucky on the line."
Stark was looking straight at Steve. "If it had been Barnes on the other side of that portal, you would have told the Widow to hold out, to wait for him. And if she had been smart enough to know you were compromised and shut it anyway? You would have found a way to hurl yourself through after him, just to believe he didn't die alone."
Steve's jaw was set in full 'Captain America will not back down' mode. "And you won't let Bucky on the Avengers because you think I'm too loyal to him?"
"I think you would burn down the world for Barnes. And since we are in the business of world saving here, I am exercising my veto power to prevent you from serving on the same team." He stood up, looking every inch the CEO he'd been for decades and the General he'd become in recent years. "James Barnes, aka Winter, has been deemed qualified for the Avengers in both power level and temperament, but cannot join the current roster due to concerns about team dynamics. He is approved as a Reserve Member, and is eligible to be placed on a satellite team when they are enacted." Stark met his eyes and James gave a small nod of understanding. "In the future, I suggest that questions about my decisions be raised in a less public forum first, if only to save the Board's time. This meeting is finished."