Please note, that I made changes to this chapter.

I meant to say this in the first chapter, but thank you so much to everyone for the reviews and the alerts to the fic.

Chapter Two

The Project

Jogging so quickly across campus that he was practically running, Peter figured that he would be lucky to catch the last ten minutes of class. At times like this, he wondered why he even bothered.

Peter had woken up late that morning, feeling as if he were hung over. He had been out half the night chasing down thieves and stopping a guy who had wanted to give his ex-girlfriend a holiday gift by ending it all. And if that were not enough, some clown tried to run off with a Salvation Army Santa's pot of money.

The nerve of some people, Peter muttered under his breath, Here I thought Christmas was supposed to be about peace on earth and good will toward men.

Yet, he knew he had little cause to complain. His life was finally on track. Things couldn't be better with Mary Jane; after so many years of unrequited love, heartaches, and crises, they were a couple who could be open about everything.

Peter couldn't help but smile at thought of his girlfriend. And as much as he wanted to marry M.J., he knew how critical it was to repair the foundations of their relationship, which had been sorely tried in the weeks leading up to Harry Osborn's tragic death.

She should be hearing from her agent any day now, he thought. Mary Jane had noticed auditions for the revival of a Broadway musical that was going to come out in the spring. Peter genuinely encouraged her to try out, after all, what did she have to lose? It was a risk on her part, sure, but Peter knew if the director had any sense in his head he would cast her.

But right now with Christmas barely a week away, they were going to spend the holidays with Mary Jane's mother, whose cancer was in remission after seven grueling rounds of chemotherapy.

Aunt May would not be with them this year. She would be on a trip to up state New York to care for her niece Linda Brown, who was very ill. It would be their first Christmas apart since he was a small boy. She hadn't wanted to miss Christmas with Peter and Mary Jane, nor pass up the chance to visit Ben's grave on Christmas morning. Peter assured her that he and Mary Jane would be fine and told her to go and have take good care of Linda, promising that he would put flowers on his uncle's grave at the appointed time.

Peter bolted into the Science wing at Columbia University and peered into Professor Connors' empty classroom. He had missed the entire class, something he had not done in a while. He headed over to Dr. Connors' office, figuring that he might as well take his dressing-down like a man.

He knocked tentatively on the door.

There was no answer, mustering his courage, he knocked a little louder.

"It's open," Connors called out.

The professor's expression did not change when he saw who was standing in his doorway.

"Parker," Connors acknowledged without so much as a nod. Was Peter imagining it, or was his mentor's tone laced with irritation?

"I'm sorry that I-"

Connors cut him off. "You missed class. Don't worry about it."

With a barely audible sigh of relief, Peter remembered that he class was an optional review session for the final exam that would be given the next day. Since he already knew the material, he did not have to be there.

Professor Connors put down the paper he was looking at. "I had wanted to discuss something with you today."

"What is that?" Peter wanted to know.

"I'm sure you've heard of Tony Stark."

"Who hasn't?" Peter had trouble containing his enthusiasm at the mere mention of Tony Stark's name. Stark, like his father before him, was a high-tech entrepreneur who had amassed a huge fortune designing and building defense systems for the United States military. His reputation was world class, or had been until a freak accident in Afghanistan a few years back. Peter supposed Stark's near-death experience and time in captivity made the billionaire entrepreneur turn over a new leaf. He had sold off the defense contracting division of his firm and had funneled millions into humanitarian and charitable causes. One of them was the Maria Stark Foundation, after Stark's mother, that was based right in New York. He also changed the name of his base company in LA from Stark Industries to Stark International, leaving no doubt of his intention to play ball in the global business arena.

But his enthusiasm dimmed slightly. Peter knew that Stark wasn't only a businessman-

"Then you know of him? Good. I would like you to be my research assistant on a project that Stark International is sponsoring."

"Your assistant?" Peter let his mind get back to the matter at hand. He could not believe his ears. This was going to be big; it had to be, with Stark's backing.

"Yes." Connors gave him a hard look. "I want you to consider my offer very seriously, Peter. This is groundbreaking work, Peter, a chance to do pioneering research in a promising field. But understand this - there's big money involved here. There'll be meetings and progress reports. If you're going to come aboard, I expect you make this project your top priority, outside of your regular classes. Am I making myself clear?"

"Yes, sir." Peter could barely contain his excitement. This was the opportunity that he been waiting his whole life for; the chance to work on the cutting edge of science and technology and to have his contributions recognized. But he understood, in no uncertain terms, that he was in the big leagues now, and his excuses would not be tolerated. If he was late to a single meeting, Connors would throw him off the project in a heartbeat. He had to reshuffle his priorities, and fast.

He just hoped that Spider-Man understood Connors' message as clearly as he did.

"Good." Connors continued. "You'll get college credit for this, as well as being paid a research stipend, of course. You'll have to sign a confidentiality agreement and submit to a background check."

Peter's heart felt like it had momentarily stopped beating. A background check? How the hell can I let anyone do a background check on me…? "Um, I'll need a few days to think it over," he said, as his customary sense of caution overtook his initial excitement.

"Of course. You can give me your decision after finals unless you need to wait until after the holidays, but the sooner the better."

"I'll do that. And thank you for the offer, Dr. Connors."

Peter left Connors' office and wandered through the science wing, lost in his own thoughts, pondering the pros and cons of the professor's offer. If he took the internship, he would have to give up his full-time job as a staff photojournalist at the Daily Bugle, a job that had taken him nearly three years to get. Not only would he have to take a drastic pay cut, but he would once again be without benefits.

There were other concerns as well, beginning with the scruples and integrity of Tony Stark. He was larger than life, a celebrity, not to mention one of the world's richest men. But he also had a reputation for being a shark at the negotiating table. There were also stories about drinking and womanizing. Most of these stories had come from the Daily Bugle and other tabloids years ago. He seemed to have rehabilitated himself, at least in the minds of the public.

But there was the matter of Iron Man. Shortly after returning to the United States, Stark had constructed an incredibly powerful suit of armor that boasted an incredible array of built-in weapons systems as well as flight capability. But what no one had known, at least not until Stark held a press conference only mere days after Iron Man's first and only battle with Iron Monger that Tony Stark himself was the man in the tin suit.

Peter harbored a great deal of skepticism about the world knowing Tony Stark was Iron Man. Sure, by taking down Iron Monger, he was definitely contributing to the greater good of society. Peter knew that Stark most likely would be coming to check on Connors' and Peter's progress. That is, if Peter took the job. But it wasn't only that, Peter didn't know if Stark would act as Iron Man while here in New York. Unlike Peter, Stark had been to different parts of the country - no, the world - as his alias. Peter himself had not been outside of New York. And also, no matter how much good Peter had accomplished, Spider-Man was still considered a vigilante.

But with Stark in New York... Peter thought. Hey, wait a second… Maybe if I went to him, he could make a better suit for me… He laughed that thought off, imagining himself showing up at Stark's offices whenever he was in town and saying something like, "Hi, Mr. Stark, I was wondering if you could build me a new Spider-Man suit, something that won't get torn to shreds every time I go into battle…" No doubt, he'd call the cops. Or take me on himself...

Another thought occurred to him. He was not the only hero in New York, although there were times when he felt like it. There was Daredevil, with whom he had just had his first encounter…

Suddenly Peter noticed something strange.

The lights were on in Professor Warren's lab. He knew right away that something was amiss because the labs were normally closed during finals week.

But what he saw when he opened the door was an even bigger surprise. Two boys, teenagers from the looks of them, were sitting at one of the lab benches, hunched over what looked like a chemistry experiment. One of the boys was pouring a clear yellow liquid into a beaker.

"What…?" Peter never got to finish his question. His spider-sense flashed red as the white, powdery substance inside the beaker turned dark brown and began to erupt.

There was no time to even shout a warning. Hurtling toward the boys like a missile, he scooped them right off their stools and drove them toward the wall, away from the impending explosion. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a fire extinguisher mounted on the wall. While shielding the boys with his body, he reached up to grab the extinguisher.

In so doing, he had inadvertently turned his face back toward the rapidly failing experiment, a catastrophic mistake on his part.

His spider-sense began to go off like an alarm, but he didn't need to know just from his 'sense' that the mixture of chemicals the two juvenile experts were putting together was about to burst.

The beaker exploded. Shards of glass and blobs of a lava-like material flew everywhere. As fast as Peter's reflexes were, the presence of the boys made it impossible to shield himself without exposing them to danger.

He screamed in shock and pain as he took a direct hit in the face.

He could hear the boys yelling behind him. "Let's get the hell out of here!"

"But we can't just-"

"Come on, dammit. Move!"

Fighting through excruciating pain to maintain awareness of his surroundings, Peter heard the sound of receding footsteps, a door slamming shut, and then silence. He was alone, and in desperate need of medical attention.

Getting up slowly and painfully, Peter kept his eyes covered with his hands. Opening them would be unbearable.

Despite the horrendous agony caused by cuts and chemical burns, Peter managed to drag himself into the corridor. From having had most of his classes here, he knew the layout of the building like the back of his hand. The first thing he thought of was the restroom about halfway down the corridor, about thirty feet from the lab.

Once he was inside the restroom, he felt for the sink. Turning on the spigot, he plunged his hands under the stream of cold water and splashed his face, taking care not to touch the fragments of glass that had plunged into the skin around his eyes.

Slowly, carefully, Peter opened his eyes, but all he could see was blackness. It was as if he hadn't opened them at all.

His heart started racing. Surely-?

No time to panic… Think!

Peter knew he couldn't handle this on his own. He'd have to get help somewhere. Which meant he had to get to the hospital. But if he did that…

But he couldn't do that! They would-

Oh no…

Feeling his way around, he locked himself in one of the stalls.

With shaking hands he slowly unbuttoned his shirt. He heard glass fall, and felt small shards bite into his hands. He had been lucky that he did not take a direct hit in his eyes, although they were still burning from the fumes caused by the explosion.

And he still could not see…

He had to get his costume off; he was under no illusions about that. Usually, he could have it on and off in seconds, but now it must have taken him at least five minutes to get his clothes off. Breathing shallowly and gritting his teeth to keep from being overwhelmed, he slowly divested himself of the red and blue… first the top, then the pants. Then redressed back into his street clothes. Twice, he was nearly overcome by a wave of nausea.

Peter picked his costume off the floor and, with great difficulty, stepped out of the stall. Feeling his way around the restroom, he eventually found the trashcan near the door. Though a painful haze, he dimly recalled that his gloves and mask were in his coat pockets. The trashcan was the last place he wanted to put his costume, but he was injured and had to get to a doctor fast.

With utmost reluctance, he pushed aside the receptacle's cover.

Suddenly, the door to the restroom opened.

Edited: The information I've got on Tony Stark is what I've watched on the film and read on the comics.

Also note the timeline has changed slightly.

Thanks for reading, please review. Jenn