Post 2.17 Blair needs to get her groove back and rediscover the girl who danced at Victrola, crushed Georgina and blackmailed a duchess. But how will Chuck react to her embracing her wild side?

"Don't you think we should say something? He's going to find out eventually and it might be better if he had some warning first."

Chuck paused on his way to the breakfast bar at the sound of Eric's worried tone. He presumed he was the object of his little brother's concern. He so often was these days. He felt kind of bad that, Eric, for whom he really had developed a fraternal affection, was still anxious about his mental state. Chuck had lived most of his life without anyone really caring how (or what) he was doing and he wasn't used to thinking about how his self-destructive behaviour might influence anyone else.

Although knowing that there were now people in his life who did care was definitely a refreshing change, it was also accompanied by a new sensation of guilt when he realised that his breakdown after his father's death had affected Eric, Lily and even Serena. He refused to even let himself think about the other one he had hurt with his actions, the beautiful, perfect girl who had told him she loved him and who he had made cry, time and time again.

Chuck was working really, really hard not to think about Blair these days. Instead he distracted himself with work at Bass Industries, preparing for his return to school and unravelling diverting mysteries involving strange, albeit attractive, women. But the scotch that helped him sleep at night didn't seem to be doing anything to blot out the disturbing dreams of a sultry, brunette temptress dancing on a stage as she beckoned to him with every look from her eyes and ever sway of her body.

Unfortunately, his dreams were the only place he was likely to see Blair, at least in that lust-filled state, from now on. She was done with him. And although part of him believed he could still win her back, even now, if he really wanted to – he was Chuck Bass after all – he preferred to think there was nothing left to be done. He couldn't keep on hurting her, or himself. He couldn't tell her what she needed to hear, not because it wasn't true, but because he had no idea what he was supposed to do after he said it. He was terrified of screwing up. Chuck Bass didn't do failure.

Entering stealth mode, Chuck lingered out of view of his siblings in order to hear the rest of what appeared to be an interesting conversation. He didn't have any compunction about eavesdropping, even on the siblings he had recently gladly reunited with. Deviousness was in his DNA.

Serena sighed. "Look, I don't see how it's any of his business. He had a chance to be part of Blair's life. In fact, he had several. And in the end, he decided he preferred his hookers. So what Blair decides to do with her life should be none of Chuck's concern."

Eric shook his head. "You know it's not as simple as that. He's going to be upset when he finds out about this."

Oh God, she's seeing someone else, Chuck thought as he started to lose all sensation in his lower legs. She really was done and had now moved on, and he was an IDIOT for letting her. Why had he ever thought he was clever? In a moment of noble self-sacrifice he had told her she deserved better, and she had evidently gone out and found someone better and now his body was tingling all over like it was preparing to shut down in the face of a sudden impact of extreme pain. Any instinct of nobility or self-sacrifice had deserted him. The worst-case scenarios flashed through his mind as he tried to imagine who Blair's new suitor could be. Someone incredible, of course, because Queen B could not date just any of the numerous swains pining for her. He, Chuck, had been a blip in her dating history. She went out with guys like Nate "knight in shining Armani" Archibald and fucking future dukes of England like Lord Marcus. She deserved to be with someone as perfect as she was. Someone Chuck would never be able to compete with.

Chuck drew a breath and tried to calm himself. Neither Serena or Eric had actually said that she was seeing someone. Even if she was, it might just be to make him jealous. Wouldn't be the first time. Except that was before she had said she was done. So, worst-case scenario was that she was seriously seeing some guy who was way out of Chuck's league. If it came down to a simple choice between the two of them, he would lose. But he was Chuck Bass and he would never risk putting his heart on the line by letting her make that choice. He would do what he always did, and employ the ruthless cunning that Blair both loved and hated in order to eliminate the competition for her heart.

A feat that he would only be able to achieve with more information he realised, as he continued to listen intently. Serena seemed to be mulling over Eric's words.

"I'm not actually sure what Chuck's reaction will be. He might not care. He might even think it's a turn on."

Serena could be kind of kooky at times, and she did seem to assume the worst about Chuck's depraved tastes, but it was hard to see why she would think it would be a turn-on for him to see Blair with another guy. This could be promising.

"Serena, going back to school is going to be hard enough for Chuck. He's not going to be able to ignore this or her. I'm thinking about Blair too here. What kind of meltdown do you think there will be between them if he suddenly finds out about this and confronts her at school?"

Serena's brow creased. "Blair can take care of herself and she has nothing to apologise for. I seriously think you're overreacting." Silence fell for a few seconds as Eric gave Serena a meaningful look.

"But maybe we should keep an eye on him," she continued. "Given everything I suppose we would be doing that anyway. We keep him distracted for the next few days and maybe Blair's big news blows over."

Eric reluctantly nodded agreement. Chuck waited, hoping they would continue the conversation and provide some more elucidating details, but when this failed to occur he entered the kitchen to join them. Between Gossip Girl and the PI he kept on speed dial he would undoubtedly be able to learn about this situation regarding Blair sooner or later. Eric, who had not seemed entirely convinced by his older (but not necessarily wiser) sister's arguments, would probably impart whatever information he knew if Chuck was really desperate. Because even though part of him thought that it might be safer for both his sanity and hers if he stayed out of her life, it seemed that was proving a physical impossibility. He was such a masochist.

Chuck never got a chance to corner Eric during breakfast as Serena monopolised the conversation with a rant about the school play she was performing in, the hot director involved and how she was so ready to move on from her evil and cheating ex. Yet another reason for him to despise Humphrey. An inappropriate relationship with a teacher was the essence of daytime soap opera.

Serena continued her monologue as they headed for school. Obviously this was her big plan for distracting him. It might have worked, if he had the slightest interest in anything she was saying. As it was, he was not sufficiently absorbed to refrain from checking his text messages as the limo lingered in traffic.

Gossip Girl Here. You know how much I love getting pictures of my favourite Upper Eastsiders with their clothes off. But it seems there are soon about to be photographs of our reigning monarch in nothing but her underwear and her dignity all over the city. Congratulations B on becoming the new face of the Vamp lingerie line. We can already see the boys beginning to salivate. But I wonder how C will react B's new career choice?

This was what Eric and Serena had been discussing? He looked up, and found confirmation of this fact in their worried looks as they also finished reading the gossip girl post. At first, Chuck felt relieved. There was no other guy. Blair wasn't in any sort of trouble. Then he opened the image attachment accompanying gossip girl's message.

It was obviously one of the photos from the advertising campaign Blair was apparently starring in. Chuck's blood ran hot, and then went very, very cold. In the photo Blair was modelling a pair of red, lacy boy shorts. And that was it. Her back was bare as she looked over her shoulder, smiling seductively at the camera with her perfect ruby lips, a laughing light in her dark eyes. Chuck was instantly aroused as he stared at the familiar, delectable curves and touchably flawless skin. But the thought that this photo was currently being received and viewed by thousands of other males made Chuck's guts feel like they were being put through a meat grinder.

No wonder Eric thought Chuck would be upset. Had Serena seriously thought he wouldn't be bothered that Blair was about to be seen looking seriously sexy and nearly naked by men all over Manhattan? Hell, depending on the extent of the campaign, possibly all over the world? Eric knew him better. Right now, taking in the picture, the emotionless mask that almost always occupied Chuck's face had dropped. Instead his eyes were round and his mouth agape with a strange mixture of shock and desire. It was the same expression he had worn when Blair suddenly dropped out of her dress the night she danced at Victrola. But as the shock dissipated, Chuck worked to once more control his feelings and hide the quiet rage that was building inside him. It wouldn't do for anyone to know the extent to which he had been shaken up by a simple picture.

So he tried to control his voice as he turned towards Serena, although both she and Eric sensed the note of panic behind his cold delivery. "What possessed her? Why has our virginal ice queen suddenly decided to bare more of herself to the public than she let Nate see during almost the entire course of their relationship? It's not like she needs the money and it's not an activity I imagine she plans to add to her college applications."

Serena shrugged. "It was just an opportunity that came up for her at the right time. Besides, Blair's looking to mix things up a bit at the moment. With everything she's gone through with Yale and her dad and...her life...I think she wanted to try something new. I've been quite surprised by how far she's been going to embrace her wild side lately. She says she's sick of people having all these expectations of her and how she should act."

Chuck processed this. Serena might have been surprised by her best friend's sudden ability to let loose but she didn't know Blair like Chuck did. The fire burning below the surface was what had first attracted him to Blair and was what still continued to fascinate him. He almost smiled as he thought about a wild, untamed Blair who no longer felt the need to control or restrain herself. But the smile quickly died as he realised the full implications of Serena's words. Because of him Blair was making some very un-Blair like decisions, things she might later regret. He couldn't afford to forget that fire burns. It might even consume him and Blair both.

"And you just let her do this? You didn't think that as her best friend you might want to stop her from doing something that she would never normally do if she wasn't reacting against the various dramas that comprise her life?" Chuck spat.

Serena glared. "As her best friend, I encouraged Blair to do whatever made her happy. And getting this modelling gig has made Blair happy. It's boosted her self-confidence and given her her glow back. Something that might not have been necessary if it weren't for certain people. She's happy, Chuck. If you care about her at all, you won't ruin this for her."

Chuck breathed. Although part of him wanted to find Blair and alleviate this nauseousness he was feeling with a war of words, spewing forth his anger and jealousy would be both pointless and demeaning. Exposing himself like that to Blair did not fit into his game plan. He had decided to stay out of her life. When they happened to meet he would act the part of a mere courteous acquaintance. Chuck had to maintain his nonchalance in front of both her and others. Blair's actions might warrant an outburst if he was a possessive lover, they might inspire incredulity if he was a close friend, but in their new, distant relationship they could only be met by civil acknowledgement.

He smirked at Serena. "Fine. I'll be sure to give Blair my warmest congratulations later today," he told her as they arrived at school.

Chuck's determination to appear unaffected by Blair suffered a severe blow within two seconds of stepping out of the limo and onto the steps of Constance Billiard. There a group of St Jude's boys stood gathered around their phones, not taking their eyes of the beauty before them as they frenziedly discussed this latest development.

"I mean I always thought she was hot but these photos are something else man," drooled a junior Chuck failed to recognise. "I mean damn, that body just rocks."

"I'd like it to rock me," quipped another, provoking laughter and 'in your dreams' comments from the rest. Chuck's body stilled and suddenly there seemed to be a strange and painful pounding in his head. He didn't even notice that Eric and Serena had also paused a few steps above him to see what he would do.

The group continued the conversation obliviously. A tall, sandy-haired senior that Chuck recognised as Blake Harris from Nate's lacrosse team was the next to put his two cents' in. "Well, I've never really paid her much attention before because she's always seemed too uptight for my taste. I'm not into priggish girls, you know? But now that I've seen this whole new side of the lovely Miss Waldorf I definitely plan to give her a taste of the Harris charm. Tapping that ass before the end of senior year will be my final mission before I leave these hallowed halls." Blake's voice was full of cocky self-assurance.

Chuck's blood boiled. He had never thought himself prey to the uncivilised violent impulses that seemed to strike Dan and Nate when they were angered. He preferred to wreak his vengeance slowly and subtly through cold calculation. But at Harris's words he seemed to be automatically propelled towards the other boy, images of using his big stupid head as a basketball dominating his mind.

Chuck grabbed Harris's collar and shoved him roughly to the wall. Most of the boys who had been with him suddenly found they had an urgent need to get to class. Few people were willing to risk the anger of the infamous Chuck Bass.

"Firstly, since Blair has genuine princes on her speed dial, I doubt she'd respond to the pathetic charms of a jumped-up jock who barely qualifies as upper-middle class. Secondly, using the expression 'tapping that ass' is one of the many reasons no girl with any real taste will ever touch you," Chuck punctuated each of his points by shoving Blake against the wall again. The guy seemed too shocked to even try and free himself. Chuck couldn't believe anyone would dare talk about Blair that way. He tried not to remember that he had used the same offensive expression he was punishing Blake for many times himself in the past.

"Finally," Chuck continued, "Loitering outside during class time is an offence against school policy. I'll be confiscating your phone to ensure it doesn't cause you to commit any further infractions in the future." With that Chuck grabbed Blake's cell and smashed it on the ground, causing the screen displaying Blair in her provocative pose to crack and die.

Turning around and heading up the stairs Chuck groaned as he faced the sight of Eric laughing his ass off and Serena clapping his heroic performance.

"Either of you say anything to her and you're both dead," he warned as he stalked past them. It really didn't matter as Jenny Humphrey, newly returned, had already captured the moment on film and sent it on its way to gossip girl.

Chuck contemplated the irony that only this morning he had been freaked out by the prospect that there might be another guy in Blair's life. Now he positively wished that was the case. Dealing with one other guy would be easy compared to the situation he now found himself in. Because right now there were hundreds of guys all lusting after the one girl that he...still had butterflies for.

All day, everywhere he went, there was whispering about Blair's latest triumph, as it was being heralded by the impressed and envious girls, and the even more impressed and awe-struck guys of Constance and St Judes. After the video of him and Blake Harris was featured on Gossip Girl he was subjected to the delightful torture of hearing his name included in the whispers. He was fairly sure he heard the words 'whipped' and 'desperate' repeated several times.

The only small piece of luck he had was that Blair was not attending school that day. Apparently her new self had a more lax attitude to cutting class. Chuck was relieved because he did not think he could face an interview with her right now, not until he got this pounding thing that seemed to be going on in his head under control. But later in the day he began questioning whether he really was glad she wasn't there, as his heart seemed to start doing a strange jig in his chest every time he caught sight of a brunette and thought, just for a moment, that it might be his brunette. It had already happened thirteen times before third period.

His day was not improved by the ride home, which took him past a newly erected billboard dedicated to the Vamp lingerie line. On this one Blair wore a cream slip, stockings and high heels as she reclined on a chair with her feet in the air. The photo reminded him of her outfit at Victrola, increasing the ache in his crotch that the sight of those upturned lips had already inspired. Strange that the line she was promoting should be called vamp. That was what one of the hostesses had called her that night, shouting encouragement to the 'baby vamp'. There seemed nothing babyish about her appearance now. While she still appeared fresh-faced and innocent in the advert, her eyes had a titillatingly knowing look. He had probably been the one to put it there.

After initially being further tantalised by this thrilling thought, Chuck was again forced to realise what an idiot he had been. Because although he might have been the one to first awaken the sexual desires dancing behind that gaze, now it was on display for everyone. Including a collection of nearby construction workers who had downed tools to stare in awed amazement at the goddess above them. Chuck had to bite on his knuckles to stop himself from rolling down the window and berating them for wasting the millions of dollars he paid in taxes.

The final high point of the day was a family dinner which was dominated by Serena and Lily avidly discussing Blair's newfound success in the modelling industry. Serena averred that Blair seemed to have completely got over the nerves and stiffness that she had previously suffered from in front of cameras, which had apparently stopped her becoming the face of her mother's collection.

"I've already seen the shots they will be using for the Seventeen spread and they look amazing," Serena enthused.

"So there is going to be a whole spread featuring Blair? She must be so excited. That's quite an achievement for someone who's never modelled before," Lily put in.

Chuck ground his teeth and decided to have their current cook fired. The food tasted like ashes in his mouth, it had made him completely lose his appetite. Of course that might also have been down to the thought of a magazine being released showing multiple pictures of Blair looking alternately stunning, sexy and adorable in the new lingerie line. He had sneaked the preview photos off of Serena's desk when she was in the shower. It amazed him how Blair could perform poses and appear in garments that on other girls might appear slutty or cheap, but which she managed to carry off with the same sophistication and class as her usual conservative attire. But that didn't mean the spread wouldn't be used virtually as porn by the sex-obsessed and hormonal teens of St Judes. The photos had already had that effect on Chuck when he viewed them in Serena's room earlier that evening, causing him to retreat to his own room and arrive late for dinner.

"Eleanor must be very proud of Blair too. I should call and congratulate her, I suppose," Lily mused. She still felt awkward around Eleanor, always worrying that the other woman was judging her for her past poor performance as a mother. Lily resented this, especially as Eleanor wasn't exactly a hallmark version of maternal devotion.

Serena grimaced. "Eleanor's still in Paris meeting with buyers." She felt bad for Blair, knowing that her success would be more meaningful to her if her mother was a part of it.

To Chuck, however, these words provided a glimmer of hope. Maybe there was no need for that magazine spread ever to see the light of day. Maybe Blair would reluctantly be forced to resign her position as the face of Vamp.

"So has Blair informed Mummy dearest of her own latest exploits in the world of fashion?" Chuck drawled.

"Of course she has," Serena snapped, glaring at Chuck, knowing how his mind worked and instantly sensing a plot that could only mean bad things for Blair. And the truth was she didn't exactly know whether Blair had told her mother about the modelling job. The subject had never come up.

Chuck sensed she was lying and smirked.

Even with his new plan to end Blair's career before it had really begun, Chuck did not sleep well that night. He was tortured by dreams of walking into school only to find every single student leering at pictures of Blair, the guys laughing and threatening to 'tap that ass' or 'seal the deal' without delay. Chuck awoke in a cold sweat.

He was jumpy and nervous over breakfast, a fact both Serena and Eric were quick to pounce on him.

"What's with you this morning, Chuck?" Serena asked, as he sent his coffee mug flying across the table with one of his jerky movements.

"Nothing, sis, just that cloud of perfume you're wearing this morning is giving me a nasty headache. I don't think it's really your scent," Chuck responded bitchily.

"Really?" Eric put in with a smile. He felt sympathy for the guy he genuinely thought of as a brother and who had really been there for him in the past. But the sight of Chuck, who Eric had always thought embodied the epitome of cool, so shaken up over a girl was just too hilarious. "I thought maybe you had some bad dreams last night or something. It doesn't look like you slept too well."

Chuck thought, not for the first time, that his little brother was too perspicacious for his own good. But he answered flippantly, "I was rather troubled by a dream involving a pair of Spanish twins and a Swedish milkmaid. It's got me thinking I might have to go to Europe again."

Of course, mentioning Europe only made him think about the trip he was supposed to take with Blair last summer. He wondered if his life would be different now if he had gone with her. Witnessing his grimace, Chuck's siblings decided it would be best not to push him any further that morning. Neither of them really wished to incur the wrath of Chuck Bass, and it was beginning to look like he was reaching his breaking point.

That breaking point was finally reached when he arrived at school and wandered down the hallway of lockers. That's when he saw her in the flesh for the first time in weeks. It made him wonder how he could ever have mistaken any other brunette, no matter how pretty, for her, even momentarily. Because she was perfection. Everything about her seemed to draw him in like a siren's call, the soft curls of her silky hair, the blush in her creamy cheek, the delicate curve in the back of her neck that truly was his kryptonite. But it wasn't all this that broke his resolution to act nonchalant and continue avoiding her. It was the presence of dark-haired lothario lounging on the locker beside her, grinning inanely at whatever she was saying to him.

Blair was standing with her back to him and so she did not observe Chuck's approach. The boy before her was too intent on staring into her eyes to see Chuck's wrathful form or the warning glances being shot to him from other passing students.

"So my Dad pretty much owns Bendels," the guy was saying in what was obviously his low seductive voice. "One date and I swear, anything in the store is yours."

"She's Blair Waldorf. Anything she wants from any store is hers anyway," Chuck also kept his voice low in order to evade the curiosity of his fellow pupils as they passed by. However, the dangerous tone behind it reached the young lover's ears, while the humorous note reached Blair's. Her smile was almost instinctual.

The guy whose dad pretty much owned Bendels blanched and shuffled nervously. "Well...let me know if you want to go out," he quickly said before beating a hasty retreat. He had seen the video of Blake Harris and he did not plan on sticking around to be subjected to similar treatment.

"You're new boyfriend doesn't seem to have much staying power. That might be something you want to consider before taking him up on his offer," Chuck drawled, a small smile playing around his lips as he revelled in the sight of Blair Waldorf before him.

"And you might want to consider how easy it would be for someone to strangle you with that stupid scarf before you go around interrupting private conversations. But it's your neck." Blair smiled sweetly at him.

"Hey, anytime you want to play rough, Waldorf, you know all you have to do is ask," Chuck's hand seemed to act of its own accord as it reached up to graze Blair's cheek. She was the only girl who he always wanted to touch whenever he was around her, even if it was in a non-sexual way. Blair ignored the electricity that seemed to jolt through her body at the simple feel of his flesh against hers. She swatted his hand away.

"Thanks Bass, but it doesn't seem like I'm that short on playmates at the moment. I caught your latest performance with Blake on Gossip Girl by the way. Chivalrous, Chuck," Blair gave him her most evil 'I could care less about you' grin. "But unnecessary."

Chuck grabbed her arm to prevent her turning away from him. Instead, he pulled her in closer so that their bodies were almost, almost touching. She could feel the heat coming off his body and it was sending dangerous signals straight to her stomach and down to the point between her legs.

His voice was a whisper and she could feel his breath against her skin. "No, what's unnecessary is parading around in your underwear before the public in order to get a rise out of me."

"Oh, I've never had to do much to get a rise out of you," her eyes lowered suggestively and it was obvious she could tell just how quickly her mere proximity had caused him to rise to attention. She carefully removed herself from his grasp and took a step backwards. "But I'd appreciate it if you tried to control all of your more primitive urges. Being the new face of Vamp does seem to mean I'll be getting even more attention now, but trust me, it's nothing I can't handle."

Angered more by the loss of bodily contact with her than by her words, Chuck decided it was time to try out the threat he was hoping would put a spanner in the works of her latest scheme.

"And how's Eleanor handling her only daughter's success as a lingerie model? I was thinking I might call to discuss it with her, but then I wondered if she was even aware that you were virtually acting as a soft-core porn star." He tried to make his words sting.

"My mum's seen the photos and besides from worrying that white wasn't a very flattering colour for my figure, she couldn't be happier for me," Blair snapped back.

Whilst thinking that Eleanor was crazy and Blair looked incredible in sexy white lace, Chuck again attempted to push the issue, as he had been so sure that once Eleanor found out what Blair was up to her modelling career would be kaput. "She doesn't care that you're acting as spokesperson for another designer? So much for family loyalty," he tried.

"Eleanor Waldorf has never designed so much as a pair of panties so it's not really a conflict," she smilingly retorted. God, he hoped she never realised the devastating effect hearing a simple word like panties on her lips did to his self-control.

The confrontation had got both of their pulses racing and had undermined their efforts to appear oblivious to each other. They could both feel the situation escalating and were suddenly aware that they were both now alone in the hallway. If they kept going at it, Blair was sure she would either end up in tears or in Chuck's arms, maybe both. She was half-excited, half-terrified by the prospect.

The appearance of Nate Archibald broke the tension.

"Hi Chuck. Hey Blair," Nate smiled easily. "I was hoping to run into you."

Chuck turned to view his best friend crossly. Really, the guy had impeccable timing. It was times like this Chuck really resented the cluelessness he normally found mildly amusing in Nate. But his mild irritation increased to genuine and worried annoyance as he took in the gleaming, star-struck way Nate was looking at Blair. He'd seen that look too many times before and knew it signified that Nate was yet again convinced that he was in love.

"Really? Why?" Blair smiled at the ex whom she still viewed amicably, but with whom she had barely exchanged more than everyday civilities in the last year or so.

"I wanted to congratulate you on the whole Vamp thing. I couldn't believe it was you when I saw the billboard."

Chuck snorted. Of course, Nate couldn't believe it was her. He had never really taken the trouble to look at her properly the entire time she was his girlfriend. He never saw the sexy, uninhibited side of Blair that Chuck did.

"Well, thank you Nathaniel. You know I really appreciate the support of my friends." She shot a scornful glance at Chuck to let him know she wasn't including him in that statement. "Maybe you'd like to come to the launch party the company is throwing next Saturday? There will be lots of good-looking girls there modelling the line." She threw this inducement out there, even though she knew that Nate was seeing Vanessa. She didn't really care who he dated anymore, but she still thought he could do better than the female version of Dan Humphrey.

"Yeah, that sounds great. But I was actually wondering if you wanted to hang out this afternoon? Maybe run lines for the play?" Nate stared hopefully at his ex, totally smitten again now that she had once more managed to catch his interest by some visual stimulation. Not that he acknowledged this to himself. To him, he was merely trying to spend some time with a girl who had been his long-time friend until they lost contact recently. It was totally innocent, even if he couldn't help but notice they way the material of her skirt clung to her shapely hips.

"Don't you have to spend time with your girlfriend across the bridge this afternoon?" Chuck asked snidely, trying to re-direct Nate's attention from Blair. It was just so typically Nate to want whatever or whoever it was that he didn't have. He was like a kid, grabbing at any brightly coloured toy and then quickly losing interest and discarding it to reach for another. He didn't even realise he was doing it. But the sappy look on Nate's face was making Chuck wish he could bitch slap the guy to snap him out of it.

"Vanessa's working on some new art exhibition. So what do you say Blair?" Nate said, obviously eager for a positive response.

"Oh, I'm really sorry Nate, I would love to hang out but I have to meet with the editors of Seventeen to do the final approval of the photo spread," Blair explained apologetically, feigning more regret than she really felt in order to push Chuck's buttons.

"Oh, okay," Nate replied dejectedly.

"But you're doing really well in rehearsals," Blair leaned in and accompanied her words with a gentle squeeze of Nate's arm and a big smile, before turning and heading to class. Nate grinned stupidly like he'd just been given the best present in the entire world.

He turned happily to his best friend. "So do you want to hang out this afternoon?"

"Frankly Nate, right now I'd rather spend three hours with Humphrey listening to him whine about the hypocrisy and selfishness of the upper classes than spend a single minute with you," Chuck huffed as he left a stunned Nate alone in the corridor.

A few nights later, Serena wandered into Chuck's room, surprised to see him getting ready for bed at only 9pm. The last couple of days had been stressful for Chuck, but he thought that tonight he might finally be able to sleep better. He treated Serena to his usual smirk.

"Sis, you're finally crossing the threshold of my bedroom. You know my offer to give you the grand tour still stands."

Serena brushed off Chuck's sleazy comments, knowing there really was nothing behind them. She idly wondered what he would do if she did attempt to take him up on her offer. Run a mile? He hadn't brought a girl home all week and was now going to bed early and alone on a Friday night. A year ago Serena would have laughed at anyone who said Chuck Bass was capable of such a feat.

"I just got off the phone from Blair," Serena told him.

"And?" he raised an eyebrow at her. "I thought I made it clear that your best friend's life no longer concerns me."

"Yes, it's now clear to me that you have no interest in her whatsoever," Serena rolled her eyes. "I do want to thank you for not doing anything to upset her lately. She's really happy at the moment."

"I'm glad to hear it," Chuck said disinterestedly.

"She was very excited just now. Apparently she just got a call from Seventeen to say that it was one of their most successful editions. Most of the print run seems to have been bought out by a single anonymous collector."

Chuck coloured and motioned to the door, "Well, if that's all sister dear, you really should be letting me get to bed. Unless you've changed your mind about joining me?" He held the door open.

Serena walked out but turned back just as he was closing the door, "Oh, by the way, I think Mum wants to know why you withdrew over $100 000 from your personal account the other day and also why you requisitioned one of the Bass storage facilities. But I'm sure you have a perfectly good reason for doing so."

Chuck shut the door in his sister's face. He did have an excellent reason for doing what he did, Chuck reflected. Although he was not sure Lily or anyone else would understand why it was so imperative that he buy out the print run of the magazine featuring Blair in all her allure. It had simply seemed the obvious solution to him once he found out he couldn't actually stop the issue from going to print. And allowing Blair to be viewed that way by the guys they went to school with, not to mention the rest of the country, simply wasn't an option. He was also putting together a business proposal that would involve Bass Industries buying out the Vamp label, after which it would be easy to implement some changes in its marketing techniques.

Because he had been foolish to think he could simply avoid Blair, even though he had decided that he couldn't risk being with her. That was like thinking he could learn not to breathe if he simply ignored the existence of oxygen. He couldn't live that way. But it didn't have to be all or nothing. Because as much as Chuck adored Blair's beautiful body, after the other day's confrontation Chuck realised that what he really missed was the closeness and camaraderie they had shared, even before they became physically intimate. The verbal sparring that gave them both a thrill they got from no one else and proved that, whatever their current situation, they really were inevitable. Perhaps he could enjoy that again, by becoming her scheming but supportive ally once more, if he dialled down the intensity that had dominated their most recent interactions. Win her friendship back and keep a close eye on her to make sure she really washappy, seeing as he didn't trust Serena to do the job. And by being close to Blair he would also be in a position to know if anyone was getting too close to Blair. And do something about it.

He was just smiling with satisfaction over his new game plan when his cell phone beeped, indicating a new text message had received. He opened it to read the latest gossip girl blast.

Spotted: B sharing a drink with CB. The original one that is. Yes, it seems the notorious Carter Baizen is back in town and wasting no time in cementing his playboy reputation, putting the moves on the most wanted Upper East Side princess. But has B really found her new Prince Charming? Or is she about to kiss another toad?

The photo accompanying the blast showed the pair leaning towards each other intently while seated at a bar, and it really did look like he might be about to kiss her at any moment. Chuck was instantly out of bed and heading for the door, snatching up his crumpled suit on the way. He would have to change out of his pyjamas in the limo because he wasn't about to waste a single second in the race to find Blair Waldorf and stop the undeserving Carter Baizen planting a kiss on her luscious lips.