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Star Baker

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"Alfred, 66, lives in Gotham City and works as a butler and manager of an American household."

"Well, I'm originally from London," Alfred said, peeling an apple with a knife that didn't quite look kitchen issue. "But I've worked for the Wayne family for, gods, over thirty years now. More than that."

The camera cut to Alfred serving slices of cake to a few dark-haired men sitting at a dark wood dining table in a high-ceilinged room. They smiled fondly at Alfred, who spoke a few unheard words that made the whole room laugh.

"Yes, of course people still have butlers," he said. "Not a lot of people, but it's a noble profession. I take great pride in my work."

***

"I can't believe Alfred is on the Bake-Off," Tim Drake said. "How did you do it?"

"He tried out," Bruce said.

"And?" Damian leaned in over the dining table.

"We received an intelligence report from one of my sources of a potential threat. To the show. I see why it might become a target," Bruce mused.

"Why aren't you investigating it yourself?" Damian asked with a scowl.

"I can't bake," Bruce said.

***

"Alfred, tell us about your bake," Paul barked.

"It's a quince tart," Alfred said, not looking up from where he was cutting butter into a bowl of flour for the crust.

"Quince can be so lovely," Mary said. "I see that you are using your own jelly?"

"Our household has extensive grounds," Alfred said. "The trees were grown from cuttings taken from the royal orchards of Balmoral."

Mary's eyebrows leapt toward her hairline.

"I didn't know Bruce Wayne was much of a farmer," Paul said, folding his arms.

"He is a man of many talents," Alfred said with a wry smile. "But I supervise the horticultural endeavors."

"I can't wait to taste it," Mary said.

***

Paul bit into a slice of pastry and chewed thoughtfully. Mary sampled it, chewing on one side as always.

"The filling is wonderfully tart, and the almonds give it a great creaminess," Mary said.

Paul kept chewing. He swallowed.

Alfred looked him square in the eye, unintimidated.

A slow smile spread across Paul's face. "Well done," he said, extending a hand.

Alfred shook it, and got a strange sense of deja-vu, and a cold feeling all over his body.

"Thank you," he said.

***

"What's your take, Alfred?" Batman asked.

Alfred looked into his tablet screen, connected to a secure video call with the Batcave. "Not sure," he said. "None of the contestants seem suspicious, though a few are not going to get very far with such poor time management, I can't believe--"

"What about the hosts? The crew?"

"Nothing definitive. I got a very peculiar read on Paul Hollywood when he shook my hand, though. Seemed almost...supernatural."

"I'll look into it. Take care, Alfred. And watch out for soggy bottoms."

Alfred glared into the camera. "I would never."

***

"Now Paul, tell us why did you choose Bottled Surprise as the technical challenge for the semi-final? It is a very unusual recipe indeed."

Paul's eyes glazed over. "I can't rightly remember," he said in a thick voice. "I don't think it will matter much after all."

"Paul," Mary said with concern. "I am desperately curious. May I try a slice?"

"I wouldn't recommend that," he said.

Mary's eyebrows drew together into a frown. She looked at the camera man, who shrugged blankly.

"It should be a very interesting bake," she said with tact.

***

“That’s funny,” Tim said, looking down at an arcane map of an English county. “Where did you say Alfred was off filming?”

“Welford Park, Berkshire, England,” Bruce said flatly, watching a monitor and typing sporadically.

“According to this map, there are several major ley lines that converge right there,” Tim said. “It’s a supernatural powder keg.”

“Oh,” Bruce said. “I wonder if Alfred’s found anything?”

***

"Mary, Paul, you may retreat into your protective bunker," Mel said, ushering them away.

"According to the information I have been provided, bottled surprise is a special invention of Paul's dating from his restaurant days," Sue announced. "I am told it is quite a blast to eat. You have thirty minutes."

"Contestants," Mel said. "On your mark."

"Get set," Sue drawled.

"BAKE," They both moaned simultaneously.

They removed the checked cloth from their ingredients and revealed the usual items, whole meal flour, plain flour, strong flour, caster sugar, eggs, cream, butter, vanilla paste, and a few more. There were pie weights, aluminum foil, some kind of cleaning fluid, and an empty soda bottle.

"This recipe is a bomb," Alfred said, squinting at the instructions he had been given.

"Don't be so hard on Paul," Mel said. "I'm sure it tastes better than it sounds."

"No, ma'am, you must listen, look at this." He pointed at his instructions. "I can't imagine putting shrapnel into a vessel and starting a chemical reaction is a recipe for anything other than utter disaster. I won't do it, this must be stopped. Sarai, Dev, please." Alfred turned to his fellow bakers. Margaret was already pouring the liquid into the vessel and adding the pie weights.

"I think we should follow the brief," Dev said.

"I've never heard of bottled surprise," Sarai said, "But I never heard of koignemum either, and those didn't explode. But who ever heard of using drain cleaner to leaven a cake? What is Paul thinking?"

Alfred marched toward their workstations and snatched away the bottle of murky liquid with its label obscured. Margaret got her butcher knife up and warded him away.

"Hey!" Dev said. "Give that back, what is going on?"

Sarai burst into tears. "I just came here to bake," she wailed.

"Fucksticks!" Sue shouted. She and Mel ran over to Alfred, getting between him and the cameraman. "Tesco! Weetabix!"

"Cadbury-flavored cunts," Mel spat. "Alfred, are you mad?"

"I am a former SAS officer, madam, and I know an improvised explosive when I see it." He marched past Mel and Sue out toward the part of the tent where Paul and Mary sequestered themselves. Several producers tried to stop him, but he handily dodged their advances, pouring the suspect ingredient onto the grass, where it immediately fizzed and wilted the foliage.

"Someone take that bottle away from Margaret!" he called over his shoulder.

***

Paul was, maybe unsurprisingly, defensive about his choice of technical challenge.

“Paul, put the torch down,” Alfred said firmly. “You’re not in your right mind. Something has got a hold of you and you have to fight it, man.”

Paul brandished a lit brûlée torch in one hand and a knife in the other.

Mel clutched Sue close, and the other contestants stood behind them.

“Please,” Mary croaked. “Paul, come back to us.”

“Wha--” Paul said. He shook his head and dropped what was in his hands in order to clutch at his head.

Alfred dove for the lit torch before it could roll to the edge of the tent and set it on fire. He grabbed it and extinguished the flame.

“You weren’t supposed to be here,” a voice hissed.

“Who, me?” Mary said. “I’m here every week.”

“HIM.” A ghost wearing a top hat and monocle materialized right behind Paul, and pointed at Alfred. “The tents. The ley lines of power. With the right sacrifice I could have resurrected an army of Picts! I could have taken over the Bake Off! If it weren’t for him, that meddling butler!”

“Gentleman Ghost,” Alfred said, displeased to recognize the rogue. “Well. You’re no Joker.” He picked up the knife Paul had dropped and flipped it in his hand, getting a good fighting grip on it.

“This bake’s looking a little pale,” Mel said, and Sue suppressed a hysterical giggle.

“Do you think you can stab me, a ghost?” Gentleman Ghost said, filled with rage.

“No, but she can,” Alfred said. “Mary, will you please do the honors.”

Mary’s eyes widened in surprise, but she took the knife that was offered to her.

“Yah!” Mary grunted as she lunged, swiping the blade right through the ghost’s ethereal body. A bright slash of light appeared where the knife made contact, and the ghost clutched at himself.

“No,” he moaned. “No, she can’t banish me, only royalty can…”

And then he was gone. Everyone stood around in shock for a moment.

“Madam, I assure you that being the queen of cakes is quite good enough,” Alfred said. He took Mary’s arm and walked her back inside the tent, and poured her two fingers of scotch from a bottle tucked under the tablecloth.

***

Shaken, everyone gathered back together, and the cameras rolled.

Mel took a breath and spoke. "This week, I have what is normally a delightful task, but this is not a normal week. We award star baker to someone who not only bakes the best pies, pastries, breads, cakes, and confections in all of Gotham City, but who also saved us from the clutches of a super villain."

"I can't believe that is a real sentence that you are saying, out loud, on television," Sue said. "2017 has certainly been a year."

"This week, we award star baker to Alfred. Well done, Alfred," Mel said.

"All in a day's work, I'm afraid," he said primly.

"Are your days normally like this?" Dev turned to ask him.

"You have no idea," Alfred sighed. But he smiled. Bruce Wayne had many talents, but *he* had never won Star Baker.