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GREAT BRITISH BAKE-OFF SERIES NINE

FINAL SCHEDULE

WEEK 1: CAKES
WEEK 2: BISCUITS
WEEK 3: DESSERTS
WEEK 4: BREAD
WEEK 5: PASTRY
WEEK 6: BOTANICALS
WEEK 7: PIES AND TARTS
WEEK 8: ALTERNATIVE INGREDIENTS
WEEK 9: PATISSERIE
WEEK 10: FINALS

TWELVE CONTESTANTS SELECTED: ANTILLES, WEDGE; CALRISSIAN, LANDO; CANADY, MODEN; HOLDO, AMILYN; HUX, ARMITAGE; JACKSON, FINN; JOHNSON, REY; SOLO, BEN; TANO, AHSOKA; TARTH, PHASMA; THREEPIO, CEE; TICO, ROSE.

JUDGES: MON MOTHMA & MACE WINDU

HOSTS: POE DAMERON & BB AYT

APPROVED FOR PRODUCTION

Rey takes a deep breath. The tent is as beautiful as it has ever looked on television. More beautiful, really, because it’s real. It’s pastel, and comfortingly bright unlike the windowless kitchen in Rey’s flat. There are already a few people milling about, saying hello.

“All right, bakers,” Poe says, looking about at each of them, “Before the cameras get rolling, I just wanted to say a personal welcome to you all, since from here on out, everything’s going to be filmed. We’re so excited to have you here.”

“Really and truly,” BB adds. “You’re all incredible bakers—you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t. So this is about fun, and about learning, and most importantly, about making sure that I get to have the best biscuits I could ever dream of.” The tent fills with laughter and Poe and BB look at one another.

Rey’s mouth goes dry as Mace and Mon step forward. “We’re really looking forward to working with you over the next few weeks,” Mace says.

“It’s one of my favorite times of the year, when we’re shooting this program,” Mon adds. “Each and every one of you is going to do wonderful things. And some terrible things. But also some wonderful things.”

Rey almost believes it.

Her fluid mechanics class is hard, and she’d been terrified of failing her first final, but this—the stress of this is unlike anything she’d ever really thought of before now. I don’t want to let you down, she thinks as she stares at the judges, her mouth dry and her fingers picking at a loose thread in the hem of her shirt. She hasn’t even spoken to Mace Windu or Mon Mothma yet, but she already dreads disappointing them.

But then again, she dreads disappointing everyone.

“All right, no more sentiment,” BB says. “Don’t want to go soft on them, or else they won’t prove their dough for long enough and we can’t have that.” Laughter fills the tent again. “You get to pick your baking stations so have at.”

Originally from Westminster, Rey is a student in London, where she is studying mechanical engineering. To de-stress between her classes and studying, she is an avid baker, and at nineteen, she is this year’s youngest contestant.

“I’ve never made ice cream before. Can you believe I went out and bought an ice cream maker for this? Mental.” Rey is staring at the machine as it churns her first attempt at key lime ice cream.

“How’s it going?” Ben asks her on the other end of the line.

“I could do with a teacher. But videos on Youtube will have to suffice. I think I got the proportions right.”

“I could help,” he offers. There it is, that forcedly casual tone of his, as though he’s desperate to not come off as too pushy. He’s older than she is, and since she hasn’t told anyone in her life that she’s seeing him, she has to be the one to remind herself that he has more life experience than she does. But that doesn’t keep her from sensing, in the back of her mind, that there’s a loneliness that’s twin to hers, somewhere buried in all of the things he doesn’t want to talk about with his family.

“I feel like that could be cheating,” she says carefully. In truth, she wants nothing more than for him to come over, but she’s always been good at teaching herself and she suspects that she’d get caught up kissing him the way she tends to when they’re alone. “Trying to distract me, Solo?”

He lets out a huffed laugh. “Definitely want to sabotage you.”

“I knew it.” She watches as the green folds itself in, and in, and in to the boiled cream, and sugar, and milk. “God, I’m going to have so much of this by the time the week is out. And it’s not easy to leave this in the engineering department for people to eat. I’m going to be stuck with key lime ice cream for weeks.”

“I can help with that at the very least.” She can hear him grinning into the phone. He’s hasn’t come over yet. For the past two weeks, he’s dropped her off outside her building, but she quite likes the idea of him in her kitchen, eating her ice cream and maybe something he’s baked to go with it.

“Yeah,” she says. “Yeah, that’d be nice. After judging next week, maybe? If traffic’s not too bad?”

“It’s a date.”

Wedge suggests a pub for dinner several towns away that has a patio out back where they all sit, talking through their bakes that day.

“Last in the technical.” Lando isn’t the type to moan, but if he were, Rey suspects he’d be moaning. “I knew the second it was going to need a pastry, I’d be done for. I’m terrible with them.”

“Isn’t there likely to be a pastry week?” Hux asks, a slight smirk on his face.

“I have to make it that far, first,” Lando says with a wink. For all he’d been not-quite-moaning about his technical only moments before, it doesn’t seem to have affected his confidence at all. His signature bake had gotten a rare smile from Mace and with so many other bakers around, Rey’s quite certain that he feels comfortable with being likely to stick around this week, despite having come last in the technical.

Rey feels solid. Mon had praised the way her biscuits had been presented, the only comment for improvement being that some of them—the ones near the back of the oven—had been a little too close to overcooked for the judges’ taste. That’s easy enough to fix, Finn had said as he’d eaten one, Just don’t cook any more biscuits with the tray in lengthwise. It had been a stupid mistake. Such a stupid mistake. She’s better than that—even when she’d first started baking, she’d been better than that. But the mistake hadn’t sunk her in the end. She’d come in sixth in the technical so she feels quite safe, so long as tomorrow isn’t a catastrophe.

Her stomach twists in a knot. She’s an engineer, or trying to be. She’s been taking apart and putting engines back together since she was twelve. If she can’t execute her gingerbread car properly, she doesn’t know what she’ll do. Probably cry again.

She casts a sideways glance at Ben. He’s sitting there quietly a few seats away from her between Hux and Phasma. He seems to be ignoring them completely, his eyes on her. The moment she looks at him, he looks away though, and Rey turns her attention back to Finn and Rose, who are now chatting happily about Poe and BB and how funny and kind they are.

She doesn’t mean to kiss him—not really.

She knows it’s a bad idea, that there are plenty of reasons for her not to do it. They have to be on camera together again next weekend, for one thing. And yeah, it’s not like she’s sleeping with the enemy or anything, given that she’s far more likely to be undone by her own failings the way she would have been this weekend than because he’s a better baker, but he’s still her competitor.

It’s a horrible idea to kiss him.

But that doesn’t stop her from doing it outside the pub that they stop at for dinner on their way back to London. One moment they’re chatting about the weekend, how surreal it is to finally be on the show, how strange it is baking with cameras in your face all the time, and the next she’s thanking him for helping her and pushing him against a wall. He lets out a muffled noise of surprise, but he doesn’t push her away.

No—he pulls her in, his hands—large hands, she had noted in the tent while he’d been mixing his batter—coming to rest at her waist. There’s something sweet to his mouth that she doesn’t think can possibly be the sugar they’d been cooking with because they’ve just had dinner, she should be tasting some beer and a steak pie. What is that flavor?

She gets lost in it a bit, her tongue running along his, and it’s when he wraps his arms around her that her mind returns fully to the here and now and it is not without a curling nervousness in her stomach that she realizes that this—this may well be more than just a kiss.

Ben , originally from Cambridge, is a software engineer in London. Baking has always been part of his family, and today’s sponge is a twist on an old family recipe.

“You two look positively relaxed!” BB chirps strolling past Rey’s workbench. She and Ben are sitting on the floor, staring at her oven, his long legs stretching out far past her own. “Don’t you know it’s Bread Week?”

“Look,” Rey says, pointing towards the proving drawer. “Bread.”

“Not stressed then?” BB asks.

Rey shrugs and glances at Ben. They’re sitting probably too close together, their shoulders are touching. She’d been careless last night talking to Finn. When had it gotten to be so that she was careless when there are cameras around too?

She leans forward and gets to her feet, and Ben follows suit, returning to his workbench.

“You taught yourself?” he sounds impressed.

“Yeah. No one in my life baked.” There. That’s easier than saying I didn’t have anyone. No nana who would pass down family recipes, no aunt or uncle who pushed me to test flavors. “What about you?”

“Learned from my uncle,” he says at last.

“That’s lovely.”

“Not really. We don’t get on much anymore.” There’s a storm in his voice.

“Oh—sorry.”

“You didn’t know.”

“Do you think of him a lot when you bake?” she asks, thinking of the glower he’d given throughout the weekend that had made him seem so much less kind than the man who’d offered her a ride back to London.

“Sometimes,” he says. “Yeah. Yeah, a lot of the time, actually. But I’d rather bake than give it up just because he and I—” he cuts himself off.

“It’s all right,” Rey says softly. At least, she thinks it is. She doesn’t know what his deal is with his uncle, and she certainly knows better than to ask. “And look where you are. You’re one of the best bakers in the country.”

He swallows and looks at her out of the corner of his eye. “I was gonna say the same of you.”

She gives him a shy smile. He gives her one back.

Her department finally works out that she’s on the show when a picture of her makes it onto one of their Twitter feeds.

“Rey?” Professor Auka asks sternly, turning her laptop to face Rey. KING’S STUDENT IN SEMIFINALS OF BAKE OFF. “Is this why you’ve been bringing us so much food lately? Why didn’t you tell us?”

A knock comes on her hotel door right as she finishes putting her pajamas on and Rey opens it to find Ben standing there.

“Can I come in for a sec?” he asks her. His voice is low, almost breathy, and she stands aside, letting him pass.

“I know it’s a long day tomorrow,” he says once the door has clicked shut behind him. “So I won’t take up too much time, I promise.” Something in his expression makes her throat go dry.

“What’s up?”

“We never talked about last week,” he says quietly. “I wouldn’t have thought of it—” something in the forced attempt at casual tells Rey that this is a lie, that he has thought of it quite as much as she has, “But today in that tent, I just…” He swallows.

And Rey steps forward and she’s kissing him again, wrapping her arms around his waist again, pressing him into the wall again, and this time—this time, Ben doesn’t seemed surprised by it at all. His arms twine around her back, and he pulls her against him as though he doesn’t ever want to let her go.

He does though. He pulls away from her gently, his forehead resting against hers as he takes a steadying breath. “Right. Right. So.”

“So,” Rey says, grinning. She kisses him again—quickly this time—and he clears his throat.

“The show,” he says. “It’s probably best if they don’t—if we don’t—”

And Rey follows his line of thought at once. For all the program is one that doesn’t seem melodramatic—the height of drama in previous seasons came from someone’s cake falling over and that was about it—she does not doubt that the producers and cameramen would leap at the opportunity to make there be something out of nothing in their relationship—especially if there was something out of something.

“Yeah,” she agrees, though she feels herself deflating as she says it. “Yeah, probably. We can pick baking stations that are…” but she doesn’t want to complete the thought. She likes baking next to Ben. She’d been calmer today for it, she thinks, after the incident with the cinnamon the week before, and texting him.

“Or we can just be careful?” he suggests, sounding quite as pained by the prospect as Rey feels.

“Yeah, careful. I can do careful,” Rey says at once and her lips are on his again and he’s laughing now, and she’s laughing, and she didn’t think laughter would be part of all this. She didn’t think it could be. But here she is, laughing and kissing and holding a man who, at some point, she’s going to want to beat.

She does her best not to think of that now.

It’s a friendly competition, after all.

It’s not life and death.

It’s baking.

It’s about an hour and a half into the Showstopper when she hears a crash. “This is a disaster. Why didn’t you tell me you were moving it?”

That’s Ben’s voice and before Rey turns, she hears another crash.

Ben’s baking station is a mess, appliances have been thrown in anger to the ground. He is staring, angrily, at Armitage, who is contentedly stirring the batter for his Baked Alaska.

She doesn’t hear Armitage’s response—it’s said quietly, and Rey hears Ben let out another frustrated yell as he bangs his fist on the counter and—with a gasp from those nearest him—throws his half-melted ice cream into the bin and storms out of the tent.

No one says a word. Poe and BB follow Ben out of the tent, as do a few of the cameramen.

“What happened?” Ahsoka asks Armitage.

“The bloody fool knew that two of the freezers are broken.”

“You took his ice cream out without telling him?”

“I was literally right in front of him when I did it. It’s not my fault he didn’t notice. He certainly didn’t have to throw around everything at his baking station.” Armitage looks at the bench behind him.

Rey looks down at her batter, then at the timer. She has all of three minutes before her sponge needs to go in the oven or else she won’t have time for decorating. She glances at Finn. “Don’t take my ice cream out of the freezer,” she only half-jokes.

Under ordinary circumstances, she’s sure that Finn would have laughed, and joked about sabotage. Now he just nods and says, “I’ll guard it with my life.”

She hurries out of the tent after Ben, where she sees Poe and BB following him as he paces angrily around outside.

“I’ve already binned it, haven’t I?” she hears him ask, rounding on Poe. “Can’t very well remake my ice cream now, can I?”

“You can’t just present them with nothing.”

“I can. I should. I can’t make a Baked Alaska now.” He sounds frantic.

“Breathe,” Rey tells him and all three of them turn to look at her. He’d told her to breathe that first week, after she’d forgotten her cinnamon. The camera is on her now, she should care about that, why would a fellow competitor follow Ben out of the tent, especially when she’s got less than three minutes to get her sponge in the oven.

She watches as he inhales and exhales, his body quivering, his eyes flicking between each of hers.

Then, without a word, he strides back into the tent, rolling his sleeves back up.

Poe follows him, as does the camera.

“Rey, don’t you have a sponge to take care of?” BB asks her quietly.

“Right,” she says and makes her way back to her own station. Everything is in order, her sponge is ready for the oven. She bends down and puts it in, not looking towards the back to see what Ben’s doing, doing her best to ignore the camera that is right in her face.

“Time’s gonna be tight,” she mumbles, because the producers had told them that they should always try to say something to the camera. It makes for a better final edit when the episode airs.

When the camera drifts away, deciding that Rey is boring, she glances back at Finn.

“What did you say to him?” he asks quietly. His sponge is in the oven, his ice cream is in the freezer and he’s pausing in his decoration prep, curiosity and concern in his eyes.

“I just told him to breathe,” Rey says. As if they’d known that she was about to talk about why she followed Ben out of the tent, there’s another camera, pointing at her and Finn. Better to give them what they want, then they’ll leave me alone. “He told me to breathe after I forgot my cinnamon in week one. And it’s not the same, but it helped. He was panicking.”

“And damaging property.”

Rey caves and lets herself look at Ben’s station. He’s put the kitchen aid back in place and seems to be using it. His resting expression has always been surly, but now he looks downright enraged as he pours some ingredient into the mixing bowl.

“Yeah,” she says. “Not good.” Frightening, really.

A red flag, really.

Her throat squeezes and she turns back to her station. She’s got little biscuit sailboats to make for the top of her Key Lime Baked Alaska and she’s already extremely behind in everything.

The tears are falling before she even knows what to do.

“What’s wrong?” BB asks. “What happened?”

“I forgot the cinnamon,” she moans and she knows it’s stupid, it’s just baking and it’s not the end of the world but she’d promised that there’d be cinnamon in her sponge. It was part of the title of the thing she’d told Mon and Mace when they’d done their circuit around the tent.

The cameras are already on her and that makes everything so much worse. She’ll forever be remembered as the girl who cried over forgotten cinnamon, sent home on her first challenge because she’d left out the key ingredient.

BB swoops into the shot like her guardian angel. “Coca Cola,” he says loudly and the cameraman glares at him. “Sprite. Pepsi. Dunkin’ Donuts. McDonalds. Away with you, chaps, I’ll just keep going. Burger King.”

The contestant behind her—Ben she thinks his name is, but there are so many of them, and she’ll never get to learn them all because she’ll be sent home for this, she will—makes a noise as though he’s clearing his throat and Rey turns to him.

Their eyes lock for a moment, and Rey hadn’t noticed his eyes when she’d first seen him—what with everything else to notice. He’s the tallest person in the tent, though not by much since Phasma’s also huge. But he’s built, and his neutral expression is a harsh one and she’d been a little bit nervous when he’d chosen the station directly behind hers. She’d had the feeling he’d be breathing down her neck.

“Deep breaths,” he tells her quietly. “It’ll be ok.”

Easy for him to say, she doesn’t see him having forgotten the rosemary out of his rosemary and lemon drizzle. Rosemary and Lemon, she remembers thinking when Mace and Mon had done their rounds. She wanted to get a taste of his after he was done. She hoped she’d get to. She loves rosemary.

She stares at him. She doesn’t really understand why he’s still watching her, looking concerned. While she doesn’t think that anyone’s out to get other bakers, it’s definitely odd that he’s trying to be kind to her right now when he should be celebrating her cock up. Shouldn’t he?

“Do you need to step outside?” he asks her, his voice low. “Just for a moment or two—get yourself settled again?”

“I think I just need to start over,” she says at last. Whole new sponge and hopefully it’ll be done in time…

As though he’d read her mind, he asks, “Do you have time for that?” His are eyes back on the cameras which are over by Lando, who seems to be doing something flashy with burning alcohol for his drizzle.

“I don’t know,” she says. “But I can’t not have cinnamon in my cinnamon sponge.”

“Can you put it in your drizzle?” he asks her and Rey feels her heart stop. She could kiss him, it’s the perfect solution. “That’d get it down into your cake if you do it right, and you won’t have to waste any more time or—”

He stops talking because the cameras are back and Rey turns to her saucepan.

“Rey, what’s the plan?” BB asks her encouragingly—clearly ready to jump back in if she starts crying again.

“The glaze,” she says. “I was going to do a simple vanilla and orange glaze, but I don’t think cinnamon would go amiss there.”

Behind her, she hears Ben opening his oven, and almost misses BB’s, “That’s a clever solution.”

“Thanks,” she says to Ben when the camera has disappeared again.

“Of course,” he says. “Can’t wait to taste.”

Her mouth goes dry when she sees the gleam in his eyes. But before she even has time to react, before she has time to see if he’s noticed her reaction, he’s turned back to his glaze.

In the end it really was Armitage who had to go. His Baked Alaska was just…not good. The bake was terrible, the flavors were horrible. After that technical challenge, he really had to outperform a good number of people and he couldn’t pull it off.

Ben was on really thin ice, and it was really more Armitage’s poor performance than Ben’s failure to produce a Baked Alaska that sent him home. Under any other circumstances, he’d have been out this week.

“For the first sponge, I’m doing chamomile. Then a peppermint, and the last one’s a matcha,” Rey tells Mon and Mace.

“So all teas,” Mon says. “That’s clever.”

“And challenging, to get the right balance of flavors,” Mace adds.

“It’s been challenging, but I’ve gotten it decently well so far, I think.”

“And what are you doing for decorations?” Mon asks.

“Piped buttercream flowers,” Rey replies. What she doesn’t say is that this cake is the one she wants at her wedding if she ever gets married. What she doesn’t say is that it’s what she wants her garden to look like if she ever has a garden. What she doesn’t say is that when Ben had tried her chamomile sponge that week, his eyes had rolled almost sinfully into the back of her head.

Rey doesn’t let herself get good feelings. It feels dangerous. But Botanicals Week really feels like her challenge in a way that Ben had felt at home during Bread Week. She doesn’t get good feelings because they let her get lazy, but she thinks she stands a chance at Star Baker this week, based on her practice runs.

“Lovely,” Mon says.

“Good luck,” Mace says, his eyes piercing into her soul. But Rey isn’t frightened of them this week. She doesn’t think she’s going to disappoint this week.

No.

She knows she’s not going to disappoint this week. This week is going to be a triumph for her. She can feel it in her bones.

They don’t talk about the kiss. Not when he’s dropping her off in her flat, nor over the course of the week. They text about their plans—which feels far more like sleeping with the enemy than kissing him had. He doesn’t seem to want to talk to his family about what he’s baking and needs a sounding board and, well, it’s not like Rey has anyone she’s close to.

Parmesan and Apple, she texts him. Does that seem like a good flavor combination?

She’s nervous about flavor combinations, truth be told. It comes from growing up the way she did, where anything sweet was good and the nuances of what could actually meld together flavor-wise was never part of the picture.

Yes, he replies back quickly enough.

She makes so much gingerbread that week that she ends up bringing her trial bakes to her department and begging them to eat it—which doesn’t take much begging after word gets out that she’s actually good at baking. She doesn’t tell them why she has baked more than her weight in gingerbread over the course of the week. If she gets sent home this week, she wouldn’t be able to bear the shame of everyone knowing.

She snaps a picture of her final attempt at her Showstopper—a gingerbread car with a raised hood revealing a candied engine and texts it to Ben.

Trying to intimidate me, Johnson? He asks, before adding, That looks good. Mine’s a wreck.

I’m sure it’s not. What is it?

The picture that comes through to her phone is, in fact, a wreck. Overbaked it, but figured I might as well try and get practice on the physical maneuvering. Not all of us are mechanical engineers.

The layout’s fine, but that looks like charcoal, she says, smiling at her phone.

You should smell it, too. Need a ride up on Friday?

Rey hadn’t known whether to ask him. She’d wanted to, she really had. But they hadn’t talked about the kiss at all, and she didn’t want to be presumptuous. If you don’t mind, I’d like that very much.

Yeah, me too.

“Just like this—steady hand,” Rey says, breathing against his ear, her hand over his. “Smooth, gentle. Careful now.”

She can hear him breathing shakily, but his hand is stable as she guides him, the buttercream flowing smoothly out of the pipe.

“Just keep circling,” she tells him.

“This is erotic,” he tells her dryly, and she pinches him.

“Shut up, it’s beautiful.”

“Isn’t there that painter who turned flowers into vaginas or something?”

“I took you into my kitchen, I offered to show you how to pipe roses with buttercream and you keep on having your crass thoughts.” She bites his ear lightly and even though she can’t see his face, leaning over his shoulder the way she is, she knows that he’s smiling now.

“This doesn’t look like a rose,” Ben sighs, looking at the attempt he’d just piped onto some parchment paper. “It looks like an ugly lump.”

“Well, you’ll have to keep practicing,” Rey says.

“Think they’d ding me if I just decorated with flowers instead of piping them?”

“Probably not, so long as your flavors are good,” she replies. Ben’s flavors are always good. His decorations are not. If he piped his roses well, though, maybe Mon would say that it didn’t look casual this time.

“I still can’t believe people actually decided to try piping flowers,” he sighs, leaning back in the chair and looking up at her.

“It’s nice to make things look pretty,” she says. “Sometimes pretty’s all people have.”

Whatever he’d been about to say dies on his lips. Instead, he says, “Is that why you did it? Because you didn’t have a garden, but you could at least make your cakes look like them?” From his lips, it almost sounds stupid.

“I’m going to have the biggest garden in the world one day,” she tells him. “Full of roses. I’m going to eat teacakes piped with roses in them. You’ll see.”

Ben’s Galaxies Away gingerbread will have nutmeg icing to hold the diorama together, and will depict friends on separate planets made of candied oranges and yams.

“I’m really happy for Finn,” Rey tells the camera as they film her end-of-episode summary. “He deserved Star Baker. His diorama was wonderful.” It truly had been—detailed and delicate and when she’d gotten a bite of his gingerbread it had melted in her mouth, and made her believe that maybe one day she’d actually be cared for by someone who could bake her gingerbread like this. She never wanted to bake gingerbread ever again. “And it’s gutting, really, about Amilyn. I guess it just goes to show that they really care how you perform each individual week, and that it’s not like school where it’s all cumulative. It’s how you do for each challenge.”

In the distance, she can see Ben leaning against the hood of his car, waiting for her. The camera man asks her something, but she’d missed it while looking at him. “I’m sorry—can you repeat the question?”

“I said, what do you think of how you did today.”

“Not displeased,” Rey says. “It was a better time baking than last week, that’s for sure. I feel like I have the measure on the tent now, and it would be nice to get Star Baker sometime. I think I can do it. No—I know I can. I’m good. I just don’t want to get sent home before it’s the challenge that I can do it in, you know?”

The whole tent congratulates Finn—or well, almost the whole tent. Phasma hangs back, talking with it seems like everyone else. Rey notices, and she is sure that Finn does too.

“It’s fine,” he mutters to her when the producers start leading contestants out for their testimonials. “This way I don’t have to pretend to be nice to her.”

“She should have to pretend to be nice to you at least,” Rey grumbles to him, which makes Finn smile.

“Nah—I prefer having the one up on her, knowing I beat her.” He glances around. “None of this I’m your captain, you are disobedient nonsense. I’m a better baker than she is. I’m Star Baker. She’s nothing on me. And she’ll never hold anything over me ever again.”

“This is basically inspired by a sandwich that I had a few years ago.” Rey smiles shyly into the camera. Ben had laughed at her—laughed with her he’d insisted—when she’d told him how she was planning to fill her vol-au-vents. “It was top two sandwiches of my life. It was a pork sandwich, and they fried the meat with fennel and rosemary, and I think about that sandwich quite a lot.”

Rey’s heard all sorts of things about what girls should or should not do when it comes to when to sleep with the boys they are seeing. After what date is it appropriate? Different people seem to have different thoughts.

Rey throws most of that out the window on Friday night when she and Ben get in later than they’d planned. It’s cold, and rainy, and somehow she ends up in his hotel room, stripping off her sopping clothes and falling into bed with him.

He’s got lovely big hands, that make her sigh when he holds her close, and Rey’s never had sex before, has never found anyone she’s wanted to have sex with, but that’s the farthest thing from her mind when she straddles him and guides him into her, and they roll their way across his bed until they’re both breathless.

She falls asleep on his chest, listening to the sound of the pouring rain outside, and feeling positively calm about the weekend ahead. It’s her third weekend in the tent, and she isn’t nervous about baking in front of cameras anymore. She feels good about her Key Lime Baked Alaska, the Signature Challenge doesn’t feel challenging at all, given that she’s always done her crème brûlée under the grill in her oven at home, and Ben is so very warm and solid next to her.

If Rey had thought the tent could be frantic during the semi- and quarter-finals, nothing prepares her for the finals.

All three of them are focused intently on their bakes, and where she usually jokes around with Finn, and grins with Rose, all of them are so serious.

When she puts her pain au chocolat into the oven, she chances a look at Finn and Rose. They’re both so intent that they barely seem to be noticing one another and Rey can’t really imagine what it must be like for them both. She hasn’t asked Rose if she’s still seeing Finn, and, true to her word, hasn’t mentioned it to Finn at all. She wonders what it would be like if Ben were in the tent with her.

But Ben is in the tent with her, every time she breathes, she remembers him from that first week when she’d been panicking. Every time she checks the oven, she can see him in the corner of her eye, watching as she practices in his much more spacious kitchen.

She doesn’t want to disappoint Mon and Mace, but, oddly, she doesn’t think she can. Even if her bakes are terrible—which she doesn’t think they will be—she’s made it to the finals, she’s proven to everyone that she can do it, proven to herself that she can do it.

Not like being a hero, or anything, but I’ll take it, she thinks to herself as she arranges her bakes on their plate to look as inviting as possible. She will definitely take it.

“I have no idea if I’m doing this right,” Rey hears Rose tell the camera as she tries to see through the steam in her pot.

“Bread week’s gonna be fine, I said,” she’d heard Lando say. “What can they throw at me that I haven’t made before?”

The answer to that was dampfnudel, which Rey, like everyone else in the tent, has never heard of, and which she currently has boiling in water because that’s what Mace’s technical challenge instructions had told her to do.

“I have no idea what I’m looking for,” she mutters.

“You’re not alone,” Ben mutters right back from behind her. She glances up and rolls her eyes at the camera.

“Could have given us something a little less fiddly, couldn’t they?” she tells the camera. “I guess they’re trying to make us prove ourselves or something. Get it? Prove something? It’s a bread joke. For bread week.” She winks at the camera.

“That’s my line,” BB complains, swinging by.

“Well you weren’t making it.”

“I was saving it for the Showstopper. It’s a Showstopper worthy pun.”

“You snooze, you lose,” Rey grins. “Right. I’m taking these bad boys out.”

“How do you know they’re done? I can’t see anything through the steam,” BB says, leaning over Rey’s saucepan.

“Baker’s intuition.” She pauses. “That’s such a lie I have no idea. I’m just ready for them to come out so they’d better be ready.

They weren’t ready. She gets last in the technical because her dampfnudel were still raw. “So many people were underbaked though, I can’t feel bad,” she tells the producers while standing under an umbrella. It’s raining today. “Or underboiled, I should say. But I know I’ve got to bring my best for the Showstopper or else I’ll be going home and I’m not ready for that. Not even a little bit.”

She ends up in bed with Ben again less than a day after the first time, holding him close as he kisses her his way along her lips, her neck, her forehead—where he pauses to grin.

“What?”

“I got some sugar there.”

“You did not.”

“I did. You run your hand over your forehead when you’re stressed.”

It’s true. She does do that. She hadn’t noticed until he said it.

He grins as his lips find hers again.

Rey hadn’t really expected to get Star Baker after her fiasco with the cinnamon. She couldn’t even really accept the praise that Mon and Mace had given her, saying it was a clever solution to a tricky problem because, well, it hadn’t been her solution.

She’d thanked Ben again after the announcements had been made about who was staying and who was going. Rey hadn’t talked to Moden. He’d been on the far end of the tent from her, so she couldn’t feel too sad that he was going. She’d have been much sadder if it had been Ben, after all the help he’d given her. And it was no shock at all that Amilyn had gotten Star Baker, her Showstopper had been unbelievable.

Her heart had been in her throat through the judging, her nerves getting the better of her. She’s sitting at the edge of the row, next to Ben, their shoulders touching. She wonders if he’s as aware of that as she is.

Rey has just finished her testimonial and is about to call a cab to take her to the train station when she sees the small group clustered around a car.

“We’ve given a garage a call,” Poe is telling Ben, who is leaning against the hood of his car, a grimace on his face. “They’ll be another thirty minutes.”

“What seems to be the problem?” Rey asks.

“Dunno,” Ben says, his hands are balled into fists in his pockets, she can see from the way his forearms are tense. “The check engine light went on though.”

“Mind if I take a look?” she asks. “I used to work in a garage,” she adds, leaving out the details that it had absolutely been illegal because she’d been far too young for the work, that she’d gotten good because it was the easiest way to keep out of trouble, that she’s convinced—from some of the noises she’d heard out back and spattered blood she’d seen on her boss’ shirt sometimes—that it was a front for something much more scary. But money was money, she’d told herself frequently enough, and the experience had probably helped get her into school since she understood how engines worked, could speak their language more fluently than any of the Spanish classes she’d ever taken at school. And the rest she did her best to put behind her, like the foster homes she’d been in where there’d been drunken shouting and smashed furniture when someone got too angry.

Ben steps away from the hood, and Rey bends down to get a closer look.

“Am I fucked?” he asks her after a moment of examination.

“Don’t think so,” Rey says, reaching down and running her finger over a wire that seems to have come a little bit lose. “This little guy seems—” she pinches it back in place, and twists. “No one’s got a set of pliers, do they?”

“We’re a baking show, Rey, not a Pimp My Ride,” Poe says.

“This’ll have to do for now then,” she says. “Go on—give it a shot?”

Ben gets into the driver’s seat and turns the ignition. The car starts, and Rey drops the Ben.

“Aha!” Poe sounds delighted. “Not only does she make the best babka I’ve ever eaten, but she fixes cars too.”

“You’ve had her babka?” BB asks, coming up from behind, and sounding thoroughly jealous.

“I was going for the alliteration,” Poe stage whispers. It’s like there are still cameras around, only not. The camera guys are now filming Wedge’s testimonial. He only lives about thirty minutes away and had offered to go last.

“Thanks,” Ben says to Rey from the front seat. “Do you need a ride anywhere?”

“To the train station, if you’re going that way,” she says and he leans over and his reach is very long because it’s not hard for him to open the passenger-side door for her. She climbs into the front seat, gives Poe and BB a cheery wave as Ben backs out of the parking spot. “Where too on the train?”

“Back down to London,” Rey says.

“I can give you a ride the whole way if you’d like,” Ben says. “I’m headed there too.”

Rey glances at him. “Are you sure?”

He doesn’t say anything, but he gives her a look, and Rey offers him a small smile as she settles into the seat.

The producers take Ben aside first after the judging is finished for his testimonial, but it apparently doesn’t take him long to say whatever it is he’s going to say because a few minutes later they come and find Rey.

“How’d you think you did, Rey?”

“Pleased with myself. Unsurprised, really. It’s a pity it was a bit melting, but that’s the nature of ice creams.” She tries to keep her voice light, tries to keep herself positive. She’d done decently in the technical, they’d liked her crème brûlée, she doesn’t think she’s going home. She’d be very surprised if they sent her home, in fact, given everything with Ben today.

“You could have maybe avoided the melting if you hadn’t left the tent, earlier. Do you regret it?”

Rey feels her smile freeze for just a moment. “No,” she says. She doesn’t elaborate.

“That all?”

“You help people when they need it. Ben helped me when I needed it during the first week. I wasn’t just going to not lend a hand. That tent—it does things to people.” She can practically still hear the crash of the kitchen aid when he’d thrown it to the ground.

Ben’s not sitting with the rest of the group when she returns from her testimonial, and Rey, as subtly as she can, takes out her phone. There’s no text from him or anything.

“Gonna stretch my legs,” she tells Finn. “All that crouching in front of the oven.”

He waves her off and she goes and walks towards the neighboring pasture. She sees Ben looking out over the frolicking sheep, bending over the wooden fence. He doesn’t speak to her as she approaches and climbs up onto the fence to sit next to him. He doesn’t even look at her.

“The thing that grinds my gears,” he mutters at last. “Is that my flavors were good. Armitage’s were terrible. Under any other circumstances, I’d say he’d be the one going home after getting nineth in the technical. Tosser.”

Rey doesn’t say anything.

This is the closest she’s ever been to a sheep before. They look peaceful, sitting there in the sunshine, baa-ing away.

“You didn’t have to throw things,” she says at last. “That was scary.”

She isn’t looking at him, isn’t touching him, but she knows that he’s tensed, like he’s waiting for her to go on, to start yelling, maybe.

“Yeah, I shouldn’t have done that,” he says at last. “I lost control.”

“It’s just baking, Ben. It’s just a television show. There isn’t even a cash prize—it’s just—” she cuts herself off.

“Look, I lost control,” he repeats. “It felt like I was back in my uncle’s kitchen again.”

“I don’t know what that means,” she says quietly. “I just know that it’s not good that you lose control and throw things. What if you’d hurt someone, or broken something?”

He doesn’t say a word. He shifts his weight against the fence, and it shifts in turn underneath her.

“Doesn’t matter,” he says. “I’m going home anyway.”

“For your behavior, you might deserve it,” she says before she can stop herself, and it’s like she’s hit him, the way he recoils away from the fence. “That wasn’t ok.”

She hears him retreating and she turns. “Ben,” she calls and he doesn’t stop. “Ben, I don’t want you to go home.” He stops and turns and looks at her again. “You don’t deserve it—it wasn’t your fault what happened to your ice cream. Your flavors and bake were good. But that losing control scares me, ok? I’ve had enough violence in my life—I don’t want to be worried about what happens when you lose control.”

His eyes burn into her, as hot as the sun overhead, as hot as the tent mid-challenge. She can see in his gaze that he’s noticing the words that had come out of her mouth quite as much as she is, words that imply that whatever it is between them—it’s more than just a fling to blow off steam. That scares her quite as much as Ben’s shouting and breaking things. Maybe it scares her more.

“I won’t,” he tells her. “It won’t happen again, I promise you.”

“Don’t promise me. Promise yourself,” Rey says and she hops off the fence and approaches him. She keeps her distance. They are still in view of the tent, outside of which the other contestants are all seated, waiting for the final judgement. “You’re the one who has to live with yourself.”

She hadn’t really noticed last week—perhaps because he had helped her while she’d been panicking, but Ben’s natural expression when baking is angry.

“Sort of intimidating, isn’t it? Having him bake right behind you?” Rose asks her while they’re both getting water, their biscuits in the oven. Ben’s still cutting his biscuits into neat little shapes, his brow furrowed with concentration, his frown deep.

“He’s not bad,” Rey tells her.

“Ben?” Finn asks. He bakes in front of Rey, across from Rose. “I would not want to get on his bad side. Feel like he’d kill me if I interrupted him.”

As though he had known they are talking about him, or maybe just because he’s nearly done and he and Rey had driven up together the night before, Ben’s eyes find hers across the tent. Almost immediately, his expression seems to soften, but he hides it by wiping some sweat off his forehead before bending over and putting his biscuits in the oven.

“Making a little alliance over here?” Poe asks as he swings by, a cameraman on his heels. “Little trio of trouble?”

“Naturally,” Finn replies readily. “Nothing more intimidating than a group of bakers with murder on the mind.”

“Little did we think that of the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, it would be the baker that would be the one to watch out for.”

“Candlestick makers aren’t dangerous,” Rose grins.

“Bludgeoning with hot metal? Come on Rose, there’s a creative element on this show.” And Poe breezes away. Rose rolls her eyes.

“Right, back to staring at my oven,” she says and makes her way back to her station to check on her biscuits.

Rey brings Ben a glass of water when she returns to the baking station. “Thanks,” he says, taking it from her.

“Everything all right?” she asks.

“Perfectionism got the best of me.”

“In this tent? Not allowed.”

What I did last week—that’s not what I want people to think of me as. It’s not who I want to be. Just sort of burst out. This week’s about getting settled in myself, doing what I know I can do, showing what I know I can be.

“My uncle used to get angry at me for losing control,” Ben tells her. She is in his kitchen and he is practicing baking his using a different yeast than what he’d been used to growing up because he needs the dough to rise faster than it does for him usually. His invitation for her to come over had come without any reference to the previous weekend’s baking, or the conversation they’d had looking out over the sheep. “Angry’s the wrong word, I guess. He’d just be constantly disappointed in me. That’s me: the family disappointment.”

“Were you wild growing up?”

“Yes,” he replies. “Thoroughly uncontrollable. Didn’t get enough attention, so I was always acting out trying to get it.” He’s sitting in front of his oven, in which his dough is rising, carefully eyeing the bowl as if quantifying the differences in yeasts. “Scared I didn’t deserve it,” he adds after a moment.

“Attention?”

“Yeah,” he replies. “When your mum’s an MP and your dad’s always got some business venture and they’re always running in and out of the house and telling you to be quiet and be good, you start to wonder if you don’t deserve attention. I got it from my uncle, but it was too late at that point, I think. Damage was done, and I could only ever disappoint him.”

Rey gets up and crouches down on the ground next to him, looking in at the oven. “So doing this makes you think you’ll be able to show them all you’re worth it?” she asks.

“Nah,” he says. “They don’t have time to watch it, anyway.”

She looks at him, and he avoids her gaze, staring in at the rising dough.

“You’re lying,” she says at last.

“Am I?”

“Yeah,” she replies. “I know all about lying to myself and you’re doing just that right now. I said it before—this is a baking show, it’s not your self-worth.”

He rests his head on her shoulder and for a moment, from the way she hears him breathing, she thinks he might be crying. But he’s not.

When at last he does speak, it’s not what she expects.

“What do you lie to yourself about?”

“Nothing really. I was just saying things.”

“Liar.”

He doesn’t say it gently, but he doesn’t say it cruelly either. It’s harsh, but not uncaring.

“Just stuff about my childhood.”

“Just stuff?”

“Yeah. Just stuff.”

“Like what stuff.”

“That my parents didn’t throw me away like garbage and leave me for the world to chew up and spit out.”

There, she’s said it now. She hadn’t said it in his car nearly a month ago after their first weekend in the tent, but she’s said it now. She’s kissed him, and slept with him, and told him to get a grip after he’d gone and thrown a tantrum in the tent, but this is by far the scariest thing she’s told him.

Silence stretches between them. It always does, whenever her parents enter the room. No one ever knows what to say to that. Do they try to be comforting? Nothing is worse than pity to make her feel as though everything she’s become since then doesn’t matter as much as the initial wound.

“Fuck them,” Ben says at last. “Fuck them, and fuck my uncle too.”

And Rey finds herself laughing and leaning her head against his shoulder as well.

Rey wakes to Ben’s alarm going off and immediately panics: she is in Ben’s room and can hear him showering on the other side of the bedroom wall; she’s just had sex for the first time and there are muscles in her legs and abdomen that are sore in new and interesting ways; it is later than she’d intended to wake up; and if anyone sees her coming out of his room with bedhead, then everyone will know that she is, in fact, sleeping with a competitor. And she may not care if someone thinks she’s a slut for having leapt into bed with him, but she does care of what they’ll think of her having leapt into bed with a competitor. Oddly the two are different. One is personal, but one might make its way back to Mon and Mace, or Poe and BB, and they’ll think of that every time she presents her bakes to them.

She struggles into her clothes—not fully dry from last night’s rain—and spends the entire walk back to her hotel room praying that no one will come out of theirs. She understands clearly why people call this the walk of shame, and just wants it to be over, how do people do this for more than thirty feet?

She showers the remainder of Ben off her skin, and dresses quickly, checking her phone.

Most everyone else has headed out, but I can wait unless you want to grab a cab.

She can see the nervousness in his words, and immediately feels guilty for not at least having told him she was sneaking out while he was in the shower.

I’ll be down in a sec. Needed to shower.

She finds him in the lobby, his bag of bring-from-home ingredients tucked under his arm. They don’t kiss. They don’t hug. Rey gives him a smile that makes him flush, though, and a moment later, they’re headed out to his car and driving over to the tent.

“Last night,” he begins after a moment.

“Was lovely,” she says.

“Yeah,” he agrees. “Yeah, it was.”

And that’s all they say. It’s all they need to say.

The other bakers are all setting up as they arrive and with a jolt Rey realizes that there aren’t any baking stations left even near one another. The only two remaining are the front on the left and the back on the right. Rey doesn’t look at Ben as she takes the station at the front while he makes his way back again.

At least she’s near Finn. She likes Finn.

“Morning,” he says brightly as she sets her ingredients out.

“Morning,” she replies easily, grinning at him.

“Sleep ok?”

“Fine,” she replies, willing herself not to go red. It had been the best sleep she’d had in a while. She liked it—not sleeping by herself. More than she thought she would. She crouches down to inspect the trays in the oven and winces slightly. It hadn’t hurt, sleeping with Ben. Everyone had led her to believe that sex had to hurt her first time. But he’d definitely stretched her out. She’s going to go red as a cherry every time she checks her oven, isn’t she?

“Marshmallow?” Rey asks right after she’s popped her gingerbread in the oven.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Ben says and almost at once the cameras are on him. He glances at them and forces a strained smile. “Between the two of us, Rey’s the real engineer,” he says to the camera. “I just pretend.”

“And make loads of money doing it,” Poe says, as if drawn to the cameras. “Or should I not say that. Will they realize something terrible if I say that?”

Ben snorts. “Anyway—I had some fiascos with my test bakes this week, so going for as much stick as possible with this to hold it up.”

“What does a fiasco in your kitchen look like?” Poe asks. “Asking for a friend. We’re all quite curious.”

“Lots of yelling,” Ben says so dryly that it’s impossible to tell if he’s joking or not. “And I throw pots and pans around, to make sure that all my neighbors know how angry I am at my own shortcomings.”

Poe turns to the camera dramatically and says. “This doesn’t surprise me,” while Rey bites back a smile.

But it’s like the moment they had decided that they were going to keep everything away from the cameras is the moment that the cameras are everywhere. There’s a lot more movement today than there had been the weekend previous, since people have more leeway with their decorations, and so there’s a lot more to-and-fro to the refrigerators. They had decided, between kisses and before they had ripped themselves apart from one another for their own beds, that if they were going to try and keep it away from cameras, they’d best keep it away from the other contestants, too. And as they move about the tent, there’s just more people around.

Which Rey supposes is a good thing, because she does want to focus, and Ben’s lips are completely distracting.

She turns all her focus to her gingerbread. Ben is baking his on some moldings for the rounded, planetary effect, while Rey’s are flat, and that much easier to maneuver.

By the time there are only five minutes left in the challenge, she feels thoroughly set. Her car is holding itself upright, the engine is in place and she takes a deep steadying breath before turning to Ben.

He’s struggling.

“Here,” she says, stepping forward, before freezing in her tracks at the look he gives her.

“I’ve got it.”

“You haven’t.”

“I really—” and the whole thing seems to fall apart at that moment, and Ben lets out a stream of curses, some of which are directed at the collapsing gingerbread, but most of which are directed at himself. “You complete shit,” he mutters to himself. “You utter waste of space of a human being.”

“Hey now, none of that,” Rey berates him, knowing full well that if the shoe were on the other foot and if her car had fallen apart with five minutes left, she’d be crying and calling herself a waste of space and going to dark corners where she convinced herself that her parents had the right of it. “It’s gingerbread, not your self worth. Will you let me help you now?”

“I don’t even see the point, there’s no way it’ll be decorated in time.”

“Not with that attitude it won’t,” BB says, swinging by. “What can I do? Come on.”

Ben directs Rey and BB and they set to work trying to uncollapse his diorama while he adds candy and frosting and marshmallow. It doesn’t look great by the time Poe calls time from the front of the tent, but at last it looks recognizeably like what he’d intended.

“I hate decorating,” Ben mutters.

“Don’t let Mon hear you say that. She’ll boot you from the tent without even tasting your bakes,” BB says, clapping him on the shoulder and hurrying to the front of the tent.

It is as though Mon Mothma had known it in her soul, though. When Ben brings his forward, she tells him that the decoration looks casual (though that his gingerbread is delightfully spicy) and that it doesn’t look as much like a Showstopper as a school project.

“Could have been worse,” Ben tells Rey when he brings it back and she takes a bite of one of his gingerbread people because she can. He is still glowering, and his shoulders are tense, but yes, he is right—it could have been worse.

Amilyn, who had been Star Baker last week, brings up burned gingerbread for judging. Her hands had probably been shaking as she’d been trying to decorate because if Ben’s decorations had been “casual,” Amilyn’s are “sloppy.” The older woman is nothing but grace and poise, but when Mon and Mace disappear with the hosts for judging, she steps out of the tent for air, followed by a camera, and Rey is sure that she’s telling them that she’s convinced she’s going home.

“Tell us a little about your crème brûlée.”

“I’m making a chocolate hazelnut custard.”

“Are you worried about the flavors not mixing well with the caramel on top?” Mace’s gaze is sturdy as he looks at her. Rey doesn’t quite know what to say to that but BB swoops in.

“Don’t spook her like that, Mace. Chocolate, hazelnut, and caramel? What’s not to love?”

Mace’s face cracks into a smile and Rey can feel herself sag with relief.

“Excited to see what you do,” says Mon, with a wink and the hosts and judges depart to listen to Finn.

She takes a deep breath and continues mixing her cocoa powder into her cream.

Ben is quiet the whole drive back to London, and Rey can tell from the way his hands grip the steering wheel that he’s thinking about his Baked Alaska. When he drops her off in front of her building, he says goodnight in a clipped voice before driving away. She watches him go before shaking herself and heading up the stairs. She has all the homework she hadn’t gotten done because she was baking to do. And she feels confident in her ability to bake bread.

“Your sponge was a bit delayed coming out of the oven, I think,” Mace tells her after his bite. “It’s still a bit warm, and that’ll be why your ice cream is melting as much as it is. “But the bake on it is very good, and that key lime ice cream sure packs a punch.”

“It’s a really lovely balance of flavors,” Mon agrees. “Pity it’s melting a bit, but on the whole, well done, Rey.”

“Thank you,” Rey whispers, taking her Baked Alaska back to her station.

“Ben, can you bring your confection up?” Poe asks.

Ben stands in the back and brings up his tray. It’s a simple sponge cake, decorated the way he’d told Rey he’d been planning to decorate his Baked Alaska, with a little bowl next to it.

“There’s a story here,” Mace says seriously, looking between Ben and the cake. “It’s a Baked Alaska challenge, not a cake challenge.”

“There was a mishap with my ice cream,” Ben says, so quietly that Rey right in the front can barely hear him. “I put the flavors I was planning to put in there in the icing, and if you want to taste how the creamed version of it is…” he points to the bowl.

Mace watches him as Mon cuts into the cake, and his eyes don’t leave Ben’s face as he takes a bite of the cake.

“Good bake on that sponge,” Mon says. “And the flavor balance is really quite delightful. The strawberry is really coming through, and it’s so very gentle with the coconut.”

Mace doesn’t say a word, and Rey knows that if Mace Windu ever looks at her like that, she’s done for, she’s a goner. “It’s a fine cake,” Mace says at last. “But you did fine during cake week, so I’m not surprised by that. It’s disappointing that you couldn’t complete this challenge as presented.”

Ben doesn’t say anything at all, and Rey sees his hands ball into fists. Breathe, she thinks at him as he turns and brings his cake back to his working bench. He doesn’t look at her as he passes.

The rain continues through the night, and Rey makes the mistake of going to her room before going to Ben’s because right when she’s trying to sneak into his, she runs into Finn.

“Can’t sleep?” he asks her.

Rey hums noncommittally and Finn grins. “I was going to grab some herbal tea from downstairs. Want to come with?” And since Rey can’t figure out an excuse for why she’d be leaving her room at this hour except to get some potentially soothing herbal tea, she takes the stairs with Finn down to the dimly lit sitting room on the first floor.

“You worried about tomorrow, after the technical?” he asks her.

“Not really,” Rey shrugs. “Everything bakes faster here than it does in my oven at home, so I think I should have enough time.”

“What are you making?

“Harvest bread basket—lots of veggies.”

“Nice,” Finn says. “That sounds good.”

“Should be. My department liked it when I brought it in, but I’m fairly certain they’d eat anything I put in front of them.”

“Do they know you’re doing this?”

Rey laughs. “They’re starting to wonder why—all of a sudden—I’m bringing in so much all the time. If I make it through bread week, I might tell them.”

“You’ll make it through,” Finn tells her. “You’re one of the best ones here.”

Rey flushes. “I’m not,” she says. “And being the best doesn’t mean that you stay. Look at Amilyn.”

“Look at Ben,” Finn replies and Rey tries not to go as still as she does. “He should have gone home last week. After throwing stuff about like that.”

Rey grimaces. “Yeah,” she agrees. She doesn’t feel too bad saying it—she’d told him so herself after all. But it still feels a little disloyal, not least because she was about to sneak into his bedroom. “I guess it was justice, though. His bakes were good, and Armitage’s weren’t. What are you making tomorrow?”

If Finn notices how blatantly Rey is trying to change the conversation on him, he doesn’t show it. “Chili and chocolate,” he replies. “Very dark chocolate, though, so they don’t accuse me of going sweet on a savory challenge.” Rey laughs. That hadn’t been a concern for Ben, though apples and honey and more sugar than she thinks should be in a bread had been in the practice loaf he’d made that week. She doesn’t say that to Finn, though. To Finn, she says,

“Has it hit you yet? That you’re here? That you are doing well, and getting praise for this, and that you deserve to be here?”

Finn swallows. “Sort of,” he says. “I have these moments. Like—this isn’t what I was meant to be doing, what I was trained to do. And then I have to sort of beat that back and remind myself that I am here, that I got chosen to be here.”

“I don’t want to let anyone down,” Rey whispers.

“You couldn’t.”

“I could.”

“Nah,” Finn says, shaking his head. “Even if you go home tomorrow, you could only make someone proud of you.”

Suddenly, Rey wonders if her parents, wherever they are, watch this show, if they’re sitting there, realizing what good bakes they could be having from the girl they’d abandoned. Probably not, though, she thinks. She doesn’t remember much about her parents, but she does remember her dad yelling about anyone cutting into his football matches and making her mum cry. Somehow, she doubts they watch baking programs.

They never cared about her. She doubts that, even if they were watching, they care enough about her to remember her, or even recognize her.

“Finn?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m glad we met.”

“Yeah, me too.”

It isn’t until much later that she realizes that she hadn’t given going into Ben’s room a second thought, and that Finn would have seen.

It isn’t until much much later, that she realizes that Finn’s room was before Ben’s in the hallway, and he’d made his way to a different bedroom as well.

The hardest part is pretending that it’s not devastating, that Ben’s getting sent home right when she finally got Star Baker for her dream cake. Her flavors had come out perfect, that good feeling she’d had in her gut had been spot on, Mace had given her a handshake, and Ben…Ben hadn’t made it to the quarter finals. It wasn’t that his bake was bad, it was that everyone else’s was good.

It’s hard to pretend to be jubilant in front of the cameras—especially when they ask her if there’s anyone that she wants to tell? She knows from previous series that they like it when people call their mums and brag about it. She always got tears in her eyes when they did that, imagining that somewhere her parents might be proud of her before reminding herself that she’d let them down before she’d even had a memory of how she could have done that. “No,” she tells the camera, “No one.” Just Ben, she thinks sadly, keeping that smile on her face. If there’s one thing she’s good at, it’s smiling in the face of misery. Just Ben, and he’s here, and now he’s getting sent home.

“I’m proud of you,” he tells her in the car, holding her hand as they merge onto the highway. “You worked so hard this week and you really deserve it.”

“I’m sad you’re going,” she replies. “I—it won’t be the same baking without you there.”

“At least we won’t have to pretend for the cameras anymore,” he says. “That’ll be some stress off you.”

“Not worth it,” she says fiercely.

They’re quiet for most of the drive. The weekend had taken so much out of them. Rey can tell that Ben’s trying not to brood, to save his brooding for when she’s not there. It’s baking, not your self worth, she’d told him weeks ago during biscuit week.

As if she wouldn’t have been crushed getting sent home, made to feel worthless, made to feel like her parents had the right of it, abandoning a daughter who couldn’t even succeed on a baking show of all things.

“I’ll drive you up,” he tells her after eating her chocolate chess and rosemary seasalt pie.

“You will not,” she replies. “That’s a waste of your time and will only make you feel bad about yourself.”

“How is taking care of you going to make me feel bad about myself?” he asks mulishly.

“It’s a few hours out of your week you don’t need to spend,” she tries next.

“I happen to like spending time with you.”

“It won’t hurt you? Going back even though you got sent home?”

He shrugs. “Everything hurts,” and then, to Rey’s rolling eyes, “What matters is how I react to it, right? I don’t want to be the sort of person who breaks things over Hux taking my ice cream out of the freezer. I can’t just hide from things because I’m afraid of how I’ll react to them. Better to face them, right?”

“Ben—”

“And besides—I’m not going to let you go thinking you aren’t cared for just because you’re taking the train there and back again, just because you don’t have someone at home to drop you off and pick you up. Because you do. Have someone at home, I mean.”

Rey doesn’t realize she’s crying until he brushes a tear away from her face.

“I care about you,” he whispers to her. “Let me care about you.”

But she can see in his eyes he doesn’t mean the word care.

He means the word love.

She’s never been loved before.

And she can see in the downright, abject fear on his face that he hasn’t either.

The tent is different without Ben.

It seems emptier.

It should seem emptier—they’re a week away from the quarter-finals. They are down half the bakers they’d started out with.

Rey tries to delude herself into thinking that it’s because Ben’s physically larger than the other bakers that makes the tent seem empty, except that Phasma is still there to loom tall over all of them. But Phasma’s so cold and Ben…Ben’s warm. Even when he runs too hot, he’s still warm. Rey’s not wholly convinced Phasma has a soul, for all she’s charming for the cameras.

Finn hates her.

He hadn’t much liked Ben, although he’d seemed to almost want to warm to him after their conversation over herbal tea a few weeks before. But Finn hates Phasma. He keeps it off camera, though, only telling Rey and Rose when they’re out to dinner together. “She’s inhuman,” Finn says vehemently. “I don’t care if I don’t win this thing, but I want to at least beat her.”

“Need a ride to the train station? My sister’s almost here and we can drop you off.” Rose asks. Rey’d gone last for her testimonial that week because Ben had texted her saying there was a massive amount of traffic for a Sunday.

“I’ve got a ride,” she tells Rose. “But thanks.”

Rose takes a breath, as though she’s steeling herself, then says, “Ben?”

Rey had been looking at her phone, but she jerks her head up now, knowing full well that she’s a deer in the headlights. She can’t very well lie when she looks like that. She can’t even think of a lie. So she says, “Yes.”

Rose’s face cracks into a knowing grin. “We were wondering—me and Finn.”

Now it’s Rey’s turn to narrow her eyes. “You and Finn?”

Rose’s face heats right up. “I won’t tell if you won’t tell?” she suggests, but it comes out more as a question. “My sister thinks I’m tempting the wrath of Twitter.”

“Isn’t just existing tempting the wrath of social media?” Rey sighs. She’d spent too much time thinking about magazines, she hadn’t even begun to think about Twitter. Which surprises her, given the reaction to how Ben had handled the Baked Alaska fiasco.

“Too real,” Rose sighs.

Rey’s phone buzzes, and she sees a text from Ben. I’m parked near the gate. Didn’t want to come through in case I got recognized.

On my way, she replies, waving farewell to Rose, her heart beating a little bit faster now because she knows that Ben’s there waiting for her.

Finn gets his wish: Phasma’s out in the semi-finals, and it’s just her, Finn, and Rose for the finals.

She spends most of the week baking in Ben’s kitchen, thoroughly ignoring the finals she should be studying for rather than baking for and knowing that her grades will suffer in the long run. She doesn’t care though. Ben’s got a nice kitchen in a nice flat, and she likes spending time there. He likes her spending time there too, tasting her practice bakes and giving his opinions on flavor. “More tarragon, I think,” or “That’s oversweet. Maybe a little less honey,” or “You overbaked this, but my oven’s not the same as the one in the tent.”

She curls up in his bed after showers that wash away flour and sugar, and spends the time that things are in the oven making a contraption for her final presentation to stand on.

On her final runthrough of her Showstopper, Ben comes home to find her piping more roses onto—

“Good thing my mother wasn’t with me or else she’d get the wrong idea,” he says, leaning against the doorframe and crossing his arms, his eyes firmly on the wedding cake. Rey grins at him.

“Are you saying you don’t want to marry me?” she asks as cheekily as she can, but somehow, halfway through the sentence, her breath catches and she sees his eyes flick to her face and go serious.

The question hangs in the air for a little too long, and Rey feels her face heat.

“You’re still in school,” he shrugs at last. “Bad enough that I feel like a lecher touching you.” And as if to prove his point, he moves towards her, wrapping his arms around her and wresting his chin on the top of her head.

“Not enough to stop,” she points out dryly.

“Why would I want to stop?” he asks. “I still can’t believe you’re real sometimes.” He kisses the top of her head.

They stand like that for a little while, staring at the wedding cake. “Do you want to meet my parents?” he asks her at last.

“Do they know about me?” she asks. Ben mentions his family rarely enough, and he has never once brought them up without a shade of bitterness. Not now though. Now, his voice is oddly light.

“Yeah,” he says at last. “They’ve been watching this series. Them and my uncle.” She doesn’t think he means to, but he holds her a little more tightly as he says it.

“I thought you said they wouldn’t have time,” she murmurs.

“Didn’t think they would,” he says. “They made it, though. To watch me. My mum really wants to try that tea cake you made when you won Star Baker, by the way.” He swallows. “I’ve been talking to them a bit. It’s weird. It’s hard.”

“I’d like to meet them, if you want me to,” she says, and Ben kisses the top of her head again.

“Yeah, I think I would. Still not convinced they won’t like you more than me, but I like you more than me, so I can’t really fault them for that.”

Rey. She’s a fantastic person and a fantastic baker and my mum called me up after the week I got kicked off and said, “Ben, sweetheart, I’m sad you lost, but you need to get me a slice of that tea cake.” My mum is not much of a baker, and has never really shown interest in my bakes, but she wants Rey’s cake, so I think that’s where I have to lean here.

Rey’s holding Finn’s hand as the judges and hosts step out of the tent, holding bouquets and the glass cake stand. If I don’t get it, it’s fine, Rey tells herself as though it’s a dream. Finn deserves it, and so does Rose. They’ve both worked so hard and their bakes today were to die for. If I don’t get it, it’s—

She almost doesn’t hear BB say her name because of a gust of wind. Surely she was imagining it. Except that Finn’s thrown his arm around her, and there are tears in her eyes as she stumbles forward towards BB’s outstretched arms, hugging him as tightly as she can while the garden explodes with cheers.

Her department had come up for the finals because Rey hadn’t been able to think of who else to invite—especially on the eve of exams—and Ben’s there, but she doesn’t have family the way that Rose does, or brothers-in-arms as Finn does from his time in the army. It’s just her. Just her.

The cake stand is lighter than it looks on television and Rey’s head is still spinning as she shakes Mon’s and Mace’s hands, and accepts another hug from BB and Poe. She turns almost blindly towards the crowd, who all start cheering for her again.

And there’s Ben, grinning and clapping and looking so very proud.

And maybe it’s because she doesn’t care anymore, or maybe it’s because she wants the world to know everything about what this has all meant to her, she goes and kisses him, right on camera—long and hard, her hand still gripped tightly around the base of the cake stand. He cups her face as he kisses her, and when he pulls away, he rubs his nose against hers and people are still clapping and talking and cheering.

“I’m proud of you,” Ben whispers to her. “Knew you could do it.”

And Rey can’t quite think of what to say so she buries her face in his neck and lets him hold her, her head and heart spinning from all of this. “I knew I could too,” she tells him at last. “I—I knew I could too.” 

“It’s unreal,” Rey tells the cameraman, her eyes still red from her tears. “It’s—like, I know it’s just a baking show, but I feel unstoppable right now. The finals I haven’t studied for? They can’t bring me down at all. I believe in myself and that’s—that’s new. I’m not used to believing in myself.” She gives the camera a shy smile. “So let’s hope I can carry this feeling forward for forever. I like feeling unstoppable.”