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Clara didn’t really remember everything that happened inside the Doctor’s time stream. It was confusing – impossible – she didn’t know where she was – but mostly she didn’t remember because it hadn’t happened to her. It had happened to splinters of herself – millions of soufflés made over and over from the same basic recipe.

Snatches came back to her in dreams sometimes, although it happened less these days, possibly because she was maybe technically dead, or certainly didn’t have a pulse, and she didn’t sleep or dream that much, either.

But lately, or whatever passed for lately in the time and space vortex, Clara had dreamt about being other Claras. She’d seen dozens of the Doctor, hundreds of their friends, and a million shadowy figures of the Great Intelligence that a million brilliant Claras had stopped: the antibody to their virus in the system.

What bothered her, though, was that earlier today she’d seen a man, tall and awkward, standing at the corner of a London street in 1955, and felt a shiver go through her. Tonight, she’d seen him again in her dreams, quietly watching a dozen different Claras in a dozen different times save a dozen different Doctors.

The last time, she’d almost failed. Slipped up on some wet grass – nearly missed her moment – and he’d been there. He’d caught her, pushed her on, and when it was over, when she turned around and walked away from the Doctor, when she remembered who she was – Impossible Girl – he’d held out his hand to vanish her back into the time stream.

“Who are you?” she’d asked, even as the bright living world went away. “How did you know?”

His voice faded away behind her, as she fell, on and on: “Copper,” he said. “I was assigned.”

She woke up to the sound of dark wings beating in her head.

“Weird dream,” Clara said, sitting upright on the bed that maybe she didn’t exactly need, but she shivered again.

It was time, wasn’t it? She threw a look to the wall: somewhere on the other side of it was Me, and her unbeating heart ached. Everything ends, and then it’s sad, but it’s beautiful – and that’s what makes it happy while it lasts.

Clara had to be sure. Maybe she was just imagining things. Technically, she was dying, so even frozen, her brain might be doing weird human-y dying things and making up strange men who weren’t real, but just a manifestation of her guilt about wandering around the universe in a time travelling diner when she should be dead already.

She borrowed some of the quality paper Me had about the place and wrote on it with quill and ink – Me had lived a long time, and sometimes she hung onto some really old-fashioned things. It felt right for what Clara wanted, though. The scratch of the quill’s annoying nib matched her mood, and she took savage pleasure in sharpening it again – and getting raven black ink blotches all over the paper, her hands and her face.

Fun for once, but no wonder someone had invented the biro. Clara wouldn’t have wanted to do her marking with a stupid feather.

She finished the letter, rolled it up, and bound it with a piece of string. Then she shoved it into a bottle made of super unbreakable glass and threw it into the space-time vortex.

If she was wrong, no one would find it.

If she was right, she had a feeling someone would come for her soon enough. She’d know him when she saw him. He’d be tall and grey haired and solemn, wearing a boring suit, and he’d know what time looked like.

Clara had almost forgotten about the letter as she stood watching three suns set one by one over the horizon on a vast desert planet. She and Me had barely materialised before a whole bunch of the inhabitants had come running in, half dying of thirst. Apparently they didn’t look magic gift diners in the face when one appeared in front of them in these parts. That had been pretty great, actually. If she was doing good, it was okay to be around, wasn’t it? She was paying back all that borrowed time just fine.

The last sun began going down in a long sigh of ruby and bronze and steel across the sky. Warm, sandy wind whipped through her hair and breathed on her arms and legs – and there was a man standing beside her, who’d arrived out of nowhere. Unlike a TARDIS, he hadn’t made a sound. He was wearing a tweedy suit of the same sort the head of science had worn at Coal Hill, to the mockery of the students. He even had a tie on. The heat didn’t seem to exist for him.

“You’re real,” she said.

He took a step closer. “Yes.”

“You got my letter.”

Copper only said, the way he had in the dream, “I was assigned.”

“You were there before. When I was in the Doctor’s timeline, fixing it. I almost remember.”

“You needed watching,” he said, and gave her a smile. “Dealing with tears in time is usually our job. You human beings aren’t built for it.”

She straightened and her smug-o-meter went up a notch or two. “Yeah, but I’m impossible.”

“You died,” he reminded her. “Rather a lot of times. In the usual way, a human can only do that once. We were there to tie up the loose ends.”

Clara stared as hard as she could into the last of the setting sun. “When you say loose ends, you mean me, don’t you? Any spare soufflés left lying about.”

“It was dangerous enough as it was,” he said, making it sounds as if disposing of bits and pieces of Clara was a perfectly usual occupation.

“What even are you?”

“Copper. You know why I’m here, don’t you?”

Her heart wasn’t beating even now. It should be going like the clappers. Her breath should be catching in her throat. That wasn’t right. Not in the end.

“You’re the answer to my letter, that’s what you are. And you’ve been lurking about, watching me again, haven’t you? Might as well go straight to the chase and deal with the anomaly.”

Copper inclined his head to one side. “There’s been no need to. Yet.”

“Yet,” agreed Clara. Tears stang her eyes. Probably just the sand. “But I shouldn’t be here – shouldn’t be pushing my luck too far.”

“You seem to be good at that.”

She grinned. “Yeah, that’s me all right. Clara Oswald. Impossible Girl. But.” She put one hand to her frozen heart. “I know what I have to do. I just never have known when to stop. And I could go so far. I could be the worst thing in this universe without even trying. I might try.”

“Possibly. Probably not.”

She turned to face him fully. “Okay. It’s time, lurking man.”

“Technician, thank you. And your friend –”

“Me knows.” Clara paused. “Sorry, I mean, my friend is called Me. As for the Ship – well, I don’t think she wants to be locked away back on Gallifrey just yet. They’ll have each other. Work to do. People to meet.”

Copper held out his hand.

“Can you do it?”

“Put you back where you belong? I don’t see why not. It’s where the universe wants you to be.”

Clara’s smile wavered but held. “Me, too, time technician. So – fix me.”

Clara stood in a dark alley way halfway through her final breath. Her heart beat again, full of absolutely everything. None of it had ever been more beautiful. Her pulse shouted in her ears. She could hear the Doctor’s grief screaming behind her and knew the pain of that. She could remember Me and see all the places she’d been with her before reality closed in on her, locking her down to here and now.

There was a raven beating its wings, and in the last fraction of her last moment, she could sense Time righting itself around her, warming her. The edge of a smile tugged at her mouth.

“Good,” said Copper, in her ear. He was with her still, though she couldn’t see him. “Brave girl.”

She faced the raven.