TIME IN A BUBBLE

"This is serious River, I've lost my Tardis!" The Doctor strutted around frantically, leaving circles in the sand. He kept gesturing at the empty spot where the Tardis was meant to be, face aghast. "How can it just be gone?"

River eyed the landscape with suspicion. The world was dying but there was something else – it seemed to shiver under her gaze, wavering as though it were fragile even with a burning cascade of fire heading towards them.

"Doctor, for heaven's sake, stop."

"But – my Tardis – ow!" the Doctor rubbed his cheek where River had slapped him with rather more resolve than usual. "What was that for?"

"Acting like a four year old." River knelt down, sliding her fingers through the sand. She took a handful of the purple granules, holding them up to her eyes for a closer look. They fell through her fingers, slipping onto the air, drifting back to the ground in shimmering stream. It felt real enough.

"What's wrong?" he asked, standing beside her.

The Doctor pulled out his sonic screwdriver, pointing it at the sand left in River's hand. It buzzed.

"Basic sedimentary mix; silicon, quartz, calcium... kinda pretty glittery stuff."

River was distracted. "You must have come across an Elemental in all your travels. Nine-hundred years? Surely one has crossed your path?"

The Doctor shook his head. "I've done monsters, humans, talking plants, god of fire, insectoids, Cybermen, Daleks, Starwhales, Weeping Angels, archaeologists," he winked at her, "but no Elementals. Sorry – it was on my list, somewhere near Vampires."

"You did vampires."

"...did I?" the Doctor tilted his head. River swore. "Ah – spoilers..."

"Why are you grinning?" she glared.

"Because spoilers means that I make it out of this in mostly one piece," he bounced happily.

"No sweetie – it only means that it's a 'probable' outcome in a universe of infinite outcomes."

Damn River and her time travel semantics. The fire on the ridge burned bright, its molten rock spilling through the ravines which looked like they were made of velvet. A storm gathered on the horizon, lightning ripped underneath the clouds with soft growls of thunder filling the air.

"River... Are Elementals dangerous?" the Doctor asked, still pacing it circles in search of his beloved Tardis.

River reached for the Doctor's hand, clasping it gently. "Well, they're definitely prone to thievery. Come on, we can't stay here – that lava is heading this way."

They started off toward the hills on the other side, scanning the dunes for any hint of the little blue box. Every now and then the Doctor used his screwdriver to scan the surroundings. The Doctor shook it violently, whacking it against his palm when it started making odd sounds.

"It doesn't like this place – can't get a clean signal," he muttered, shaking it a few more times before thrusting it back in his coat. "Do you see anything?"

River was staring at her hand-held device which had seen better days. It was covered in scratches, duct-taped back together where the casing appeared to display bite marks from some past disagreement. "Nothing but sand."

"Where did you get that from? They're illegal in thirteen galaxies, you know."

River lofted her eyebrow mischievously. "Same place as the vortex manipulator."

"Also illegal." The Doctor's head fell back. "I told Captain Jack not to go sharing dangerous things with you. Torchwood toys have no place on the wrist of a Timelord."

"Yes..." River drawled. "He mentioned that."

"And?"

"And we both agreed that I was only 'part-Timelord'."

"Typical."

River stumbled, grasping at the Doctor's coat. The world shook again, throwing them both to the sand. An earthquake gripped the land, jarring the bedrock with a violent shaking. River and the Doctor tumbling wildly down the side of a dune, sand flying around them in claws of purple dust.

"Doctor – watch out!" River screamed, as they both hit a lone outcrop of rock. They came to a very sudden halt, bones and flesh jarring into the unforgiving surface. Blonde hair flared over the rock, stained red. "Uh... Ow," she held her head where a nasty gash ran from her eyebrow to her hairline.

"River, are you okay?"

She swore creatively enough to confirm that she was fine. "D – Doctor, what's that?"

River pointed back up the slope. There was something falling towards them. Something stolen. Something blue.

"That's my Tardis!" The Doctor screamed, pointing frantically at the box rocketing toward them.

"Well don't just lay there – run!"

"-but!" He didn't get to finish. River grabbed his hand and yanked him out of the way, both of them rolling off the rock just as the Tardis hit the stone and shattered into a thousand pieces, a blue light consuming the landscape as the ship was torn apart. A stream of time energy poured out of its heart, swirling out into the world in a beautiful, deadly tide of radiation. "River – it's..."

"Dying..." she finished, laying on the sand beside him. "I'm sorry. Truly sorry." River had never seen a Tardis die. Certainly, she'd walked through a Time Graveyard, seen their barren corpses strung out over the land like the skeletons of elephants, locked together in death. This – this was watching the last breath of life fade from someone's eyes.

The Doctor lifted his hand, covering his mouth. His Tardis – his wonderful, stolen, ridiculous little box. She'd survived far worse than this. The greatest war of time and space couldn't shake her and yet here she was, her very soul settling into a layer of gold mist against the ground.

"I'm sorry..." The Doctor's voice wavered.