Broken Dreams
Alryssa Kelly

She stood over the small mound of earth, trying to collect her thoughts. Her vision, though blurred, was sharp in her mind as she replayed the events of the last few days, weeks, months, years.

When had she started all this? Three - no, four - years ago. It had started out so innocently. A sighting, a brief encounter, then a meal... then suddenly, overnight it seemed, taking care of a feral cat colony and volunteering at the rescue had taken over her life and was coming dangerously close to costing her her marriage.

It didn't help that he was allergic to cats - among other things. The house had air filters and purifiers all over the place. She was convinced though, that, despite what he said about not liking cats, he was just afraid to admit that if he let himself, he might love them as much as she did. She'd seen him just last week watching the feral kittens she'd trapped playing in their cage in the garage. She'd seen the smile form. Seen it in his eyes. Naturally, once he realised she was looking at him, he'd wiped it from his face and replaced it with his usual scowl. Typical Scott.

She sometimes asked herself why she'd married him; his dislike of and allergies to cats, the one thing she was truly passionate about. He was always moaning about how much time she spent at the rescue, cleaning litter boxes and cages or feeding her colony on the bike trail instead of being at home with him. She'd always answer anyone who asked her why on Earth she'd fallen for him, "He makes me laugh." But why did that suddenly seem more like an excuse than a reason?

The rain began to trickle down into her eyes, but she couldn't move, except to wipe away the tears. Her thoughts drifted back to the present as she stared at the ground, numbness threatening to take over. Poor, sweet, beautiful Athena. One of her colony members, tortie Athena had just started to become sociable, and was allowing herself to be petted. She'd been on the verge of trapping her to take to the rescue, where she would be indoors, out of the weather, and a better chance of getting a new home.

She'd been on the verge of taking her in. Then, she'd found Athena's broken body on the side of the road near the bike trail, lying in a pool of her own congealed blood. For a few, awful moments, she'd hoped it wasn't her, was just mistaken identity. But the familiar markings, the distinctive white heart-shaped splotch on her nose, the scar on her stomach from her spaying operation just a short while ago, had confirmed it. She'd been in autopilot as she'd gently placed the cat on a sheet of plastic and put her in the car, then she'd driven here, to her parents' house. Their back yard was spacious, full of wild flowers and tall oak trees. Other cats were buried here; special friends lost to time and remembered with affection. It felt only right that Athena should join them.

"I'm sorry, Athena. I'm sorry I waited too long. It's my fault."

Sometimes members of her colony came and went... they were individuals, she knew, and it was their instinct to roam. But sometimes, one would just disappear; and she would hope among hope that they had found a new home. She knew deep down inside that it was more likely that they'd ended up like Athena, or ripped apart by dogs, stoned by teenagers, or poisoned by adults. But at least, most of the time, she didn't have to know for sure, and could hold onto that hope. She'd noticed as she became more involved just how cruel humans could be. It seemed that the more she did, the more she lost faith in people.

Those beautiful amber eyes would never open again. Her purr would never again be heard, or her fur felt through the fingers of her hand as she rubbed under her chin. Her vision blurred once more.

"It's all my fault... if only I'd just... oh!"

She buried her face in her hands, trying to control the shaking.

"It's not your fault."

The voice was male; soft, gentle, but firm. She startled, and turned to face the man who had so rudely interrupted her grief.

"What - who - how did you get in here?" She stumbled over her demands, unsure as to which took priority.

"I was passing by. Grief is hard for anyone to deal with; but I can assure you, it is not your fault."

She took him in. Bizarre fashion sense - a brown velvet frock coat, tan trousers, spiralling chestnut curls that reached to his collar, a silk cravat, brocade waistcoat... and the most piercing blue eyes of any person she'd ever met. He was regarding her with them, an intense gaze looking into the depths of her soul. He looked dry, despite the drizzle. How long had he been standing there, watching her? She shivered.

"You humans have an alarming propensity for taking the blame, whether you did it or not. I can assure you - her death was not because of your action, or lack of action."

She stared at him. "I'm the Doctor, by the way. I apologise, I'm not terribly good at introductions."

He smiled, lopsidedly, eyes crinkling ever so slightly at the corners.

"Er... Annie." Caught off-guard by his seemingly genuine charm, all thought of expelling the stranger had vanished, replaced by an insane curiosity. Who was he? More importantly, what funny farm had he escaped from?

He nodded sagely. "It'll be all right. You're doing a good thing. More importantly, you're doing it well."

She felt suddenly compelled to pour her heart out to him, this stranger, anything but keep the hurt inside her anymore, but her curiosity was overwhelming.


"Would you take me to your colony? I'd like to meet them - only if you don't mind. I know you must be careful about who you tell."

She searched desperately in her recent memory. When had she mentioned the colony to him? It was a blurry haze of emotions. She supposed she had, but debated the idea of taking a stranger to her colony. What if -

"I won't hurt them, Annie. I promise."

She believed him. She didn't know why, but she did.

"All right. I'll take you."

The two of them turned to go. He walked ahead of her, as though he knew exactly where she had parked her car. Annie frowned at his back. He could be anyone, and yet she had consented to take him to her colony. What was she thinking? She looked over her shoulder at what was now Athena's final resting place. "It'll be all right, won't it?" she asked, half of herself and half of whatever gods would listen.

The silence was deafening.

* * *

Annie hauled the large plastic tub containing her colony's dry food out of the back of her car, then set it down for a moment as she glanced across at her companion. The stranger was sitting on a damp log nearby, making kissy sounds at the few braver members of the feral colony that had ventured out upon hearing her rattling keychains. She shook her head, smiling, as he reached out a hand for one of the felines to sniff.

"She's not renowned for her affectionate tendencies," she said, nodding at the cat. "Out of all of them, I can only pet Amber and Jasper, and that's only when they're eating."

The Doctor looked up as his inquisitive friend decided to pat his sleeve. "What's her name?"

"That's Jessica." Annie watched the black and white cat as she sniffed the stranger's shoelaces. The Doctor reached down tentatively. Jessica sniffed him again, then rubbed her head against his hand. Annie's jaw almost dropped. "How...?"

"Pretty kitty..." the man murmured, scratching her at the base of her tail. He smiled as she rolled at his feet. This strange man seemed to be full of surprises.

"You'd think they'd be used to me by now. It's been over four years... but no," Annie sighed, as she went back to the car and retrieved the food bowls.

The Doctor looked around, noting the rubbish bins tipped on their side to provide some sort of shelter from the elements, and also a humane trap chained to a tree.

"Why is the trap chained up? Is it going to run away?" he asked. Jessica gave up trying to get more petting, and took off after a leaf that had floated into sight.

Annie glanced at the cage briefly as she doled out the food. "I've been trying to catch the last four of my colony to get them spayed and neutered. Unfortunately some people think it's funny to steal the traps or vandalise them. I've lost six in the last four months that way." The last incident had almost resulted in a violent outburst from herself, catching three teenagers in the act. It had taken all her willpower to just salvage what she could and report the incident to the police, who had been uninterested as always.
Annie batted a tabby cat away from the food as she came nosing. "Wait a moment, Oscar. You'll get your turn!"

"St. Jude is the patron saint of hopeless causes, is he not?"

Annie looked up.

"I saw the picture of him in your car," he added.

"Oh - yes - I mean, this is one of the more hopeless causes I've gotten involved with," she replied wryly, picking up three bowls precariously, and began to make her way to the centre of the clearing.

"I'm sorry you think that," he said, and he meant it. "Oh - I'm sorry, let me help!" The Doctor leapt up enthusiastically, cats scattering in all directions, to help her. He swept the bowls away from her precarious balancing act, and set them down on the ground. The cats converged on the feeding area, like bees to honey. The Doctor backed off, being careful not to step on any tails. Grinning, he turned to Annie, who was filling the water bowls. "How did I do?"

Annie couldn't help smiling.

"You have cat hair all over yourself."

The stranger looked down. His face fell.

"Oh. Oh well, never mind. It'll come out in the wash." He shrugged philosophically.

As Annie set the water bowls down, a loud yowling, not unlike that of several banshees, began emanating from the trees ahead. The Doctor squinted into the foliage, then produced something from his pocket.

"I'll break it up," he said, full of confidence, and promptly headed into the foliage with what Annie now made out to be a can of wet food, curls bouncing, frock coat tails swinging, before she could stop him.

* * *

Annie tried to stifle a laugh.

"Somehow, Doctor, I don't think 'herd' is the proper collective noun for cats."

The Doctor looked at her sulkily from the passenger seat of her car as they headed towards her home, nursing his scratches with an antibacterial baby wipe.

"You don't know. You weren't there. My whole lives flashed before my eyes." His vision glazed over as he recalled the traumatic incident. One minute, there had been two cats, the next, what seemed to be fifty of the furry felines had converged on him, all desperate to get at the bounty in his hands.

"Lives? Plural?" she echoed, puzzled.

"Hmm? No, hearts plural. Lives thirteen." He smiled.

For the first time in a while, that funny-farm feeling crept back into Annie's head.

They drove for a while in silence. The stranger watched the scenery whizzing past intensely. Then he frowned, as if he'd seen some discrepancy in the landscape.

"There's something wrong," he declared.

"What?" she looked at him.

"You have to get home. Something's wrong."

Annie tried not to lose control of the steering wheel as he looked at her, his ice-blue eyes boring into her soul.

"I - "

"It's important."

He began delving into his pockets again; scrabbling about for some mystery object as best he could with the seatbelt around him. Annie sped up, waiting for the strange man to start brandishing a gun or a knife, while watching ever so carefully for the police car that could be hiding, waiting for her to break the speed limit for the first time. Now that would just finish the day off, she thought.

As she came off the freeway, she saw it.

The smoke was billowing across the road, forcing her to slow down to a complete stop as the line of backed-up traffic got closer.

"Oh my God... Scott! The kittens!" she gasped. She turned to the Doctor, but he was gone.

"Stay here - call the fire brigade!" she heard him shout from just in front of her. He was already running into the smoke before she could respond.

Annie's heart pounded in her chest as she punched in 911 on her mobile phone, and got out of the car. She had to see, had to know what was going on... please let them be all right, she pleaded. After Athena, she wasn't sure if she'd be able to carry on if she lost Scott and the kittens as well.

She pushed through the milling crowds, trying to stay calm as the operator took her address. The panic threatened to take her over, drag her down. Everything was going so slowly; it was as if someone had tied lead weights to her ankles. At last, after an eternity, she reached her driveway. The fire seemed to be centred in the garage. Flames licked the window frames; glass shards littered the tarmac.

"Did you see a man run in here?" she asked breathlessly of the crowd.

There was a universal shrug. Annie wanted to scream, but found herself choking instead as the acrid smoke seared her lungs.

"Scott!" she yelled, her voice cracking. "Scott!"

Her eyes started burning from the heat as she stared into the smoke, the tears blurring her vision. For a moment she thought her mind was playing tricks; she saw the garage door opening, and a figure walking slowly out. She shook her head to clear the vision, but the vision didn't go away. In fact, the figure was holding something in his arms, and was coming towards her, coughing violently.

"Oh jeez... Scott!"

Annie dashed towards him as he stumbled down the driveway. "Are you all right?" she asked, panicked. He nodded, and coughed again. When she'd left him just a few hours ago, he'd been wearing a white sweater and jeans. Now everything was grey or black with ash, including his blond hair. "Where - "

Her question was rendered moot when she saw what he was carrying in his arms.

Three black kittens looked up at her, blinking, mewing indignantly that they'd been moved from their comfy sleeping place.
Scott wheezed, but tried a smile anyway. She smiled back.

"Thank you," she whispered.

Scott nodded again and handed off the kittens to her as he fumbled in his pocket for his inhaler.

"Just don't make a habit of it," he wheezed, between doses. But she saw the humour in his eyes; and it made her laugh.

* * *

As the last of the flames went out, Annie watched the scorched remains of their garage smouldering in the drizzle. Scott sat beside her, a mug of coffee in his hands. The kittens rough-and-tumbled in the back of their neighbours' truck, safe and sound. Scott said he suspected the fire had been a wiring fault; the distinct smell of ozone was still hanging in the air.

The observers had begun to break up, thank to the efforts of the police and the firemen, and some semblance of peace was returning to the neighbourhood. But one thing nagged at the back of Annie's mind. Where was the strange man she'd met earlier?

As her gaze swept across the scene, she suddenly saw something that made her mind do a double take. She stared at it, wondering if the smoke had gotten to her.

"Annie? What's up?" Scott asked, nudging her.

"Um... I'll be right back," she said, distractedly.

"Well, I'll be fine, I suppose..." he teased, "after my death-defying act of selflessness... Annie?"

She had already got up from the tarmac and was walking off. Scott rolled his eyes and pulled the blanket around himself.

"Cat obsessed..." he muttered.

Annie walked towards the tortoiseshell cat. It was just... sitting there, on the lawn, looking at her with amber eyes...


The cat miaowed at her. As Annie got within reaching distance, the cat got up and walked off, then stopped again, looking behind itself.

"Why does this feel like a Lassie episode?" Annie thought out loud. The cat looked at her again, miaowing insistently. "All right, all right, I'm coming!" She followed the animal, between the houses and out behind them. Her house, out in the wilds of Middletown, edged onto a deep wood, filled with birch and oak trees, and who knew how many feral cats.

She followed the cat for a good while, ducking branches and stepping over logs. More than once she almost lost sight of her guide, and called out desperately for her to slow down.

"Wait! Athena, wait!"

Out of breath, she stopped to collect herself. "Athena! Wait!"

Her voice echoed round the woods, but there was no sign of the cat with the heart-shaped splotch on her nose. Gasping for breath, Annie looked around, then leaned against a tree trunk, and closed her eyes, as she realised she was lost. Great.


Annie almost fell over in fright.

"What the - !"

"Oh, I did it again - I'm terribly sorry! I do seem to have a knack for scaring people."

"You!" She swallowed her heart, which had chosen that moment to leap into her throat, then contemplated hitting him for scaring the hell out of her. It was him all right - but the scratches he'd suffered earlier seemed to have miraculously disappeared.

"Are you and Scott all right?"

"Yes... we're fine. Where did you go?"

"Oh... around. I saw Scott had control of the situation. Besides... he really needed to work on his kitty skills." He winked at her. "I needed to talk to you, though."

"Really? Do you make a habit of enticing young women into forests?"

The Doctor's brow creased in puzzlement.

"I don't understand... "

"Never mind," she said, seeing the genuine look of confusion on his face. The Doctor looked relieved, then delved into his pockets again.

"I wanted to give you these."

He pressed a bunch of keys into her hand. "Well, the rescue. I don't use it anymore... it needs some work, but - "

"Keys? Keys to what?"

"I have a bungalow around here that I've been meaning to use but never have. It needs a little work, but I think it would be perfect for the rescue to set up in, rather than being in that damp basement..."

Annie's mind reeled. She'd never told him about the rescue, much less its location!

"I... I can't accept this...," she said, besides which, she silently added, how do I know it's for real?

"The exact address is in the mail," he said. "As are the papers and the deed. It's all signed and documented, I assure you."

"You're giving us a house? Why?"

"Why not?" he shrugged, then grinned. She shook her head in disbelief.

"Who are you?"

The stranger looked directly at her, and she felt the world slip away.

"Someone who believes in people like you. Oh, by the way, I hear that giving up dairy products can help alleviate cat related allergies. Just something a friend told me."

And then suddenly, she was alone again, with only the birdsong and the gentle rustling of the leaves as company.

* * *

The Doctor flicked a few switches on the TARDIS console as he hummed to himself, his curls bobbing gently as he moved.


The Time Lord looked down at his feet to the source of the query. He smiled, and picked up the cat as she wound herself round his ankles, to deposit her on the console ledge. She purred and butted his hand.

"There you go. Such a pretty kitty..." he murmured, tickling her belly as she rolled. "I'll probably get into trouble for this... " he added. Then he grinned mischievously. "But then, what's new?"

Athena trilled in agreement.

* * *

Some weeks later...

Annie turned off the stove as the kitchen phone trilled.

"Ow, ow, ow," she moaned as her hand hit the edge of the saucepan.

"Are you OK in there?" Scott's voice drifted in. The kittens dashed through the kitchen playing tag.

"Yes, I'm fine... being a klutz as usual," she replied. Nursing her wound, she reached for the phone. "Hello?"

"Annie? It's Janey. You would not believe the week I just had... this really strange but cute guy just turned up on my doorstep..."

"Don't tell me - he was wearing a frock coat and had a British accent?"

There was a stunned silence.

"What... how did you know?"

Annie laughed until her sides ached.