In dreams, it isn't always as easy to be Lockon Stratos.

In the waking world, it's never even in question. Every mission reminds him who he needs to be. Every look into Setsuna's eyes tells him who he's expected to be. The only time he's Neil Dylandy is when he knows he needs to be: back in Ireland, watching and remembering. And that's something no one else need ever know about.

But when he sleeps, he no longer has other people to be there for. He no longer has a driving goal to consume him. He only has the inside of his own head, and there's too much debris there for him to trip over. Oh, most of it is normal day-to-day stuff. He often dreams of the controls of his Gundam under his hands--it's good that he dreams of that, because he has to be the best he can in there. Once, he dreams of Haro getting an illness that makes him change colors, and the rest of the dream is occupied by an increasingly disjointed quest to find the cure. Those are the easiest dreams to deal with upon waking. He doesn't have to remind himself who he is. He's Lockon in all of them.

But there's another dream that lurks behind them all, ready to come upon him if he lets his guard down too much. Lockon is no superhuman; as much as he might try, it's hard to keep his guard up in dreams. He doesn't have anyone to keep it up for. So little by little the old images sneak into his head as he sleeps. It's a quiet picture of a happy family playing: two parents, a pair of twin boys, and a young girl. They're safe and they're content. It doesn't matter if one of the two boys grows more and more faded as time goes on (and has been doing so for a decade now, as long as the dream has been there). It doesn't matter if that boy becomes a ghost, so long as the other one still thrives.

Lockon is nowhere in this dream. He watches it from outside, and he starts to forget who he is. In the end, he isn't Lockon, after all. He isn't the boy who's become a ghost, either--that person is dead and was even before he faded. He's someone once called Neil Dylandy, a grown man watching the past and needing it to be the future.

By the time the dream gets far enough for him to remember that name, it's already too late. He's noticed other things, too. Like the smell of ashes in the air, the glimpses of rubble at the corner of his eyes. Above it all, the sky starts to crack, and he tries desperately to wake up. Sometimes he manages it, but other times, it's too late, and the sky comes crashing down on all of them in a rush of smoke and ruins. When he does wake up, he's surprised to find that it's easy to breathe, and the recycled air of the Ptolemy is clear of ash.

The proper name reasserts itself, but even so, when Lockon looks across his narrow quarters in the dim light, he's surprised at the shadowy reflection of himself in the small mirror on the wall. It seems strange that his face is so clean, that his hair is only mussed, not singed. There should be bruises and scratches and smudges. There should always be that evidence, he thinks every time, half-awake. Then, most of the time, he falls asleep again, that image still clear in his mind.

When he dreams this time, there is no peaceful setting. There is only emptiness, and a broken mirror in front of him. He has to pick up the pieces and put them back together. The shards are sharp, and he cuts his fingers and bleeds as he picks them up and slots them back into place. But he's careful not to get the blood on the pieces themselves. They must be clean. If he keeps them pure and free of blood, when he's finished putting the mirror back together, the cracks will vanish, and the man behind it will be whole again, as nothing has been whole for ten years.

The man in the mirror isn't Neil Dylandy. He certainly isn't Lockon. He's someone who doesn't need to fight, who can live peacefully in a better world someday. When that day comes, Lockon's hands will be covered in blood from all those sharp shards digging into his fingers. But it will be all right, because his brother will be innocent, and he'll be able to be happy again and live in peace.

But Lockon can never finish putting the pieces back together before he wakes up and is in the real world again. He is left troubled and more aware than he usually allows himself to be of a certain emptiness inside, where the scattered pieces of the mirror will never fit together again. So he doesn't go back to sleep this time. Instead, he turns on the light, opens up his computer, and writes. He writes a letter to Lyle Dylandy. If it's reassuring enough, if it keeps up the image of the distant protector well enough, maybe next time, the mirror can be repaired.

He can almost still feel the blood on his hands, but it will never smudge the clean, friendly lines of the letter on the screen.

In dreams, it's always easier to be Lockon Stratos.

In the waking world, it's hopeless. Lyle walks the halls of the Ptolemy feeling like an interloper wearing a dead man's face, even if it's been his face too for just about as long. He knows he's wearing a mask, and he can't forget it. The reminders of a brother he barely knew are in every face he looks into.

But his dreams are different. They surface from somewhere he thought he'd safely hidden them, and some of them shameful fantasies he can't quite suppress, not with Celestial Being all around him. Those dreams are the best and the worst. In them, he's at home in the Gundam, wearing the name Lockon Stratos as if it had always belonged to him. It never occurs to him in these dreams that the name was thrust upon him. Here, he earned it, and here, his brother can see the proof. Every shot he fires hits its mark, and next to him, Neil looks on with surprise and dawning recognition.

"I told you, Neil," he says. "I can fight alongside you. We can change the world together." But every time, before his brother can reply, Lyle wakes up, and the dream slowly shreds under the pressure of reality. He tries to forget it, and some nights, he succeeds. Other nights, though, it lingers in his mind, and he knows bitterly, shamefully, that it's both more and less than a dream. It's the goal he spent years working towards, in Katharon and before then, pride and spite and determination in his heart. It will never happen now.

On those nights, he gets up and turns on the lights, trying to drive the thought from his mind. But there's a small mirror on the wall of his narrow quarters, and next to it hangs a uniform he will wear in the morning, although his brother never did. Lyle looks in the mirror, and he remembers: he never did tell Neil any of what he'd said in the dream. He was too angry and too proud, and he knew too well his brother wouldn't have listened anyway.

Instead of going back to sleep, he sits on his bed and he opens up his computer. There he rereads countless times the letters Neil sent him years ago. There is no meaning in them, and he always knew it. But he reads them anyway, searching for some hint of acknowledgment that he never found in the past.