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i am my own person (i will not set myself on fire to keep you warm)

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You swore and said "we are not shining stars"

This I know- I never said we are

I like to think I can cheat it all

To make up for the times I've been cheated on

I am not the ghost you want of me

My head is on fire but my legs are fine;

After all, they are mine 

-Carry On, fun.

 

 

 

Every mother was once a daughter herself.

-

Lauren's father is the Red Ranger, and she is his daughter. She carries on his legacy just as much as Anna, Eve, Dani, Abby, and Hatsu carry on their parents' legacies.

But in her case- it's not necessarily a good legacy. It's a legacy of tradition and sacrifice, of denial and death. It is a legacy in which teenage girls have to create heirs to ancient lineages, where children are separated from parents and siblings because wars have to be fought. It is a legacy where children are made into weapons, where love is the last thing valued in a fight to defend humanity from monsters.

At five, Lauren is separated from her brother and pulled into isolation where she spends every day of the next fifteen years studying the Sealing Symbol.

When Lauren is told to study the Sealing Symbol, she does. When she is told to stop writing to her Soulmate, she does. When she is told to have sex with a man the Samurai Council picked out for her, she does.

When she meets her team, when she sees the damage the Samurai Code has done to her brother and Antonio and Mike and Kevin and Mia-

She stops. She doesn't get a chance to think very hard about everything, what with the necessity to destroy Xandred, but she still sees things. She sees how carefully Mike and Kevin act around each other, how Antonio and Jayden are always watching each other, and she sees damage. She sees what rejecting a Soulmark can do.

She doesn't know how to question things. She doesn't know how to sort her observations into anything but battle plans, doesn't know how to form her own arguments. She has known nothing but Mentor Oniji's instruction and her own isolation.

So Lauren leads the team into battle alongside her brother, and while they're fighting she raises her Morpher and begins to make the symbol. She draws out the strokes, devoting every ounce of Symbol Power she has, and-

And she falls. The symbol drains her of all of her power, and she slips away into unconsciousness.

-

She wakes up three days later to find the team around her bed, a cast wrapped her arm and weary smiles on everyone's faces. 

Her brow furrows. "What are you all doing here?"

"We've been waiting for you to wake up, sleepyhead," Mia says with the kindest smile Lauren's ever seen, and it confuses Lauren. Why would they all wait for her? She's not their Red- that's Jayden. He's the leader of the team, their field commander, their...friend. She's nothing but the vessel for the Sealing Symbol and the Shiba name. Why would they care?

"Is Xandred gone?" Lauren asks, leaning forward slightly, and Antonio nods.

"Your Sealing Symbol weakened him nearly to the point of death, and our team did the rest of the work."

She slumps back against her bed. Her mission is over with. She's alive, and Master Xandred is gone, and...what next? She has never thought beyond this point. Her entire life, her entire life, has been for the purpose of taking down the Nighloks. She doesn't know what she is, outside of that mission. Lauren Shiba is a name of a weapon, of a Ranger, not of a person. 

"It's all over," Mia says as she smiles at Lauren and takes her hand, and Lauren blinks, shocked. "Now you get to live your own life."

Own life? Her life is something she can possess? Her life has always been in service of the Shiba name, something she had no possession over. The idea that she could call her name her own- that's quite a bizarre notion.

"I..." Her words stumble. "I don't know how to do that."

Mike blinks. "What?" he asks, and her gaze falls to his hand in Kevin's. What-? What does that mean? When did that happen?

"I don't know how to live my own life," Lauren says.

"We'll show you," Jayden says, his smile soft, and Lauren looks at her brother, who carries the same weight of the Shiba name on his shoulders. "These guys showed me, and I'm sure we can all help you too."

Antonio nods. "The war is over, hermana. Now's the time to build your own world."

-

She only finds out who her Soulmate is when Emily convinces her to write on her arm, only a few days after Xandred was defeated. They're all still living in the Shiba house as they rest and try to figure out where they're going now that they're not Samurai Rangers anymore.

(Everywhere around Lauren, it seems as if relationships have burst into being. Kevin and Mike start making out in public spaces, Antonio and Jayden start holding hands, and Emily seems to be constantly on the phone with her Soulmates. It seems as if no one else seems to really care about the Code's regulations against Soulmates, now that Xandred is dead.

And Lauren- she kind of wants the ease and support of a relationship like they have. She wants to be a bit freer, to have someone to help her adjust, someone to love her.

She wants a friend, to be honest, and maybe something beyond that.

So Emily's suggestion of trying to meet her Soulmates isn't so strange, to Lauren, who has never known what love is in her life.) 

So Lauren stands in the kitchen with Emily, puts a red pen to her arm, and writes out, Hello. Is anyone there?

And she hears a shout from Mia's room. Mia comes running out of her room, holding out her right forearm with her left hand, and Lauren's gaze falls onto the red ink on Mia's arm.

"I have a Soulmate!" Mia shouts, grin wide, eyes bright, but all Lauren can see is her own writing on Mia's skin.

"Holy shit," Emily says, "I thought your Soulmate was dead-"

Lauren's voice is hoarse when she summons up the strength to speak. "Doesn't look like it," Lauren says, and Mia looks at her strangely before her gaze falls to Lauren's bared arm. Mia's jaw drops open and for a few moments, all she does is stare at Lauren.

Then: "You're my Soulmate."

Lauren nods. She's unable to peel her eyes away from Mia's arm, from what the ink means. When she'd agreed to Emily's suggestion, she'd thought that she would get time to prepare for meeting her Soulmate. She hadn't been prepared to find her Soulmate here, in the other Rangers, within another bloodline.

Mia holds out a hand to Emily. "I've gotta get a pink pen soon, but for now, can I borrow yours?"

Emily grins and hands over her orange pen. Lauren watches, full of shock and uncertainty, as Mia writes. Nice to meet you, Lauren. My name is Mia, and I've been waiting for you for years.

Well, this is going to take some getting used to.

-

Lauren never had the desire to have sex with Hikaru Mori, but it was what was expected of her and so she did.

Mia doesn't make her do that. The only thing Mia makes Lauren do is make own decisions. She forces Lauren to choose, to make a life for herself, to stop bowing to other people's opinions and decisions and decide what she herself likes. She doesn't make Lauren do anything that she doesn't want to- instead, she is sure to ask for Lauren's opinions, for her own answers.

Mia is one of the kindest, most optimistic people Lauren knows, and she is soothing when Lauren needs the comfort, but she is firm when Lauren needs that to. Mia knows how to put her foot down, to make people listen to her- something Lauren never learned to do, in the middle of all of her training. So Mia teaches her how to find her own voice, to be everything that the Samurai Code and isolation never allowed her to do.

Mia teaches her- no, Mia demands of Lauren- to make her own opinions, her own decisions, her own favorites.

For Lauren, the slightest of opinions is a rebellion against tradition, against the way she was raised.

Something as small as choosing any color but red is breaking the rules. Lauren's wardrobe starts to fill with light blues and blacks and grays, courtesy of trips to stores and the mall with Mia and Emily where Mia and Emily ask Lauren what she thinks, and Lauren starts to smile instead of frown at the change. She likes blues, likes grays, likes colors that a Lady Shiba would never wear.

(She hates red, hates what it demanded of her, hates what it turned her body into. She is a leader, she is a weapon, she is anything but her own. She is a girl, except she never got to be a girl, she had to grow up before she had a chance to be a child. And the color red is a symbol of her past, of the life she had to live versus the own she chose on her own. So she rejects it.)

When she tells Mia, voice stuttering that she doesn't want anything beyond kisses, Mia doesn't reprimand her for it. She just nods and accepts Lauren's words, telling her that she doesn't want anything more than Lauren is prepared to give.

And it leaves Lauren wondering about a daughter of her own, one she didn't want but was required to provide. What is Hatsu going through as the Shiba heir? What are the Masters doing to that little girl in the name of the Code? 

Lauren can stop her daughter from being used like she was. She can give Hatsu a life of her own, even if she doesn't know how to provide it. She does, however, know people who can give her daughter the control over her life that Lauren never had for herself.

So Lauren sets out to start the changes beyond herself right here. She's going to give Hatsu the life she deserves, outside of the Code.

-

After dropping Hatsu off with her brother, Lauren Shiba breaks down in Mia’s arms and begins to cry. Mia pulls her in tight, allowing Lauren to let her head fall onto Mia's chest.

“I wasn’t the mother she deserved,” Lauren says through shuddering breaths. “I couldn't be the mother she needed."

Mia runs her fingers through Lauren's hair. "I don't think you were able to," she says.

"I should have been," Lauren protests, though her words are a little weak.

Mia lets out a small breath that rustles the top of Lauren's hair. "You can start now," she says, "You can try to be Hatsu's mom, or her aunt, or even a mentor figure. You be whatever makes the two of you most comfortable. You don't have to be anything beyond what you want to be, okay?"

And Lauren doesn't know how to want, how to make decisions, but she's slowly learning, and she wants Hatsu to have an actual childhood. Lauren wants her daughter to live a life out from under the shadow of the Code, to be able to want.

"Okay," Lauren says as she raises her head from Mia's chest. She takes a deep breath and tucks the hair that has fallen out of her ponytail back behind her ear, straightens out her blue (blue, not red, not Shiba colors) jacket and gray blouse. "Okay. I can do that."

"Antonio and Jayden will take care of Hatsu," Mia says, "They have good heads on their shoulders and Antonio knows a thing or two about taking care of kids who haven't had the best childhoods- you don't have to worry about her while you figure things out."

Lauren looks up at Mia's face. "I love you, Mia," Lauren says, voice soft, words a bit strained. She isn't exactly sure what the words mean, isn't entirely certain how they've managed to make this relationship work for the past two years, but she thinks it bears being finally said.

"Love you too, honey," Mia says, smile bright and kind, and Lauren wonders how fate knew that she would need Mia so much. All she can do is to be thankful that she has such a wonderful, caring person in her life.

-

That night, Lauren goes out into the courtyard of her and Mia's house- a small cottage on the opposite side of the island as the Shiba house- and sits down on the ground. 

Her element is fire; there are many ways to connect to it. One can get angry, get destructive, get hateful. One can carry a lifetime of resentment, a deep drive to fight, a rage more powerful than any misery a Nighlok could dredge up.

Fire can be a force for destruction and renewal, for burning down the world around you or lighting new life into being. Her body was used to bring new life into the world, was turned into a vessel for a new heir, all in the name of a war that was won before her daughter was needed.

The war is over. Lauren is a Ranger no longer, no more a Samurai than what she claims herself to be. Her family's legacy is unnecessary- the only part of it she has to carry is the fire power in her veins and the love of her brother in her heart. She does not have to lay claim to the Code, to the traditions that forced her into practices that she didn't want. 

Lauren's hands begin to glow as her symbol power kicks in, her meditation sending energy through her limbs and activating the symbols. She soon finds herself with flames licking over her palms and up her arms, reaching her hair before halting and dancing across the blonde strands.

She watches as the flames flicker, turning from red to blue to green back to red, and do nothing but warm and tickle her skin.

Fire doesn't have to be tied to the legacies of the past. Lauren doesn't have to be ash or cinders. She can be the spark, the tinder, the beginning of a new flame. She can build her own legacy, not continue the ones of her family.

Lauren Shiba is the Red Ranger, the heir to the Shiba legacy, but she is not what they made her. She is something new, something glorious in its own way. She is something beyond them, beyond what even Jayden wants her to be.

She is not theirs to command- the fire is hers to control, her own voice hers to make heard. She is not a wordless vessel, a weapon that can be aimed without question. She is a woman, a human, and she will not let her power go to a Code she doesn't believe in.

-

Lauren returns to the Shiba House the next week, Mia by her side, and spots her daughter sitting at the kitchen counter, talking to Antonio, who is busy cooking. Hatsu is only six years-old, so small, so breakable, and Lauren imagines her being slowly crushed under the Shiba mantle.

It hits Lauren that once, she was only that small too. She was six and Master Hikaru told her to stop practicing her symbols on her arms, never explaining why, and so she did.

"You mind if I go say hi?" Mia says gently, as if Lauren is a scared animal who will panic if she's too loud, and Lauren appreciates it. She is strong, she is fire, but she needs softness. She needs people to be gentle with her.

"No problem," Lauren says, and continues to watch as Mia goes and strikes up an easy conversation with Hatsu and Antonio, who politely begs off Mia helping him cook despite the fact that she's been studying cooking in the same time that she and Lauren have been living in their cottage.

Lauren still doesn't know what to say to Hatsu. She doesn't know if she ever will.

"You good?" Kevin asks, and Lauren turns to find him standing by her side.

"I'm fine," she says.

"Good," Kevin says, "I get that this is probably pretty emotional, seeing your daughter again and all."

Lauren nods, hoping her nervousness doesn't show. She may not be trying to embody the Shiba legacy anymore, but she's not necessarily big on betraying weakness as well. "It's definitely a lot to process."

"You know, I used to hate you so much," Kevin says, not a sour note to his voice, and Lauren raises an eyebrow.

"Used to?"

"When you first arrived at the Shiba house," Kevin says, "When I looked over you, all I could see was lies."

"Why did you stop hating me?" she asks.

"Because you're kinda the reason Mike and I got together," Kevin says, and isn't that a strange answer. How could Lauren have contributed to Mike and Kevin's romantic life?"

"How?" she asks, confusion clear in her tone.

"Before you got here, Mike and I were dancing around the whole Soulmates thing. But then you got here and the two of us realized just how much the Code had screwed us over, and we started to get a lot closer. It did take awhile to admit my feelings for him, but our connection did grow stronger because of our mutual bitterness."

"Your relationship isn't bitterness now, though, right?" Lauren asks, because she's pretty sure that relationships are not supposed to be founded on negative feelings. After all, her and Mia's relationship isn't, and she's pretty sure that Antonio's and Jayden's isn't either.

Kevin smiles. "No, it's not," he says, "Mike and I's relationship is built on something a lot stronger than that now."

"Like our mutual love of Clue?" a voice says from behind them, and moments later Mike is standing next to Kevin with an arm wrapped around Kevin's shoulder. Lauren watches as Kevin's face lights up when at the sight of Mike. She wonders if that's how she looks when she sees Mia. She certainly hopes so.

"What's Clue?" Lauren asks, and Mike turns to her.

"You don't know what Clue is?" he gapes at her. "We've gotta take another step in your education, Lauren."

And Lauren smiles. "I'd love to," she says, and Mike nods.

"You heard the young woman, Kev," Mike says, poking Kevin's shoulder, "Let's go set up the movie."

"I can't exactly do that with you hanging off of me," Kevin points out, but he makes no move to get Mike off of him. Instead, he just smiles at Mike, nothing but love in his gaze.

Lauren looks at Mike and Kevin, the way they move so naturally together, the way they smile at each other whether or not the other is looking. She sees their deep friendship, their deep love, and she wonders why the fuck (a word she learned from Mia a few months ago, that she can't help but love for just how it expresses the depth of her disgust for things) the Code would ever try to take away this bond from them.

"Hey, Lauren," Kevin says, and she jerks out of her thoughts to see him waving her into the living room, Mike having detached from his side to set up the movie. "C'mon, you've gotta enjoy the movie Mike calls the "greatest piece of cinema ever made.""

Lauren smiles and follows after him. Maybe this whole 'friend' thing will be easier than she once thought.

-

The world of the Samurai burns under Lauren's leadership. She rips up the Code, destroys tradition, rewrites thousands of years of legacies. 

This is for the Samurai Rangers, for everyone who has had to sacrifice love and happiness to please ancient rules that no longer have any meaning (if they ever did).

This is for Emily, forced into being a soldier after a life at peace. This is for Mike and Kevin, who never knew of their Soulmate because of a Code that told them never to get distracted. This is for Mia, who grieved a Soulmate who never died. This is for Antonio, rejected for reasons beyond his control, who spent years training only to have his Morpher- built by his own hands- nearly ripped from him.

But most of all, this is for the three remaining Shibas.

This is for her little brother, forced to give up his Soulmate, bearing the weight of Lord Shiba for nineteen years. This is for his grief, his sacrifice, everything that broke inside of him that never should have.

This is for herself, buried under the burning weight of her own name, the way that she doesn't know how to love. This is for the weapon that they crafted out of her bones, her lack of connection to the world she was meant to save.

But most of all, this is for the daughter Lauren knows will become the next Lady Shiba. Lauren may not know how to interact with her daughter, but she still wants to give her the best- and only the best- parts of herself.

She doesn't want her daughter to live the way she did. The only legacy Hatsu Shiba will have to carry will be her own, not hundreds of years of pain and submission and isolation. She wants her daughter to love her Soulmate, to be able to smile, to be able to carry any color with as much pride as the Shiba family colors.

If Hatsu chooses red, then Lauren wants it to be because Hatsu wanted to, not because she felt like she had to. 

"Be better than me," she begs to the walls of her room, after she's back from another trip to the Shiba House after visiting her daughter. This house once belonged to the Fujisakas- the walls are covered in blue paint, not red, and she can sleep in here without dreaming of fire and death. "You have a choice, not a legacy. Please, I beg you, be better than me."

Lauren's mantra to her daughter, never written, never spoken, is this: Be better than your mother, be better than the legacy of your ancestors, be yourself, be something more.

-

It has been two years since Master Xandred was defeated, and when Lauren goes to pick up a staff in the training area her muscles ache slightly. She hasn't trained in so long, hasn't had the need to practice. She's kept up her symbol power, the feeling of fire in her bones, but her sword training she's let slide since the war ended.

"Your form is still perfect," she hears a familiar voice say, and she swings around, sword still perfectly balanced, to find her brother standing there, a matched staff in his hands.

Jayden's not in a training uniform. He's wearing a flannel button-down she's nearly certain belongs to Antonio over top of a green t-shirt and blue jeans. She, on the other hand, is wearing one of Mia's pink scarves, a blue blouse, white sneakers, grey shorts, and black tights. Neither of them look the Shiba heir, not with their lack of red and their lack of traditional dress.

"So is yours," Lauren says. She raises her staff to meet his, and they launch into a dance she hasn't engaged in since the war ended.

They match each other, hit for hit, for longer than Lauren can count. She settles into a rhythm, moving from position to position, meeting every blow with one of her own. Jayden has the practical experience, but she has the sheer training. They are almost insanely well-matched, the two broken Shiba children, the two former weapons. In a controlled environment like this, they fight to a stalemate.

There are some things that will never leave- the posture they both stand in, the fire in their eyes, the way their staffs are perfectly matched- but that is something that doesn't necessarily have to do with the legacy of the Code. That can be attributed to their legacy as Rangers, their own dedication, their muscle memory of being heroes.

There is a fire in Lauren Shiba's veins that has everything and nothing to do with her name, and there's a similar fire in her brother.

Someone lets out a low whistle and Lauren and Jayden's staffs halt against each other's. They turn in unison to find Antonio and Mia standing at the door to the training room, Antonio with arms casually crossed over his chest and Mia with her hands in the pockets of her jeans. They are both smiling proudly.

"It's time for dinner and Hatsu wants everyone there, especially you two," Antonio says, "Uncle Kevin and Uncle Mike just aren't cutting it compared to her Uncle Jayden and her mother."

"But later you've gotta have a rematch," Mia says, "So I can prove Antonio wrong."

"Wrong about what?" Jayden asks, raising an eyebrow.

"Well, obviously my Soulmate's a better duelist," Mia says, and Antonio scoffs.

"Jay could win a fight anyday, I'd swear on Octo," Antonio argues.

"Lauren's the best," Mia says, "She's got years on Jayden-"

Lauren blinks and glances at Jayden. "Are they...fighting about being able to brag about us?"

Jayden's smile is a bit shocked too, but it's also a bit pleased. "I believe so."

Something warm blooms in Lauren's chest, a soft glowing ember sparking into being. Having someone be proud of her, especially someone she loves as much as Mia- that's a new, very welcome feeling she could definitely get used to.

"You guys coming?" Antonio asks, and Lauren realizes that she's drifted off into her thoughts. She sprints over to the rack, puts up her staff, and heads back.

"Of course," Lauren says, and offers her hand to Mia. To her pleasant surprise, her hand doesn't shake even a little. She is steady in the face of intimacy. She is not scared of anyone's disappointment.

Mia grins and takes her hand. "Time to go cook," she says, and Lauren nearly laughs at the way Jayden and Antonio's faces slump almost in unison before regaining their composure. Lauren doesn't understand their aversion to Mia's cooking, but she can definitely delight in it.

"I can't wait to taste your cooking," Lauren says as she and Mia head down the hallway, hand in hand, and Mia's smile could power a thousand fires.

"And I can't wait to cook for you and Hatsu and all the boys," Mia says.

"Even though they don't appreciate your skills," Lauren says.

"They will someday, I promise you," Mia says, "Someday they will know the sweet taste of the name Watanabe."

And oh, Lauren believes Mia.

-

Lauren Shiba has fire power in her veins, wears blue and grey, and loves kissing her Soulmate. She is trying her best to be a mother and a sister and a friend and a human. She is a weapon no longer, is fighting no war save the one to claim her own identity.

Lauren Shiba is the heir to no one but herself.

 

 You think women are weak? Women are forged of iron.

My body, it has bled and blazed and broken, and yet it beats on.

I am iron. A little rusted, perhaps, but still I endure.

-Katharine Anne Keegan