“You’re the leader.”
Jayden had been hearing that from Mentor Ji since the power was passed to him. That meant many things. It meant living by the code of ideals that the Samurai Rangers represented. It meant constant training. It meant being perfect for whatever that meant.
Jayden knew that to Ji that meant his training, it meant being entirely focused on the mission, even if that meant ignoring everything else. It meant not getting to have a childhood. It meant never really getting to interact with people his own age - just Ji and anyone else that Ji brought in to continue his training. It meant that he never really got to have friends. Friends were a weakness that he couldn’t afford. They couldn’t be trusted with the truth, with knowing the real him.
To Jayden, being the leader meant that you had to give up on your own desires to serve the group. It meant that you had to repress how you felt. It meant putting on an act at all times to be the person that you were expected to be, not the person that you actually wanted to be. It meant being the perfect leader that everyone wanted him to be, of living up to everyone else’s expectations, but ignoring his own desires.
When Ji decided that it was time, and the other Rangers needed to come and join the fight against the Nighlocks, Jayden wasn’t sure at first how he was going to adjust. It had been just the two of them for so long, and adding four other personalities to the mix seemed like it could be a giant disaster - especially when there were secrets to keep. Things that the new Rangers couldn’t know.
He would just need to continue to present the image that Ji wanted him to, stop himself from getting too close to them. Look out for them. Protect them. And never let them know what he really was. He was the leader. They were his responsibility. And they expected so much of him, and being the leader meant that he had to live up to their expectations... as long as it didn’t mean revealing his secret.
It was hard, though, keeping the secret. Mia appeared to have made herself Team Mom. It was something to be expected - she was the Pink Ranger, after all. It was bad enough trying to hide from her cooking, but she seemed to have this sense that there was something that Jayden should be talking about. It was like she had decided that he wasn’t just there to protect them but that it was her job to take care of him. Jayden understood her point, a little more after his teammates had spent more time with him, but that still didn’t change the facts. He couldn’t unburden himself to Mia. His problems, and his secrets, were his own, and no matter how much she tried to get him to open up, he knew that her efforts were doomed to failure.
In some ways, Kevin and Emily were the opposite problem. Mia wanted him to open up to her - Kevin and Emily simply seemed to assume that he was perfect already, and that he was the leader that he worked so hard to project the image of. Emily’s optimism - possibly her naive optimism - made it hard in some ways to try and talk to her at all. He was almost afraid that saying the wrong thing that contradicted her expectations of him would completely crush her. After seeing her in battle a few times, and seeing just what it was that she could handle, he knew that he was wrong in his initial judgement of her, but finding out how she had been bullied and teased only made him more determined never to disappoint her.
But Kevin, in some ways Kevin combined all of the problems. Kevin took his responsibilities as a samurai incredibly seriously, more seriously than anyone else Jayden knew, except for maybe Ji. To Kevin, everything needed to be done by the book, and there was a certain way to be a samurai. And in Kevin’s eyes, Jayden was that perfect samurai. It hurt a bit, knowing what all of his teammates had given up to join him in his duty, when he was lying to them all the time.
He didn’t want to know what Kevin would think if he ever found out the truth, that Jayden wasn’t the perfect samurai leader that they all thought he was. Kevin had given up everything to join them. Kevin was the actual perfect samurai that Jayden was only pretending to be. Kevin took the training seriously in a desire to please, he regimented every moment of his life so that he would be the best, while Jayden... if he had a choice, would this really be what he would choose? It wasn’t really worth thinking about.
The only Ranger that he really felt that he could be himself around was Mike, and that took a while to happen. At first, Jayden felt like he disliked Mike. Mike didn’t take anything seriously. Jayden wasn’t even sure if he really wanted to be a samurai ranger. He spent a lot of time watching him, but he quickly realized that Mike did actually care. Mike wanted to be the best. He wanted the respect of the others. He just wanted to be able to have a life on top of that.
In some ways, Mike and Jayden were the most alike of all the Rangers. Mike was... Mike was probably what Jayden would be like if he could choose. And without entirely noticing how it happened, Jayden started to spend more time with Mike. At first it was just training - the two of them working out together. Then they started talking. Jayden didn’t have a lot of things to tell Mike - it wasn’t like Jayden had the most normal childhood, but Mike seemed just as interested in hearing about Jayden’s life as he was in explaining the plots of videogames and old cartoons to Jayden, and in telling him about all the adventures that he’d gotten into with his friends.
At some point, Jayden realized that Mike was the first real friend that he’d had since he was a child. The first person he could truly relax around. The first person who didn’t expect him to be the perfect samurai. When he was around Mike, he could just relax, be himself, not feel pressured to lie all the time. Mike didn’t really expect anything from Jayden - he still trusted him, and thought of Jayden as the leader, but he wasn’t going to force Jayden into a role that Jayden wasn’t sure he wanted. Mike let Jayden take things on his own terms.
And when that somehow transitioned into the two of them making out on Mike’s bed, well, it felt like the most natural thing in the world.