He had been about 3 when his awareness of the world finally became strong enough for him to understand. He was glad of this, remembering his own birth or the time period where he wasn't potty-trained would have been humiliating. Admittedly, this existence had seemed rather odd, but it didn't really seem important. He just went along with it. But now he was aware. Aware that this toddler's body was wrong. It wasn't the one he knew.
He had grown up the second child of an upper-middle class family in suburban America. He had an older sister who was awkward and shy and a complete nerd. He had a younger brother who was outgoing and loud and a drama queen. He himself had been a calm medium, often playing diplomat between the two extremes. Morning martial arts practices with all his family together. Weekends spent at competitions with his brother (his sister had been equally talented, but was too shy and had no competitive streak). He remembered evenings reading novels and comics and manga with his sister. He remembered long debates about film/television/anime adaptions versus their original literature, and which was better. School came and went every year till graduation. He remembered cheering for his sister, being cheered for, then cheering for his brother.
Most devastating in his memory, was the diagnosis. It had been exhausting and painful. Struggling to get through what was once a warm-up kata. Barely able to keep food down. He had fought it. Over and over he had fought the illness until he was bedridden, then he had kept fighting. And when he could fight no more, his family had fought for him.
His shy, shrinking-violet of a sister would march into his hospital room with a stack of manga. Beware any nurse or doctor that tried to enforce visiting hours with her around! His boisterous brother recounting the mishaps of their martial arts classes as calmly as he could manage. His loving parents had searched so long for a donor or a cure. All of them arranging their schedules so that he was alone as little as possible.
All their fierce strength hadn't been enough to save him. He doesn't remember dying. He remembers saying goodbye, being tired, knowing he wasn't going to wake up, falling asleep; but he doesn't remember the moment of death. It's a blessing.
So he knows that he should not be here. Should not be three years old. Should not be the only child. Should not be in China, of all places. Should not understand the language that is spoken. Should not speak it himself. But he is and he does and he cannot change it. It is like his illness, but instead of an ending looming over him, it is the beginning of an unforeseeable journey stretching before him.
Now that he has some awareness, he has come to some conclusions. The plasticity of a child's brain is most likely what allowed him to pick up the language so quickly. He is probably in a time period from before he was born (in his first life): there aren't any cell phones or computers, no signs of futuristic technology, even though he appears to be in a wealthy household, though a member of a servants' family. This new family is very powerful and does things that are very illegal: there are always people coming and going in the dead of night, hushed voices and ominous double meanings are used whenever 'business' is discussed, and police and government officials are spoken of like pets or nuisances. He is being groomed as an enforcer or worse: even before he could properly walk he had been started on martial arts training, he was encouraged to be silent and impassive unless directly addressed, and all the 'games' he plays involve identifying and attacking weak points.
He has also concluded he is very good at it. The martial arts seem to carry over from his old life, along with his discipline and awareness. If anything, they come easier than ever before. He seems to be in the body of a prodigy. The changes are strange: he is better coordinated (even at this age) than he ever was; he absorbs knowledge like it would get taken away from him otherwise; and he cannot be idle. He can sit still physically – years of martial arts discipline at work – but his mind is always going goinggoing. Everything in him cries out to be in motion, to attack the problem or threat, to keep working till it everything is fixed. He masters this desire like he did everything else.
The illness was not something he could fight, and neither is this new life or body. At this age, he cannot do anything to change his circumstances. He must simply weather them. So he coils his restlessness tight, only to be allowed out during katas and martial arts lessons. They think he is a well-behaved child. A young genius, he is always pleasant and smiling, only crying when he cannot help it and always silent when it happens.
He remembers something his sister revealed, the first time he witnessed her having an anxiety attack, "when people cry loudly, it is because – more than anything else – they need someone to notice; when people cry silently, it is because – more than anything else – they cannot stop." In the night, when there is no one to notice, he cannot stop the tears. He misses them. This too, cannot be changed.
It takes time, but he mourns his loss and accepts his circumstances. He has developed very little attachment to this family, but there is a slight fondness. At least he reacts properly to his new name: Fon. Months later, he notices a new development: he is going to have a sibling. This reaches his heart where nothing else could.
His mother is a distant figure, always away doing whatever work it is that she does. He has never met his father, and such a figure has never been referenced. Whatever male role-model he could require is fulfilled by his instructors. The other adults around are distant and see him as a potential commodity. There are few other children, and they are usually kept away from him (Fon seems to be a lower class). But to be a sibling again! He loved his sibling more than life, before, and Fon knows his heart well enough to know that it will not change now.