An airbender never meets their birth parents (or at least, never knows them as such). They are raised communally, by the monks and other airbenders, with chants and songs and laughs and grins. They are taught and they teach, raised by many parents alongside many siblings.
To this, Aang is no exception. He grows up in a family too big and beautiful for words, with parents that smile and parents that scold, with siblings that cheer and siblings that sulk.
He tries to explain this to Kuzon and Bumi. Kuzon–with his two parents and little sister–tilts his head, and for a moment, Aang thinks he gets it. But then, Kuzon laughs and says, “One sister is enough of a handful, and my cousins, too. I can’t imagine how you live in all that chaos, Aang.”
“I dunno,” Bumi remarks with a grin. “A little chaos sounds fun!”
“Chaos is all well and good,” Kuzon argues, though he can’t fight his own grin, “but with you two, not with an entire family!”
“Speaking of chaos,” Aang interrupts, “didn’t you guys have an idea for a prank we could play?”
The conversation tapers off into plotting a prank on someone who made fun of Bumi’s orphan status (“Really, I don’t care what they say.” “Well, we do.”), and Aang pushes away the strange feeling in his chest.
While playing Pai Sho with Gyatso later, Aang asks why explaining their concept of family is so hard.
“Because we’re not quite like the other Nations, Aang. We don’t have parents in the same way, nor do we define families in the same way. None of us are wrong,” he adds, “just different.”
“You had a friend in the Fire Nation,” Aang recalls. “You told me about him once. His name was Roku.”
“I did,” Gyatso agrees with a smile. “He was one of my good friends, Sometimes...I see him in you, Aang.”
Aang perks up. “Really?” Me, resembling one of Monk Gyatso’s friends?
“You have the same smile that he did,” Gyatso explains with a grin, “when he had mischief in his mind.”
“I’m not mischievous!” Aang protests, though it’s undercut by his next words, “I just...like to have fun, that’s all!”
“And there’s no shame in that, of course.” Gyatso smiles indulgently at him, in that way that warms Aang from the inside out. “Speaking of which…”
A draft blows in suddenly, and Aang’s robe flips over his head as he gasps. When he finally manages to straighten himself out, he sees that a few of his tiles have been rearranged, and Gyatso’s placed in a way that traps them all.
“I believe that’s my win, young one.”
Aang huffs. “I know you did that on purpose, Monk Gyatso.”
“Me?” Gyatso gasps in mock offense, setting Aang off in a round of giggles. “I think you, my young pupil, are just upset that you lost again!”
Aang can scarcely hear him over his own laughter.
Aang blinks, his vision clearing to reveal Sokka in front of him, hand on his shoulder. Their friends, all clustered around the room, turn at the sound of his voice, eyeing him with varying degrees of concern.
“Aang?” Sokka repeats softly. “Are you okay?”
Aang looks back at Sokka, then down at the Pai Sho board. The pieces are arranged in such a way that Sokka is almost guaranteed to win, unless…
Unless Aang takes a page out of his father’s book.
Sokka cries out in surprise as a sharp gust of wind blows through the room, flipping his shirt over his head. Grinning brightly, Aang rearranges a few of the pieces into a familiar pattern, feeling something warm in his chest.
He can almost hear Gyatso chuckling as he does so.
Sokka straightens himself out, scrutinizes the board, and protests, “Hey! That’s cheating!”
“What do you mean, Sokka?” Aang asks innocently. “All I did was move a few pieces.”
“You’re not allowed to move my pieces!”
Aang shrugs, still grinning. “Maybe you’re just not as good at Pai Sho as you think.”
“I am too good at Pai Sho!” He turns to their friends. “Guys, help me out here! That was totally illegal, right?”
The others look at each other and shrug.
“We didn’t see,” Mai says, gesturing to herself, Suki, and Ty Lee, the other two of whom are wearing apologetic smiles.
“I did,” Zuko offers, “but it seems like he was just...moving pieces. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?”
“Ugh!” Sokka glances at Katara and Toph. “Well?”
Toph smirks. “Oh yeah, I totally saw Aang cheating.”
Sokka grins in triumph before realizing his mistake and sighing. “I guess I walked into that one.”
“It’s okay. Sokka,” Aang says, laughing. “I’ll admit–”
“Wait.” Katara glances between Toph and Sokka with a devious smirk. “Toph, you couldn’t see it...but could you sense it?”
Toph’s eyes light up. “Now that you mention it, Sugar Queen, I did sense someone’s heart beating a bit faster than normal over there.”
Sokka grins in triumph until Toph says, “But you guys were so close to each other that I couldn’t really tell who was who.”
“Oh, come on!”
As Aang looks around at all of them, at his group of friends all clustered together in varying shades of green in Zuko’s uncle’s tea shop after winning a hundred-year war, he feels...happy.
He’s never been at a loss for happy feelings, of course, but this is different. It feels...fuller. It reminds him of being with Gyatso, before learning that he was the Avatar and destined to save the world...before everything spiraled out of control.
I have a family again, Aang realizes, remembering Gyatso’s words from all those years ago. Not a traditional one, but...since when does family have to be traditional anyway?
As long as he has his friends–his family–by his side, he can do anything. That’s where his real power comes from, he knows, and he’s never letting that go again.