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Rome Wasn't Built In A Day

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“There is no way that baby can swim,” Five said.

“Can you please stop calling Grace Ann ‘that baby’?” Diego muttered. “Her name is Grace Ann, my daughter.” 

“Right,” Five said, wrinkling his nose at Gracie. “But more importantly, this baby is too small to swim.”

“She is not,” Diego insisted. “She’s exactly six months old, which is old enough. I read it in a book.”

“Books can be wrong,” Five said plaintively. “And babies can drown.”

“Don’t mind him, he’s trying to get out of swimming,” Klaus informed Diego.

Five glowered at him. “I am not.” 

“You are to,” Klaus retorted, taking Gracie from Diego’s arms. He fretted, adjusting Klaus’ hands several times before finally getting back to paying attention to Five.

“Five, don’t be ridiculous,” Diego sighed. “I know you and water is a whole barrel of worms--”

“Is that the expression?” Ben muttered.

“--but come on. You learned to swim as a kid, it’ll come back to you.” 

Five glowered even more intensely.

“You realize I never learned, right?” Vanya said, tossing a towel over her shoulder. “Dad never bothered and I never got around to it later.”

 They’d come to the pool at a good time - midday, when it was all but empty save for a few women wrapping up some water acrobatics. The sun shone in the windows, rippling off the water as Allison dipped her feet.

Diego sighed. “We’ll teach you,” he said.

“About that,” Ben said. “It’s been at least 12 years for me.”

“So? It’s like riding a bike, you’ll remember,” Diego said.

Klaus cleared his throat, shifting Gracie to one arm so he could gesture while he spoke. Diego flailed, snatching her back before he dropped her. She cooed, unperturbed by the shifting. “Well,” he said, “assuming we knew how to swim in the first place.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Diego asked. “Dad made us all learn how to swim.”

“Weeeeell,” Klaus said. “I mean, Dad was more focused on you and Luther, when it came to swimming, what with your breath holding and Luther being… well, Luther. But let’s just say while you had Dad’s attention, we… had Allison.”

Allison looked up from where she was sitting on the edge of the pool, long legs sweeping through the water. “I told them they’d regret it, but they paid in chores,” she said.

“It was a good time to read,” Ben said. “Dad never noticed our books in our towels.”

“And the chlorine masked the weed smell,” Klaus said.

Diego stared at them. “Unbelievable.”

“Do you know how hard it is to jump in or out of water?” Five muttered.

“That’s more reason to learn how to swim!” Diego snapped.

“Yeah, but swimming is hard,” Klaus whined.

Diego rolled his eyes and shoved him into the pool.

**

“Really amazing how gentle you can be with Gracie, given that you tried to drown me, your brother,” Klaus said, kicking himself past Diego while Diego held Gracie up with one hand.

“Luther would have dragged you out before you drowned,” Diego said, smiling softly as Gracie paddled studiously.

“You’re lucky I float,” Klaus said.

“Everyone floats,” Diego said.

“Nu-uh,” Klaus said.

“Pretty sure he’s more buoyant than most,” Ben said, doggie paddling back to the shallow end under Luther’s watchful eye.

Diego eyed Klaus as he managed to cross his arms and put his feet up in the water without sinking. “Well, then I don’t know why you’re complaining.”

“You tried to drown me, man!”

Diego sighed. He nodded at Luther. “Hey, man, c’mere, I wanna see if Grace can swim a few strokes.”

“Sure,” Luther said, striding over easily.

Luther either swam like an olympic swimmer, or walked, Vanya noticed. He didn’t do any of the lazy paddling that even Diego and Allison did.

Diego adjusted his grip so he could let go of Gracie and catch her just as easily, waiting until Luther had his hands outstretched. He let go, hands following just below Gracie as she splashed her way over a few more inches into Luther’s hands. Luther let her paddle a few more times before she seemed to be tilting forward and he quickly lifted her out of the water.

“She’s a natural,” Luther said.

“Of course she’s a natural,” Diego said, preening like he did every time Gracie did anything at all.

Vanya snorted, leaning against the edge of the pool to keep steady while she practiced kicking. In theory, swimming didn’t seem hard, but in practice she ached in places she hadn’t known contained muscles.

“Can you hold her for a bit?” Diego said, nodding at Five. “I’m going to try to teach him something.”

“Don’t drown him,” Luther said, spreading his fingers to form a cradle for Gracie so she could paddle away happily.

Diego rolled his eyes, kicking away from Luther and coasting next to Five, who had at this point gotten a single foot into the water. The other was balanced on his thigh, and was occasionally bouncing nervously.

“C’mon, even Vanya can stand in the shallow end, you’ll be fine,” Diego said.

“I’m fine here,” Five said haughtily.

“Five,” Diego said. “At least convince me you’re not going to immediately drown the second you fall in some water.”

Five looked him in the eyes with the driest look a child’s face could produce. “I am not going to drown the second I fall into some water.”

“Prove it,” Diego said. “Come on, at least show me some dog paddling.”

“No,” Five said.

“Yes,” Diego insisted, tugging on the foot in the water.

Five snatched the foot back like a hedgehog retreating to a ball. “No.”

“It’d put us all at ease,” Luther said.

Five scowled at him, to which Luther responded with the most banal of gazes. Klaus snorted loudly, burbling slightly as he slipped under the surface for a moment.

“The shallow end has stairs,” Allison offered. “You can take it one step at a time.”

“Fine, you miserable bastards,” Five said, vanishing and reappearing at the shallow end. “I will dog paddle for you.”

“Good,” Luther said amicably.

How he’d managed to weaponize his earnestness - especially against Five - without losing any of the genuine emotion behind it was beyond Vanya, but it was hilarious to watch.

Five took a deep breath and stepped into the water, grimacing. “It is cold,” he snapped, like they’d intentionally made it cold.

“Get it over with and you’ll adjust,” Klaus said.

“No,” Five said, taking another step down.

“Suit yourself, you’re the only one suffering,” Klaus said.

“He’s right you know,” Ben said. “Rip it off like a bandaid.”

“No,” Five said empathetically.

Vanya rolled her eyes. At this point, she suspected he was only doing it out of spite.

Diego sighed, returning to Gracie while Five cursed profusely over the water hitting his waist. Five watched him, clearly measuring his chances, but Diego only peeked up at him with a tired look. “I’m still watching you,” he said.

Five grumbled at him inaudibly.

Gracie very pointedly stopped paddling and sat in Diego’s hands, and he lifted her out. “I think she’s tired.”

Allison held out her hands. “I got her,” she said. “Come on, Grace Junior, let’s sit next to the pool and watch your uncle suffer.”

“Fuck you too,” Five said.

“No cursing in front of Grace Ann!”

“She’s a baby, she isn’t learning words yet,” Five snapped.

“I’m going to drag you into this pool you little shit,” Diego snapped back. “Wait, no.”

Klaus laughed so hard he bucked under the water and only returned with a fair bit of splashing, and Vanya choked down a giggle with little success. “Just jump the rest of the way, Five,” she said. “It’ll only feel cold for a moment.”

“I’ll get in the water when I feel like it,” Five griped. “Just shut up and stop staring at me.”

“Nnnnahhhh,” Klaus said, putting his hands behind his head as he drifted in the water. “Oooh, oh, hey, watch this!”

He rolled over so he was laying just above the water surface. Vanya hummed, slightly impressed, and watched quietly as he tried to slowly stand.

This didn’t go as well, and he plunged back into the water, splashing all of them in the process.

“Don’t quit your day job, Jesus,” Ben said, and Klaus coughed and spluttered his way back to the shallow end.

“Hey, I got to a solid squatting on water there!” Klaus said.

“It was pretty cool,” Luther said.

“Klaus, you dick,” Five gritted out, shivering now that he’d been thoroughly sprayed by Klaus’ antics.

“I was trying to take the attention off you,” Klaus said, with the air of someone who had not been trying to do that at all.

Five gave him a withering glare that was somehow made all the more powerful by his shivering, and sat down in the water like a drenched alleycat.

“Alright, time to show off your doggy paddle,” Diego said.

“Fine,” Five said, still shivering all over. “But then we go home.”

“We’ll go home after you get across the pool,” Diego said.

“Why do I have to get across?” Five muttered.

“It’s like 50 feet, Luther can cross this pool in a single second,” Diego griped.

Luther measured the distance with his eyes. “Probably, yeah. At most two.”

“Fuckers,” Five muttered. “But fine.”

He lowered himself down to the bottom of the stairs, clutching the railing until he couldn’t anymore, and did his best to kick himself into the water.

He promptly flailed, and went under with all the grace of a panicked ferret.

**

“Stop trying to kick,” Diego said. “One half of your brain is freaking out and if you spend the other half trying to kick and paddle at the same time, you’re gonna drown.”

“Will you stop mentioning drowning!” Five snarled at him.

“Five, I’m literally standing on the bottom right now,” Diego said. “I’m not going to let you drown.”

“You let me swallow half a gallon of chlorinated water!”

“Yeah, because I thought you saying you’d be fine meant you’d at least, like, remember to stand up if you can’t swim!”

“I fucking hate you,” Five said, hedging on a sob.

Diego sighed and held him tighter, pulling him up before he plunged face first into the water. Again.

Klaus winced in sympathy, but there was something very unfortunately hilarious about watching Five make clear why it was called a doggy paddle - specifically because he looked very much like a very small, very wet dog that had not realized it was about to be subjected to water until it was nearly drowned.

It was the fact that he was churning the water more than he was putting any real force into his strokes, Klaus thought, or maybe it was the wide-eyed, absolutely frantic disgruntled look on his face. Or maybe it was the fact that they’d spent the previous hour watching Gracie - who was smaller than even Five’s lower arm - paddling away twice as efficiently as Five, despite having had a lot less help from Diego. 

Hell, maybe it was just the way Diego had to hold on tight no matter how much water Five shoveled into his face in order to prevent Five flailing like a rabid pinwheel, like the key element to staying above water was just to displace as much of it as possible in any direction possible.

“I know,” Diego said, in a way that had gotten increasingly more common in the past six months, and which Klaus liked to call the “proof that Diego Hargreeves had been waiting all his life for a very sweet baby girl to drag the soft dad hiding deep under many layers of anger out of him, probably kicking and screaming because this is Diego after all” voice.

Five shoved a good armful of water into his face, which didn’t seem to phase him much.

“Don’t just flail randomly,” Diego said. “You’re a physics whizz, bro, you know this. You want to create a force to keep you up and going forward.”

“I fucking know! It’s harder in practice!”

Diego sighed. “Look,” he said, trying to shift Five to one arm so he could use the other to demonstrate. This resulted in a large amount of water going in so many directions, Klaus couldn’t really follow. “Jesus Christ, dude, I’m not going to let you drown!”

“It’s just happening!” Five hissed.

Diego groaned. “Okay, okay, fine. Don’t try to stay afloat, I’m just gonna hold you above the water, and try to stop panicking, got it?”

“Oh, yeah, sure, just the easy stuff,” Five said. “What do you think I’m doing, you moron?!”

Diego rolled his eyes and planted his feet, lifting Five so his chin was over the water surface. It seemed Five could not stop kicking and flailing entirely, but he did manage to stop enough that Diego could hold him steady, his harsh breathing quieting down until it was just long pants fanning out under his nose across the water.

“I’m gonna lower you down just a little,” Diego said. “So you get used to tilting your head up when you start sinking.”

He moved to do as he had warned, sighing loudly when Five pitched forward in panic and then overcompensated, spluttering, and nearly headbutted Diego in the face.

“You okay?” he asked, after the spluttering stopped. “Can I try again?”

“I hate you,” Five whined.

“Last thing,” Diego said. “Then we go home.”

“Fucking asshole,” Five replied, a childish complaint stuck in the back of his throat.

“Uh-huh,” Diego said amicably, gently guiding Five’s head back and bending his knees.

Five kicked on impulse, trying to buck forward again - it was mostly, Klaus thought, a kneejerk reaction to being picked up from behind at this point - but Diego steadied him with a small touch to his chin and nudged him into breathing a few times even with his head nearly submerged.

“Okay,” Diego said, hauling him out of the water. “I’m far from relieved at how this has gone, but I think you might learn to stay afloat before Gracie learns the butterfly.”

“Fuck you,” Five said weakly, darting to solid ground the moment the railing became easier to grip than Diego. He was shaking like a leaf, and Ben quickly dropped a towel over his head. “Fuck all of you, really.”

“Five, you need to learn how to have crippling phobias in a less entertaining way,” Klaus said.

Luther made a pinched face. “Don’t call it entertaining, we all understand that this is a big adjustment for him.”

“Yes,” Klaus said. “And that it was, sadly, hysterical to watch. I know you thought so too, big guy, even with that soft heart of yours.”

Luther grimaced. “You just shouldn’t say it.”

“Thanks,” Five said. “I definitely feel less patronized now, Luther.”

“Sorry.”

“Of course you feel patronized. You suck at swimming,” Diego said.

Five glared at him. “Yeah, the dried out husk of the world and the zombie apocalypse are very good places to learn to swim.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have cheated your way through swim lessons as a kid,” Diego said.

“Yeah, because that half hour of free time we got every week was so rewarding,” Five said. “God knows why we’d want to stray from Dad’s schedule.”

Diego made a face. “Okay, point taken,” he said. “And once you can dog paddle well enough I’m convinced you could make it out of a kiddy pool without dying, I promise I’ll leave you alone.”

He reached for Gracie, who chirped happily at being handed back to him. “You on the other hand,” Diego said, “are gonna learn to swim properly, because you are a natural.” He thought about it. “Unless you start hating it. She seemed happy though today, right?”

Klaus gave Vanya a look to try to silently communicate, Your turn.

“Yes, Diego, she had fun,” Vanya intoned. “She’s gonna learn to swim before she’s three and she’s going to have fun because she’ll enjoy doing stuff with her dad.”

“You think?” Diego pressed, looking adorably fretful.

“Yes,” they all said.

Gracie, as always, hammered home the point by falling asleep on Diego.

Klaus wondered how old Gracie would be before she noticed she was possibly the most loved baby on the planet. He was betting on three or four years old, but she probably sensed it already.

Five wrapped the towel around his shoulders around himself tightly. “I want soup on the way home.” He thought about it. “Something that goes well with those oyster crackers.”

“Sure,” Luther said. “After we shower off and get changed, we’ll swing by the deli.”

“Why the hell would we shower after swimming?” Five muttered.

“Chlorine is itchy,” Klaus said wisely. “Since we’re in bathing suits anyway, we can shower together and I’ll help you wash your face.”

Five glowered at him.

It was unlikely that he cared to be reminded of the time when Klaus had made them both change into bathing suits to help Five shower, but he begrudgingly nodded anyway.

“We’ll be quick,” Klaus said. “And afterwards you’ll get the polygon crackers.”

“That’s not why I like them,” Five said.

“Excuse you, I saw you making a honeycomb out of crackers,” Klaus said. “Don’t try to deny it, nerd.”

Five sighed, but he let Klaus drape an arm over his shoulders and usher him towards the showers.