Treading Water

Early Season 1. Before and after "How To Be A Hero."

This started out as an "I bet G Man would be an awesome swim instructor" plot bunny and turned into something with themes and metaphors and characters striving for development and blah blah. Sorry about that, haha. Part 1 of 3. I can't promise how quickly the other two will be uploaded, but I was getting antsy about not having uploaded anything in a while. Also, this will encourage me to finish the ending.

Thanks to Teobi for her constant encouragement, especially of all things MAG. :) You the best, boo. And a shout-out to Louise Hargadon for her triumphant return! Whee!

One

Mary Ann stands on the beach at the lagoon fanning herself with a palm frond. It's the hottest day yet on the island. Her arm burns under her beach towel as the sun beats down on her head. She can feel her shoulders cooking through the thin layer of suntan lotion she managed to scrape from the bottom of the bottle she bought back in Hawaii. The Professor is working on concocting a new formula from ingredients on the island and he better hurry before they all turn into peeling blistering monstrosities. Ginger and the Howells are wisely hiding inside, but Mary Ann stands on the beach, baking, wanting nothing more than to go hide in one of the dark damp caves in the interior of the island.

But she can't leave. She's here on business.

Gilligan is teaching her how to swim.

She never needed to know how to swim in Kansas. There was a lake not too far from town, but Mary Ann had never actually been in it. Mary Ann and her best friend Cindy would spend days there in the summer sometimes. They'd pack up her cousins and Cindy's siblings and watch them play until the hunky kid hired to be the lifeguard got bored and sent them all home. The closest Mary Ann and Cindy ever got to the water was to sit on the edge of the dock and swing their toes through the lake, sucking in their stomachs and giggling every time the lifeguard peered over at them.

When she won the trip to Hawaii, Mary Ann still didn't have the urge to learn how to swim. She was perfectly content to lie on her towel on the beach and read and watch the tourists and revel in the sunshine and the smell of the salt drifting off the ocean.

But on her first day in Hawaii she strode into a beachfront shop and bought herself the cute yellow bikini that was on display in the front window. She knew Aunt Martha and Uncle George would never let her out of the house in it in Kansas, which struck her as ironic considering the length of her shorts. But in Hawaii, three thousand miles away from their disapproving frowns, she was going to wear whatever bathing suit she wanted!

But she didn't.

She got to the beach the first day and saw the gorgeous native Hawaiian girls in their bright colored bikinis and the leggy blonde Swedish tourists and the muscled surfer guys and she sat demurely on her towel reading her romance novel, keeping her dress on over her suit the whole time. The next day she returned to her tried and true black one-piece bathing suit.

But she's wearing her cute yellow bikini today. Because it's hot out.

She briefly lets herself think about what it would be like to go skinny dipping. Probably amazing on a sweltering day like today. But she'd never do it. Plus, she's expecting Gilligan shortly and so she stays rooted to the beach fanning herself with the palm frond. Her brain momentarily – and of its own accord – thinks about what it would be like to go skinny dipping with Gilligan and Mary Ann promptly admonishes herself. She gasps and blushes and tries to pretend that she has no idea where that thought came from.

Mary Ann was a little embarrassed to admit to him that she can't swim. But he didn't judge her for it. He doesn't judge her for anything. But she's twenty years old, for goodness sakes. A healthy young woman who climbs trees and rides horses and milks cows is suddenly scared to death of being swallowed up by big bodies of water.

The storm and shipwreck most certainly have something to do with it. The storm was one of the most terrible things she had ever experienced in her life – and she had experienced a lot of terrible things in her life. In the middle of the night she sometimes still hears the wind and the rain and the thunder and the lightning and the waves crashing against the side of the boat until she has to press her pillow over her ears. Sometimes she even makes herself seasick if she thinks about it too hard.

Everyone was scared on the Minnow that day, but Mary Ann soon found herself attached to the poor young first mate, who looked completely out of his depth at what to do with her. So he told her some jokes to calm her down and let her cling to his arm until the Skipper bellowed from above that he needed his help. Gilligan sprang to his feet dutifully, unintentionally pulling Mary Ann up with him as her nails dug into him.

"It'll be fine," he told her calmly as he pried her hands off his arm. "I gotta go help the Skipper."

"But I can't swim!" she blurted, reattaching herself to his arm every time he managed to unlatch one of her hands.

Gilligan took her by the shoulders and steered her to the bench between the Professor and Mr. Howell, gently pushing her into the seat. "We won't have to swim. But if we do, I'll come and get you, first thing. I was the best swimmer in the whole United States Navy," Gilligan asserted, barely missing Mr. Howell roll his eyes. "The Skipper can help everybody else," he continued and Mrs. Howell looked slightly aghast at being abandoned before she was even in danger. "I'll come and get you," Gilligan repeated with a calm gentle smile that Mary Ann still thought about when the storm in her head got too bad. "I'd never let you drown, Mary Ann. I promise."

They didn't have to swim, thankfully, but they've been on the island now for about a month and Mary Ann felt like a total chicken. She cooks and cleans and does the laundry, but she grabs at Gilligan's arm at every thunderstorm, overreacts to every theory that there might be some minor teeny tiny threat that would most likely never amount to anything. She drowns in her fears and she hates it.

She's hearty Midwestern stock and it's about time she started acting like it. So she asked Gilligan to teach her how to swim. After all, he was the best swimmer in the whole United States Navy.

They had their first lesson yesterday when it was twenty degrees cooler and the lukewarm lagoon water wrinkled her skin and seeped into her bones and chilled her for hours. They knelt in the shallowest part of the lagoon, Gilligan in his t-shirt and swim trunks and Mary Ann in her black one-piece suit, while he gave her the unabridged history of swimming until she told him he sounded like the Professor. Then he taught her about breathing by making her blow bubbles in the water like a three year old at her first swim lesson until she was thoroughly annoyed and he was thoroughly amused.

Today, however, was the real stuff. Gilligan's lesson plan included going in the water.

Mary Ann would be more scared if she wasn't so eager to get out of this awful heat. Thank goodness she thought to pull her hair up into a ponytail this morning so at least it's not sticking to her neck. She even found a yellow hair ribbon that matches her bathing suit.

Mary Ann sighs. Who thinks about what they're wearing for a swim lesson?

A bead of sweat trickles down her spine from under her bikini top and disappears under the waistband of her shorts and she squirms. The heat is making it hard to breathe. She's just about to find a palm frond for her other hand when Gilligan appears, sauntering out of the jungle behind her.

"Hi!" he chirps happily. Gilligan stops beside her to kick off his sneakers, spraying sand over her own feet. He dumps his towel unceremoniously on top of his shoes. He crosses his arms over himself and peels his sweaty t-shirt off over his head, losing his hat in the process. He rumples it up into a ball with a muttered "yuck" and tosses it onto the sand, where millions of grains instantly stick to the wet fabric. He replaces his hat on his head and heads toward the lagoon without another word.

Halfway there, Gilligan seems to realize she's not with him and turns around. Mary Ann is watching him wide eyed, still rooted to the sand next to his t-shirt, the palm frond hovering dumbly by her right shoulder. "Coming?" he asks and she blinks. He's not as scrawny as he looks, lean arm muscles moving under his pale skin as he swings his arms. He awkwardly hops from foot to foot as the sand burns his soles.

Mary Ann nods and sets her towel and the palm frond down on a nearby rock. She takes off her shoes and places them neatly beside the rock. He's still watching her patiently and she wishes he'd turn around as she unzips her shorts and shimmies out of them. When she looks up again his head is craned around toward the waterfall as if it's the most interesting thing he's ever seen.

Mary Ann slows to a stop halfway down the beach. "I don't know if I'm ready, Gilligan," she says, burying her pink painted toenails in the scorching sand. "I've only had one lesson. Maybe we should talk about it more."

Gilligan laughs and comes to collect her. "You'll never learn to swim if you never go in the water."

Well, that's logical enough.

Gilligan takes her hand and pulls her toward the water. She lags behind - almost resisting, but not quite. He marches straight into the lagoon until the water's up around his knees. Mary Ann stops slightly behind him, clutching his hand with both of hers. They stand in silence for a bit, the water soothing their burning feet. The water laps gently around their legs and the bottom isn't as rocky as Mary Ann had expected, the sand soft under her toes. The lagoon is clear and blue and Mary Ann takes one of her hands from Gilligan's, running her fingertips over the surface, watching the ripples and tiny waves spread out around them.

"That's a different bathing suit," Gilligan says suddenly, startling her.

Mary Ann glances down at her tan midriff. "Oh. Yeah. I didn't rinse out my other one last night. I got this in Hawaii."

"You look like a native Hawaiian girl."

Her eyes widen. "I do?"

"Sure. And now you're gonna learn how to swim like one."

Gilligan deposits his hat on her head and dives gracefully away from her, disappearing under the water like a seal. Mary Ann wrings his hat in her hands until he finally resurfaces about thirty yards away, halfway between her and the gentle curve in the shoreline that empties their lagoon out into the endless blue ocean. He waves at her before slipping back under the water.

He doesn't reappear. Mary Ann knows she shouldn't be worried, but she had no idea he could hold his breath this long. It might even be physically impossible for someone to hold their breath this long. She doesn't even really know how long he's been submerged. "Gilligan?" she calls, but he's disappeared completely. Gone.

She shields her eyes from the blinding sun and scans the horizon. She doesn't even know if he was heading further out or back toward her. "Gilligan!"

Someone taps her on the shoulder and Mary Ann shrieks and whirls around. She loses her footing in the sand and plummets backwards, landing unceremoniously on her rear in the water. Gilligan's standing above her, backlit by the sun, grinning at her. Water drips from his hair, his ears, his chin.

Mary Ann scowls at him from the ground, only her knees, shoulders, and head poking out of the water. "Gilligan!" she yells, panting from the fright.

His grin turns lopsided as he reaches down to help her up. "Sorry." Gilligan hooks both hands under her arms and pulls her back to her feet. He shakes the wet hair out of his eyes like a puppy and flings water droplets all over her. Mary Ann immediately smacks him with his soaking wet hat and he grabs it back from her.

"Don't scare me like that," she pouts, turning sharply away from him. The wet ends of her ponytail send beads of water into his eyes as it whips past his nose. "I could've drowned."

Gilligan raises his eyebrows. "In two feet of water?" Mary Ann crosses her arms and ignores him. He grins wickedly as he momentarily contemplates wringing his wet hat out over her head, but he's already in enough trouble, so he turns and tosses it up onto the beach. "I'd never let you drown, Mary Ann," he adds sincerely, stepping closer behind her. "I promise."

Mary Ann peers at him suspiciously over her shoulder, a small smile playing at her lips. "Okay." She turns back toward him fully and plants her hands on her hips. "So what's the plan for today, Mr. Gilligan?"

"You're going in the water," he says simply and turns her back around, pushing her farther into the lagoon.

"But I was just in the water!" Mary Ann tries to dig her heels into the sand.

"Not long enough." Gilligan knees her in the back of the leg and punches her gently in the back to keep her moving. "You're not even all wrinkly yet."

"I don't want to be all wrinkly!"

"I do!"

Whatever retort Mary Ann is going to come out with next dies on her lips as she feels his hands flatten out around her ribs and begin steering her deeper into the water.

Gilligan finally coaxes her out into the lagoon until the water is lapping gently around his chest. He lets go of her and immediately feels the familiar sensation of Mary Ann's nails digging into his arm.

"It's too deep," she insists.

"No, it's not. There's no current. Nothing bad can happen. Stand still, you'll see."

Mary Ann looks up at Gilligan. He's closed his eyes and is standing perfectly still, his face slightly raised toward the sun. The intense heat is drying his shoulders quickly, but water still glistens in patches. Tiny water droplets cling to the ends of his eyelashes. He looks so peaceful. Mary Ann blushes a little and looks out toward the sea, concentrating on the warm water swirling around her. It's comforting, really. Not at all like the big scary ocean with waves and sharks and storms.

When he feels Mary Ann let go of his arm at last, Gilligan cracks one eye open to peer at her. She has her eyes closed and is smiling prettily. "Well?"

"It's nice," she murmurs.

"I told you. Now you get to swim in it."

Mary Ann's eyes snap open. "But I don't know how!"

Gilligan laughs. "I'm gonna teach you. But first you need to learn how to float. Just in case you're out in the water and you get tired, you can float for a while. But don't fall asleep." Gilligan shakes his head, his eyes wide. "I learned that the hard way. I woke up on the bottom of the pool."

Mary Ann watches him for a second, unsure if he's kidding or not. "Well, okay. How do I do that?"

"On your back," he says and in an instant he has one arm around her back and the other hooked under her knees. She shrieks as he lifts her up until she's half out of the water.

"Gilligan!"

She reaches for him, but he steps back and stretches his arms out in front of him. "Lay back!"

"What?"

"Lay back and float on top of the water!" he almost yells. The last thing he needs is for her to squirm out of his arms and sink to the bottom of the lagoon.

Something in his voice makes Mary Ann listen to him and she quickly realizes that he knows exactly what he's doing. Although she's beginning to doubt his status as the best swimmer in the whole United States Navy. At the very least, he's not the most tactful.

"You have to lie flat," he says more calmly and Mary Ann can feel one of his hands under her back and the other under her knees, gently holding her on the surface of the water. "Push your stomach up. The air in your lungs keeps you buoyant."

Mary Ann takes a deep breath. Not only does it help her float, but it also begins to calm her down. She peers up at him. His face is completely in shadow against the sun, outlining his head like a halo. "That's a big word, Mr. Gilligan."

"Keep your head back or you'll sink."

"Yes, sir." Mary Ann turns from him and closes her eyes against the sun, concentrating on keeping her stomach up and staying afloat. "This hurts my neck," she says after awhile.

Gilligan makes sure her legs are floating on their own, her pedicured toes peeking out of the water, before he switches hands under her back and moves up toward her head. He peers down at her. "Put your head back. You'll float."

"It is back."

"Put your ears under the water."

"I don't want to," she pouts like a little girl.

"You're just making it harder for yourself."

Mary Ann is fully prepared to ignore him until she feels his hand on the back of her head, his fingers disappearing into her hair. He gently pulls her head back until her ears slip under the water. Mary Ann panics only for a second. She isn't sure what she was expecting. The whole lagoon doesn't suddenly rush into her head and rinse her brains away.

"You okay?" he asks. He sounds farther away, muted through the water, but she can still hear him.

She nods. "Uh huh."

"You have to pay attention. Keep your stomach up." He pushes on her back and Mary Ann realizes that she's gotten lazy. "Don't fall asleep."

She smiles. "I won't."

They're quiet for the next few minutes and Mary Ann has to constantly remind herself to stay vigilant so she doesn't sink. Gilligan watches her closely. She looks so peaceful, but is doing a good job of keeping herself afloat. Her ponytail and the ends of the yellow ribbon float out behind her head. She has her arms out for balance and is running her palms gently over the smooth surface of the water. He can feel the water moving behind him and every once in a while her fingers brush his back and they both pretend they don't notice. The parts of her that are out of the water – her face, her toes, the tops of her hands, her stomach – dry quickly under the bright sun, except for the puddle that has gathered in her belly button.

"And for his next trick," Gilligan says suddenly, tearing his eyes away from her, "the Great Gilligani will do the impossible. Oft attempted, but never perfected, behold – the art of levitation!" Mary Ann's smile widens, but she keeps still. "Note how the Great Gilligani is holding his lovely assistant up with only his two bare hands. But wait! What's this? He's letting go? It can't be!"

Mary Ann feels his right hand detangle itself from her hair. A moment later, his other hand leaves her back. He pulls both hands out of the water and shows them to his imaginary audience and then takes a step back from his assistant. "He's done it!" he rejoices, throwing both arms up into the air, water droplets flying from his fingertips and drizzling down on her. "The Great Gilligani has mastered levitation! Take that, Houdini! Tell us how you did it, Great Gilligani!"

"Well, I can't tell you, Chuck," Gilligan continues in his smooth magician's voice, "because then it wouldn't be magic. Although I can assure you that I am amazing and my assistant is doing absolutely no work whatsoever right now. In fact, she's fast asleep."

Mary Ann bursts out laughing. Before she realizes what's happening, her stomach deflates and her pelvis sinks and she folds in on herself. She feels the hot humid air on her fingertips and toes one last time before they slip underwater and she's totally submerged.

Gilligan lets out one of the more colorful expressions he learned in the Navy and plunges underwater.

He pulls Mary Ann to the surface only a second later, both arms tight around her waist. "I'm sorry!" he sputters. "Mary Ann, I'm sorry!"

Mary Ann blinks rapidly, gasping for air. Her nose tingles, her eyes burn. She clings to his shoulders, disoriented, as he holds her up high in the water.

Gilligan reaches up and clumsily pulls her bangs out of her eyes. "Are you okay?" he asks and she nods. "Are you sure? Do you want to quit for today? We should quit for today."

Mary Ann shakes her head through a coughing fit.

"Are you sure?"

Mary Ann nods and takes a deep breath. "No. I'm fine. Really."

Gilligan frowns at her as she wipes at her eyes, smearing black across her face. "Why are you wearing makeup to a swimming lesson?"

Mary Ann peers down at her smudged fingertips, then at his face, his brows furrowed curiously. Not judging, never judging, just curious. This makes even less sense than wearing a hair ribbon to a swimming lesson. She sighs. "You know how we are. Girls always like to look their best."

Gilligan shrugs, jostling her against his chest. "It's just me."

She smiles. "I know."