it is the 31st of may aka the very last day because i like leaving things til the very last minute but. here have an andromaquynh mermaid au (feat. a lil kaysanova if you squint) for mermay. affectionately nicknamed mermandromache
Do not go down to the water, they say.
It had been something Quýnh had been told as long as she could remember. Do not go into the woods when the moon is full. Do not stray from the mountain path. Do not go down to the water at high tide on a clear night.
When she was thirteen, she had asked the caretaker at the orphanage where she’d been raised. The woman had simply smiled and shaken her head. There are strange creatures that walk in the light of the moon, child, dangerous creatures. Best to stay safely inside.
Even now, at twenty-seven, she still gets the same old answer. She’s not sure if they’re unwilling to tell her, or if they themselves don’t know.
Quýnh had never exactly been one to do as she was told.
Tonight, she waits until the moon is high in the sky before climbing out of bed and hurrying outside, grabbing her cloak from the hook by the door as she goes. Most of the town is fast asleep, but she sticks to the shadows between the houses. She does not want to be caught. She does not want anyone to follow her, either.
Her house is the closest to the water, perched on the cliffs overlooking the sea. It had gone abandoned for a long time - nobody wanted to live that close to the sea. But that just means that she rents it fairly cheaply, and that she doesn’t have to walk far tonight.
The sea is calm tonight, and the sound of it has always grounded her in a way nothing else seems to. Quýnh walks out onto the rocks, careful not to slip, and sits down on one that’s just high enough that the waves don’t touch her. She folds her cloak in her lap and prepares to wait.
She doesn’t have to wait long.
The first sign of Andromache’s presence is always the stillness: the birds are silent, the wind stops, even the waves seem to stop in their tracks. The whole world seems to hold its breath whenever she draws near.
After a few moments, Andromache’s head breaches the surface of the water. Her hair flows around her shoulders like seaweed, the tips of her pointed ears just visible behind the dark curtain. The moonlight reflects off of the dusting of silver scales on her neck and shoulders, and her eyes seem to glow even in the dark. Quýnh can just make out the outline of her tail below the surface of the water.
“You came back,” Andromache says. She always sounds so surprised, as if Quýnh doesn’t return every time it’s a clear night.
“Of course I did,” Quýnh responds. “I wanted to see you.”
Andromache smiles, revealing pointed teeth. It’s the sort of thing that should frighten Quýnh, but it doesn’t. Andromache is her friend. Not something to be feared.
Quýnh pats the space next to her. “Well? Are you coming?”
She watches as Andromache swims closer to the beach. For two hours a night, she can become human to leave the water, but for no longer than that.
(Quýnh wishes it was longer - she wants to show Andromache her home, and the forest on the outskirts of the town, and the view of the sunrise from the cliff. But two hours is never enough.)
The transformation is too fast to see. She blinks, and Andromache is walking out of the water towards her, her tail gone, her scales now just a delicate tattoo across her neck and shoulders, her ears more rounded.
Quýnh stands up and passes her the cloak. “Here. It’s cold.”
It’s not, really, but Andromache has nothing else, and so she takes the cloak and wraps it around her shoulders. “Thank you.”
They walk along the beach, talking about anything and everything: Andromache talks about her sisters, and her home beneath the sea - the city towers sparkle, and there are brightly colored fish everywhere in the coral gardens. You’d love it. In return, Quýnh tells her about the most recent events in the town - Mrs. Brown had her baby last week, and one of the lambs got loose from the farm. The whole town was looking, but we found him in the end. She always loses track of time when they do this, and it feels like it’s only been ten minutes when Andromache stops and says, “It’s time.”
Quýnh tries to keep her voice light. “Already?”
Andromache nods, but doesn’t move away. Quýnh realises with a start how close they are, how easy it would be to lean over and close the distance between them. The breeze has blown her hair into her eyes. Andromache reaches out to brush it back, and her hand lingers. Her eyes, even in her human form, seem to glow.
Before Quýnh can do anything, Andromache lets her hand drop and steps back, shattering whatever had just passed between them. “You’ll come back?”
“Always,” Quýnh says, even though she doesn’t know when the next clear night will be.
“I’ll see you next time, then,” Andromache says, almost reluctantly. But then she passes Quýnh back her cloak, and walks back into the sea. Quýnh blinks, and the last trace of her is a faint disturbance on the surface of the water.
Quýnh lingers on the beach for just a little longer, staring off into the distance as if she could see Andromache if she looked long enough. She misses her already, like a physical ache in her chest.
Then she turns and runs back up the beach.
She doesn’t go straight home. Instead, she heads for the manor house on the other end of town. All the windows are dark, save for one on the fourth floor, and it is this one that she stops under, reaching to pick up a stone from the gravel pathway. She hurls it at the window, and it bounces off with a clatter. Nothing happens. She throws another stone.
It takes four before the window opens, finally, and Yusuf sticks his head out. She waves. He rolls his eyes, exaggerating the movement enough that she can see it even from down here, and gestures for her to come up.
Conveniently, Yusuf’s window is located near a tree, with a branch that runs close enough for her to jump to the window ledge. She scales it quickly and makes the jump without faltering, having had so much practice at this that she thinks she could do it in her sleep. Yusuf pulls her inside and shuts the window behind her.
She’s known Yusuf for as long as she can remember. They were raised at the same orphanage, and she’s always thought of him as her brother in all but blood. They’d spent most nights sneaking into each other’s rooms, talking long past their bedtimes. Now, they don’t live in the same building anymore, but the old ritual hasn’t changed. Even if Quýnh lives on the edge of town, and Yusuf, who works as the lord of the manor’s assistant (he’s always been good with both words and numbers), is given a room here.
“Did you go to see her again?” Yusuf asks as he closes his sketchbook - she catches a glimpse of a half-finished wolf on the page - and sets it on his desk.
“Of course I did,” Quýnh says, flopping down on the bed and staring up at the ceiling. Yusuf’s painted it with a pattern of stars, the full moon just above her.
Yusuf crosses the room and lies down beside her, the way he had when they were children. “And?”
Quýnh sighs. “I think I love her.”
It took her a long time to even think the words, let alone say them out loud, but she’s sure. She’d never been scared of Andromache, not even the first time she saw her. And after that, once she’d gotten to know her… Andromache is kind, and sharp-witted, and funny. She’d brought Quýnh a gift once, a shell that shimmers in the sunlight, and Quýnh had known then.
She reaches for the shell now - she’d threaded a cord through it, and now wears it around her neck. The words hang in the air for a long time, before Yusuf finally says, “Oh.”
“Two hours never feels like enough, you know? I want to be able to be with her, without sneaking around, and I want to see what it’s like under there, and…” She waves her hand in frustration.
Yusuf furrows his brow thoughtfully. “Hold on a minute.”
He stands up and walks over to his bookshelf, running his fingers over the spines while muttering to himself too quietly for her to hear. She tilts her head to watch.
“There.” He pulls out one of the books and flips to a page about halfway through, and then turns it so she can see it. “There’s a spell that can temporarily give you the ability to transform into one of them.”
She sits up. “Can you do it?”
“Maybe.” He turns the page. “One of the ingredients will be difficult to find, though.”
“Because it only grows in a certain part of the forest, which means we’ll need help if we want to find it.”
“Why can’t we just find it on our own?”
“We’d spend hours looking. But I know someone who might be able to help.”
“Good. So let’s go.”
Yusuf shakes his head. “It has to be at night, and it can't be a full moon. He won’t be there otherwise. Are you sure this is what you want?”
Quýnh stares at him blankly. “What do you mean?”
“I’m just saying… maybe this isn’t a decision you should rush into. Just be sure it’s what you want.”
Quýnh’s never been more sure of anything in her life. “I want to try.”
Four days later, Quýnh makes her way to the forest instead of the water. It’s cloudy, but Yusuf had promised that it wouldn’t be a problem - whoever his friend is, they aren’t like Andromache, who only appears on clear nights. Yusuf is already there when she arrives.
“Where’s your friend?” she asks him.
“He never comes this close to the town. We have to go a little further.”
She follows him into the woods.
She’s never spent much time here, at least not at night. She knows Yusuf has, searching for ingredients to mix his paints. At night, the place feels otherworldly: the trees loom above them, impossibly tall; the snap and crunch of the undergrowth under their feet feels amplified; the rustling in the distance has her looking up every time, alert. The further they go, the more she feels like something is watching them.
They reach a clearing, and Yusuf holds out a hand to stop her. “Here.”
He whistles three times - one short, two long. Nothing happens, but Yusuf searches the treeline in front of them as if expecting something.
“Yusuf,” a quiet voice says from behind them. Quýnh whips round to face the speaker. It’s a man, with shoulder length hair and piercing eyes. He looks perfectly ordinary, but there’s something inhuman in the way he looks at them warily with his head tilted slightly to one side. His gaze, which had previously been fixed on Yusuf, slides to her. “Yusuf’s… friend.”
“Quýnh, this is Nicoló, a friend of mine,” Yusuf says. “Nicoló, this is Quýnh - I told you about her, remember?”
“I remember,” Nicoló says, relaxing and inclining his head to her. “It is good to finally meet you.”
“And you,” Quýnh says, “though I don’t remember Yusuf ever mentioning you to me.” She gives Yusuf a look that says we’re talking about this later as she says the last part, while Nicoló lets out a small huff of laughter.
“We need your help,” Yusuf tells him.
Nicoló straightens immediately. “What do you need?”
“There’s a plant… here.” Yusuf shows him the page in the book with the diagram - a thin stem with purple flowers shaped like bells.
Nicoló studies it for a moment before nodding. “I know where to find it. Follow me.”
It takes two more days for the spell to finish - it has to be mixed at night, then left under the light of the moon for a whole night. Finally, finally, it is ready.
Quýnh runs down to the beach on the next clear night that comes, the vial clutched tightly in her hand. Drink it, Yusuf had told her, and you should be able to transform. For two hours only, though, so be careful.
When she arrives, Andromache is already waiting, hovering in the water just near the rock Quýnh usually sits on.
“I have something to show you,” Quýnh tells her, holding out the vial.
Andromache examines it for a moment, then gives Quýnh a confused look. “What is it?”
“It’ll let me become one of you. Only for two hours, but-”
“You’re serious?” Andromache asks disbelievingly. “You can- we can-”
Quýnh nods. Whatever she is going to say next is lost, because it’s at that moment that Andromache reaches up and kisses her.
The angle’s not quite right, and Quýnh has to lean down to reach her, and it’s not exactly the best. But, at the same time, it’s perfect.
When they break apart, Quýnh slides off of the rock and steps into the water. It only comes up to her knees, but she can already feel the tug of the waves, pulling her deeper. Andromache swims over to join her.
Yusuf had better have been right, she thinks, before uncorking the vial and draining its contents in one gulp.
Immediately, a warm tingling sensation spreads through her whole body - she can feel her ears lengthening, scales appearing on her shoulders, her tail forming. Andromache gives her a sharp-toothed grin and takes her hand, pulling her under the water.
Quýnh’s instinct is to fight to get back to the surface and breathe, but she trusts Andromache, and so she lets herself be drawn deeper. When she can hold her breath no longer, she closes her eyes and breathes.
The sensation of breathing water is strange at first, but she gets used to it. When she looks down, her tail is red, and the scales sparkle.
Andromache pulls her deeper, deeper, and Quýnh follows her willingly.
She would follow her anywhere.