(credit to cadesama for the title idea)
Author: Arafel (crawlybug at gmail dot com)
Spoilers: Big honkin’ ones for the whole series
Related essays: mistressrenet's Love, Angst and Snappy Dialogue
jaina's Tiny Guns, Big Heart
Notes: jaina has also posted a fan soundtrack for this pairing at fst. By necessity, this ship essay covers the anime. Quotes are from the dub.
Townsman: What's this, a little trouble with the boyfriend?
Meryl: He's not my boyfriend! Stop it, I don't even like him!
--"Little Arcadia," episode 14 of Trigun
The story, in a nutshell.
Vash the Stampede: ace gunman and wanted outlaw with $$60,000,000,000 on his head. Meryl Stryfe: Bernardelli insurance agent assigned to hunt him down and stop the destruction he causes. He's her job. She's his unwanted tagalong. They take an instant dislike to one another. Isn't it perfect?
This is an act in two parts, his perspective and her perspective - how it starts, what happens, and how it could end. As Rem said, the ticket to the future is always blank.
Vash the Stampede. Every time I observe his actions, I can't help but sense something deep within him, something we can't begin to understand. But this much is certain: everyone who has become involved with him has somehow regained an emotion which was once lost. There are so many sides to him - which is the real Vash?
Meryl Stryfe, Vash the Stampede
When we first meet Meryl Stryfe, she is the epitome of the focused businesswoman. She's been given a job to do, and that job is to contain Vash the Stampede. She's been sent out on this mission because she's the best they've got, but for all her insurance experience, Meryl is naive in the ways of the world. Doubtless she has the dream in her mind of dragging the great and terrible Vash the Stampede back in chains, perhaps to the tune of a promotion and the corner office. Given this, how can the gangly doofus she keeps running into possibly be Vash? Vash is a horrible evil destroyer of cities, not a spiky-haired, donut-stealing idiot. Even when it's obvious to Milly and everyone else that Vash is who he is, Meryl continues to deny his identity until his incredible abilities force her to change her mind.
The two of them get along like oil and water, and it's easy to see why Vash calls Mery "bitchy." She's furious with him for destroying the return in triumph she had been envisioning, and the last thing he wants is an entourage. They're stuck with one another, and Meryl begins to grow up, whether she likes it or not.
During the beginning of Lost July, it's obvious that Vash annoys Meryl and vice versa. At the end, though, when Vash saves the Plant and everyone else with none of the destruction he's supposed to be responsible for, it rocks Meryl's world. Her paradigm is shot, and she starts to revise her opinion. She doesn't have any romantic feelings then, but she does seem to want to be his friend. Once Meryl begins to see how Vash really is - gentle, kind, and self-sacrificing - her wish for friendship begins to deepen, culminating in her ruse to save him from BDN's hordes. She recognizes that Vash is the best way to stop BDN, and she trusts him to do the right thing.
Meryl and Vash get along better after she saves him, even though she's as likely to give him a punch in the head as she is to look at him. Meryl's still struggling with her paradigm shift - responsible insurance agent and disaster investigator vs. finding out she genuinely likes Vash. Somewhere in there she starts to develop a crush on him, which is illustrated nicely in ep. 13. ("I wouldn't run away!") By "Little Arcadia," she's got it bad, and her sputtering protestations that she doesn't even like Vash only confirm it.
Their relationship takes a more serious turn after "Diablo," once the Gung-Ho Guns start coming after Vash in force. After his fight with Dominique the Cyclops, Vash tells the girls that the party is over, and Meryl is crushed. The rationalizations are slipping away, and Meryl finds herself in the role of Vash's protector (however self-appointed) once again - first when the townspeople are slandering him, and again during the blast that drills a hole in the fifth moon. If Vash were just her job, Meryl would be sorry Vash was dead, but he'd no longer be a liability to Bernardelli. Instead, Meryl is ready to go back into the maelstrom and drag him out with her bare hands.
Afterwards, Bernardelli calls Milly and Meryl home. It's one of the few times we see Meryl cry, and she only ever cries over Vash. As a contrast, Milly is not reacting the same way - she's upset and concerned, but Meryl's the one going crazy about not seeing him.
After that? Well, if you take the manga, it's two years; who knows how long it is in Madhouse's cracked-up timeline. You just know that if Meryl went on any dates over that time, it didn't last too long. She can't wait to get back out there when the assignment is handed down. Once they reunite, Meryl offers Vash her hanky to soothe his bruised face, and he takes it. Things are changing with Vash, too.
"Live Through" is the next major turning point. Meryl's heard about Vash's past, she knows he's not human, she loves him anyway. Once Milly helps her past her guilt over Legato, Meryl does her best to help Vash along and act from her heart, culminating in the scene where she stands between Vash and the gun. Aside from the Rem implication, that's a big deal for our hero - he's willing to sacrifice himself for everyone else, but it's unlikely that anyone else has been willing to sacrifice him/herself for him since Rem.
At the very end, Meryl reaches yet another stage - she loves him enough to let him go. And what do you know, he comes back. Funny how that works, sometimes.
Yeah, I'd advise against it anyway, pal, she's really bitchy!
Vash, Lost July
Women are a marvel, aren't they?
That's for sure.
Wolfwood and Vash, Alternative
Vash's story is a lot less straightforward than Meryl's. While Meryl wears her heart on her sleeve where Vash is concerned, Vash has grown accustomed to holding himself apart from the people he cares about. Part of this arises from the knowledge that anyone he gets close to will very probably be targeted by his brother Knives, who is determined to force him to violate his vow to his foster-mother Rem never to kill. Part of it comes from Vash having a big secret - he's not human, he's an unaging Plant, kin to the beings who make life on the arid Gunsmoke possible. Meryl and Milly are unwelcome companions, since the freewheeling Stampede doesn't like being monitored, but he gradually comes to accept and even like the two girls.
As mentioned before, Vash and Meryl get along poorly. They are both creatures with rigid ideals, and their ideals come to clash in name-calling fashion. Like a grammar-school boy pulling on the girls' braids, Vash enjoys picking on Meryl, since he can always count on a reaction. Their relationship is prickly until Meryl helps him on the sand steamer, and even then, Vash's behavior changes from antagonism to tolerance.
The first indication that Vash's feelings might be changing towards Meryl comes when he follows the girls along to the steading in "Little Arcadia." It's a golden opportunity for him to give them the slip, but he sticks around to pay her back for her help. It's a nice moment, but it doesn't last. The lull ends with Dominique's challenge, and however fond Vash might be of the girls, he can no longer justify letting them stay around. It's too dangerous.
It's hard to characterize Vash's mode of affection for Meryl being more than "Meryl wants to be close to him and he lets her" until the last couple episodes. It's a big deal for Vash to let anyone stick around him, and it seems at the end of Hang Fire that he's a little happy to see her. He takes her hanky. He lets her start to take care of him. Big big step for lone wolf Vash.
The next pivotal moment comes in "Alternative" when Vash and Wolfwood are watching Meryl make dinner. Vash has a happy half-smile on his face while watching her cook, and Wolfwood twits him about it. ("Women are a marvel, aren't they?") Vash agrees, and bounces off after taking off his sunglasses. The sunglasses are an important symbol that can be easily overlooked; Vash wears them when he's in Stampede mode or he feels like hiding, and he's decided to stop it, for the time being. He also goes off to hassle Meryl, not Milly - he wants attention from her, and being a pest is the only way he can do it without tipping his hand.
A discussion of the pairing isn't complete without a discussion of Rem and her relationship to Meryl, in Vash's mind. For his whole life, Vash has put Rem on a pedestal, taking every word as gospel and putting himself in harm's way to preserve her memory. When Vash is forced to kill, he falls into a deep despair, and it's Meryl who reaches out to help him out of darkness. Vash can't ask for forgiveness from Rem, but Meryl offers it to him instead, by proxy. Rem stands in front of the gun for Vash when he is a baby to give him his ticket to the future, and Meryl reminds him much later in an echo of the first scene that his ticket is still blank. Meryl is an example to Vash that Rem's ideals can live on and reconcile with the harsh reality of the world they live on.
Vash sees Meryl as Rem at the end of "Live Through," but after the climactic fight with his brother, he lets Rem go. From this point on, Vash is capable of seeing Meryl not only as someone who believes in the same ideals he does, but as someone who cares about and someone he can care about in return. While babysitting Knives will be a thankless task, that Vash would bring the pieces of his life back to Meryl shows that he trusts her and that he's not running away either. He returns with a real smile, and he keeps his promise to Meryl not to keep her waiting.
What will happen after that? Well, the ticket to the future is always blank.
This is kind of a loaded question, so I'm going to skip it. Hie on over to vash_meryl for a gathering of other V/M fans.
jaina maintains an archive of V/M fanfic at The Elusive Mayfly.
Dream and Duty hasn't been updated in a dog's age, but it's still worth a look.
For the purposes of keeping it clean, I'm sticking to the fics rated R and below. In no particular order:
jaina's Interjacence. Good character study on Vash and Meryl, and an ending that feels right for the episode gap it's set in.
fadingembers's Biting My Tongue. Simply the best take on "Hang Fire" that there is.
amurderofcrows's His Brother's Keeper. Post-series. Lovely language, realistic depiction of quarreling twins.
Kiri's Truest Kind. Not likely to be finished, but a well thought out take on the Knives Problem.
irenak's Walking In. Post-series. Laugh-out-loud funny, and sexy in a sly way.
scathachdhu's Not Quite Worthless. Post-series. Bet you never thought Knives could be funny, but he is.
greyvorfeed's Into the Sunset. Very creative fic set several years post-series. Both Meryl and Vash have paid a price for their peace, and now it's time for the happy ending.
Callay's The Essence of Argument. Vash reflects on why pissing Meryl off is so much fun.
SiX Shooter's Tic-Tac-Toe. Meryl starts to change her mind about Vash, early series.
There are so many more - this is just a small sampling of some of my favorites.
And if you prefer the more adult stuff, you can always email me for links. *wink*