A/N: A rather odd Vash character analysis which popped to mind one day. This is, barring a fun humor piece, my first Trigun fanfic (wandering from Silmarillion to anime, how strange…) and I hope I haven't mangled anything too badly. Constructive criticism – and reviews in general – are very very much appreciated.

Summary: Meryl thinks on who Vash is sometime during the last episodes. No MerylxVash, just exceedingly odd characterizations and ANGST.

Disclaimer: Trigun does not belong to me, more's the pity. It was made by Yasuhiro Nightow and everything in this fic belongs to him – except for my Vash characterization, which he wouldn't want anyway.

*****

When I first met him, I mustered him in a quick glance and then ignored him. A man – no, a boy – with a knack for getting into trouble and an attitude that should have gotten him killed long ago. An immature goofball who could get me riled up with just a few words. He couldn't be Vash the Stampede – the very idea was ludicrous! Vash the Stampede was a dangerous outlaw whose very name struck fear into the hearts of the populace. A whisper that he was headed their way could cause entire cities to be abandoned, fearful that the Humanoid Typhoon would do to them what he had done to July. Vash the Stampede was a destroyer, a murderer, a legend. Maybe an short-legged, earringed giant in red, maybe a man with a big weapon and a Mohawk, maybe a bank robber, maybe masquerading as a bounty hunter… but not a kid with spiky hair who was incapable of being serious.

And so I tried to ignore him – as far as his sheer annoyingness let me – as the evidence piled up. Even Milly pieced it together before me, a fact that still shames me to this day. This was me, Meryl Stryfe, famed for her observation skills, her keen eye, her knack for figuring out people – and I didn't let myself see the truth because I couldn't believe that the terrifying Vash the Stampede was, in fact, a kid with a penchant for donuts.

But the evidence kept piling up, until eventually I was forced to accept it. I didn't want to – I can still hear myself shout It can't be him! – but I did, reluctantly.

I remember going back to the bar that night and pondering. This was Vash the Stampede. The ace gunman. It couldn't be. And yet it was. I was curious, I'll admit – who wouldn't be, when faced with a legend acting like that?

I watched him. And, even if I say so myself, I'm damn good at it. Observing people, analyzing their every gesture and mien to figure out something about the thoughts that drive them. A flinch, a stutter, a sigh – this can speak volumes to a good observer. And I'm one of the best.

I watched him, more carefully than I had ever watched anyone before. At first, I saw nothing I did not already know. A person with an attitude that never fails to drive me up the wall, immature, annoying, rather childlike. Then, after some time, I began to discover a different side to him – the side that had let him save Inepril City, defeat the Nebraskas with six shots, whose motto was "Love and Peace!". Idealistic nearly to the point of naïveté. Selfless. Determined. A person who would rather dodge countless bullets than fire a single one himself. Was this, then, Vash the Stampede?

Any other watcher would have said "yes" and left it at that. But I was still curious, and smarting from the shame of not having realized who he was. I'd show them – or rather, I'd show myself. I might have denied his identity, but I would figure him out. So I kept watching.

I remember the first time I realized that something wasn't quite right. It was night, it had been a good day, and we were in a bar. We'd all had a bit to drink – not much, enough to make us a bit tipsy… and there was a black cat, with wide green eyes, sitting on the floor watching us. Milly said something about it… I don't quite remember what, but I remember it was very funny, and we started laughing.

Except that Vash didn't.

He just sat there and looked at us, slightly puzzled, for a second or so. Then he started to laugh, too… but just a bit too late, a bit too loud, to be genuine. As if he didn't realize what was so funny, but didn't want us to notice.

I was watching him, had been watching him obsessively for weeks. I was ready to read volumes in the twitch of an eyebrow – this was so obvious I would've had to drink a lot more in order not to notice it.

Vash has a sense of humor like no one I've ever met. He'll laugh at everything, every joke, no matter how lame. And what Milly said was funny, and with the alcohol, it should have been enough to send him into hysterics. So why didn't he laugh?

I watched him even more carefully after that. And now that I knew what to look for, I saw more such… discrepancies, I suppose you could call them. Things that didn't quite fit, things anyone else would have missed. When Vash was just a little too goofy or a little too serious, when he paused for a split second in a conversation, when his moods were just a bit wrong for the situation, when he was injured and didn't show the pain until a tiny bit too late… little things, but they were there, and I was watching.

It seemed so… artificial, somehow, as if his whole attitude was just a show put on to fool us. I thought so for a short time – I was furious, thinking he was playing us, having his fun with us… but I realized that that wasn't quite right either. I'd seen people acting before, pretending to be a different person and… it wasn't like that with them. There were little things, yes, but those were different things… With him, there was something else. It was… it's hard to describe. As if he were wearing a mask that didn't quite fit… as if he were an actor playing a role he didn't quite understand. As if he were something pretending to be what he was not.

Something not human.

I remember when I realized that. It was morning, and we were about to leave again. It was shortly after Wolfwood had left, I think, before the fiasco with Monev. Vash had just finished drinking a glass of water, had stood up, picked it up – and then dropped it on the floor. He was terribly sorry, he explained to the owner of the place where we'd been staying, helped gather the shards, paid for the glass. A bit of clumsiness, nothing out of the ordinary, anyone would have thought. Anyone but me.

I'd been watching him. More precisely, I'd watched him pick up the glass. I saw it slip out of his grip… a split second too late. He'd already been holding it securely in his fingers. Why had the glass fallen at that moment? Had he loosened his grip? Why? And then it hit me.

Something not human. The thought was there and it was undeniable. All these little things… the little things he did wrongthey were all human things, something that is in every one of us, on a basic level, something we cannot ignore and cannot hide. Every human has basic reactions. Every human would have dropped the glass a split second before Vash did, when their grip was still unsteady and hadn't tightened yet. Yet Vash had dropped it after, when anyone else would have already had the glass secure in their hand. Anyone human. But Vash wasn't human.

It was less a theory derived from observations than a feeling, an instinct, something that would sound absolutely ludicrous voiced aloud – "What, Vash-san not human?" I could almost hear Milly say in disbelief – yet in my heart I knew that it was true… so true. And it made far too much sense once I thought about it. He was someone who had watched humans for all his life – and how long was that, I wondered – who had mastered the art of imitating them, nearly to perfection, so that what he truly was was invisible to all but the most careful watcher… but he didn't quite manage, couldn't quite imitate us perfectly, because he simply couldn't understand us, because he was too different. A loner, on the outside looking in, nose pressed against the glass. Observing without comprehending, without participating, always alone, separated from everyone else on this planet by an unbridgeable gap – the gap of race.

I realized this, and felt sorry for him – what horrible fate, to always be alone, incomprehensible and uncomprehending, always pretending to be what one was not! Yet I was still curious, more curious than ever before. I had realized that Vash's demeanor was but a mask, near-perfect yet not quite correct, to hide the sheer alienness of his mind. So I wondered – what was beneath the mask? Who was Vash really?

So I watched. I spied on him, I admit. I thought of the effort it must take to keep such a mask up, to act such a role, all the time. He must relax his guard some time, I thought. So I watched him when he thought he was alone, in the night when everyone else was asleep, out in the desert when he had wandered off, looking up at the stars. I was nearly breathless with anticipation, waiting for the moment when I would catch sight of his true self – not glimpses, but really see him, see him let down his mask.

The moment didn't come.

Even when Monev attacked him in prison, when he shouted at me to leave, when he was alone at night and couldn't have known I was watching him – there was a veneer of humanity over it all. I was stumped. Why? Why didn't he ever let his mask down, even when it had to be safe, even when he was tormented almost beyond my imagining? Why did he always pretend to be human, a silly, goofy human, even when it caused him pain, even when he was humiliated because of it, even when there was no conceivable reason for him to?

And I came to another realization, and if I had felt sorry for Vash before, I was near frozen with shock and pity now. Because he didn't know.

The actor acts a part he does not quite understand, yet does not realize he is on a stage. The man wears a mask that does not quite fit, but he does not know it is a mask. Vash was raised by humans. His childhood, knowledge, morals and beliefs – all shaped by humans. How is a young not-human supposed to realize what he is in that environment? That the reason he doesn't completely understand what they are trying to tell him isn't that he is stupid, but that he cannot, that there is a gap there that cannot be bridged? How was little Vash supposed to discover himself while surrounded by people who could hardly have been more different? Little wonder that unconsciously, he pretended to be human, tried to be human, without ever truly realizing what he was doing. And now, long after this, he still clings to what his human caretakers taught him, suffering – for he is forcing his mind into a mold it is not designed for – yet not knowing why. He is like a child in more ways than the obvious, more than the goofiness and immaturity that he so clings to, more than his idealism and naïveté. A little child, alone and lost in the dark, unable to find a way back, not even knowing if there is one.

Don't you pity him too?

*****

Oh dear, I think Vash was badly OOC there… and Meryl too. *shrugs defensively* an odd idea that hit me, and not all too plausible, but it wouldn't leave me alone until I brought it to paper. And my style is still influenced by Tolkien. I hope you enjoyed reading this despite all that… do drop a review?

Final A/N: There might be a sequel featuring Vash and Knives. This was going to be a one-shot, but it turned out far too much to fit into one story. Stay tuned for updates! :)