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"In Every Heart There is a Room":
On Vash's Love for Wolfwood

(With thanks to Billy Joel for the song lyrics.)

Vash and Wolfwood are, of course, the great OTP of Trigun. Their love is one of the most touching things in Trigun. For this essay, I'll focus on Vash's love for Wolfwood, one of the most profound examples of mindful love I have encountered. (Spoilers follow.) Vash loves Wolfwood, knowing he will lose him and knowing what that loss will cost him. He walks with eyes wide open into agony for the privilege of loving him.

"And every time I held a rose..."

Vash has loved and lost repeatedly. The most traumatic loss in his life was undoubtedly Rem's death. She was effectively his mother; he loved her and relied on her absolutely. Then, right in the wake of the first real break in trust in Rem and Vash's relationship, Knives--responding to the same break--contrived to get her killed. Thus, Vash lost her not only too young but in the midst of a period of difficult emotional processing. More than a century later, he has still not fully come to grips with this loss: images of losing her routinely haunt his dreams.

Vash lost Knives too. In the present-day of Trigun, Knives is still alive, but his relationship with Vash got pulverized along with SEED ships Knives made crash. In short order, the very close and positive relationship they had as twins became dominated, for Vash, by fear and loathing. With Knives, Vash lost perhaps the most important person in his life, his constant companion since before birth.

These are the two main explicit losses the narrative presents. But Vash has a big heart, and he is 150 years old, so I can only assume there have been others. Separated from Knives, Vash is the only person Vash knows who has the longevity of an independent Plant. He lives in human society, but even the most successful, lifelong relationship he might possibly have with a human must end with that human growing old and dying while Vash remains young. There is no way out. Anyone Vash loves will either leave or die. Every love that involves personal attachment will end in grief.

"A sanctuary safe and strong"

So Vash does what any sensible person in his circumstances would do: he protects himself. Vash is a loving soul; he loves all the world. But the love he actively practices is compassion. It's the sort of love that risks bodily injury and humiliation to save people's lives, that plays ball with children, that holds the hand of a dying adversary, that absents himself from communities so that they won't be endangered by his presence. This kind of love may be the most admirable in existence, but on a certain level, it's a safe love. It can kill you, but it can't break you. It's fundamentally unattached. It can feel for others' pain, but it does not lead the self to feel pain for itself.

As for personal attachment, it seems clear that Vash has eschewed it for a long time. He smiles fake smiles; he jokes; he horses around; he plays at being "Vash the Stampede," 24-year-old outlaw; he lies about his identity and his background left and right (by omission if not literally). When friends try to follow him and help him in his troubles, he gives them the slip or explicitly warns them off. When girls come onto him, he pretends not to notice or to be too drunk to perform. He rarely goes "home" to the community of people who know who he really is. He has a vast arsenal of techniques to keep emotional entanglements at arm's length.

Vash initially deploys these techniques with Wolfwood, just as he does with everyone. They meet and go their separate ways, like ships in the night. They find themselves collaborating to solve this or that situation, but it's always a union of convenience: two appropriately skilled people pooling their skills to get a job done. And when Vash really wants to disappear, he whisks away for a couple of years into his alias as Eriks.

"You answered me with no pretense."

But Wolfwood, from the beginning, is not just another passing companion. The first day they meet, Wolfwood already has Vash's number (or a piece of it), parsing correctly his fake smile and real smile. And the fake smile is one of Vash's chief defenses; he's not used having it seen through.

Try as Vash might to keep his distance, Wolfwood just won't go away. When Vash is pressed to rescue some town or other, Wolfwood fights beside him. When Vash makes ambiguous moral decisions about sparing enemies, Wolfwood challenges him--intelligently. When Vash hides out as Eriks, Wolfwood tracks him down. Moreover, they enjoy each other. Though their philosophical differences are profound, they respect each other's inherent goodness. They get a kick out of bickering and both gain genuine self-insight from their more serious disagreements. They like sitting down to lunch together or hanging out a party, sharing a drink, or hitting the road side by side.

"So I will share this room with you."

At a certain point, Vash gives up the defense. The general tenor of his attitude toward Wolfwood shifts from "It's been fun; see you around" to "Come on; it's time we got going." People start calling them "partners," for that is what they've become. Now, in this context, "partner" means "the guy you travel around and do gun-slinging-type stuff with." It essentially means "working partner." But for these two men, their work is their life. They live on the road, caught between various responsibilities to various missions and communities and random people in need. And on the road, they eat together, lodge together, talk together, fight together, get drunk together, get shot together, land in the hospital together: they share life.

"And you can have this heart to break."

But Wolfwood is going to die. Add to the basic reality that Vash is likely to outlive any human, he must know that Wolfwood, in particular, is not long for this world. If his incredibly dangerous lifestyle doesn't get him killed, the best-case scenario would be that his accelerated metabolism burns him out at a considerably younger age than even the human norm. One way or another, Vash is going to lose Wolfwood almost as soon as he's truly comprehended having him.

And Vash knows perfectly well what this loss will cost him. He is still grieving Rem, and he lives every day in the shadow of the destruction of his relationship with Knives. He knows that the death of Wolfwood will be a bullet hole in his heart. And, indeed, when Wolfwood does die, it wracks Vash so deeply that his Plant power erupts in random surges that burn much of his remaining energy, despite Vash's predisposition to keep this power tightly clamped.

He saw it coming. And he chose to let Wolfwood in anyway. He chose to lean on him, even knowing the support would soon be ripped away because Wolfwood was meant to be his partner. Where he treats most people rather like children--sheltering them, much as Rem sheltered him--he treats Wolfwood as an adult capable of making his own decisions about how much of the burden he'll share. Indeed, though Vash criticizes Wolfwood for his moral inconsistencies, he shows tremendous regard for who he is. Not just what he is--a member of an organization that worships Vash's brother, a cross-toting gunslinger, a teenager with an accelerated metabolism, some sort of a Christian priest--but who he is: an immensely responsible, conflicted man of astounding courage and fear and a little idiocy. Vash loves him because they needed to be Friends, and while Vash is experienced enough to judge when love promises suffering, he is wise enough to know when love is worth it.

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