mod_journal (mod_journal) wrote in ship_manifesto,

Chris Larabee/Vin Tanner (Magnificent Seven)

*posting for true_enough

Title: At First Sight
Author: TrueEnough
Spoilers: Yes - for several of the 22 episodes
e-mail: trueenough @ msn dot com
LiveJournal: true_enough

Chris                                Vin

On a windswept street, Nathan Jackson, a former slave and Four Corners only healer is hauled through the street to a lynching tree by hell-bent cowboys when their boss dies under his care. Chris stares through his own smoke to find Vin looking back at him. With barely a nod they agree to save Nathan and in the process form an unexpected and unbreakable bond.

Magnificent Seven
The show itself is a flawed gem. The actors often work in each others shadows, too many story lines are shoehorned into a single episode and the historical accuracy is sometimes a little iffy. The characters, on the other hand, are a sweet revelation. There is Nathan who learned his healing skills as a stretcher bearer for the Union Army. He is the first one to join Chris and Vin when a Seminole village asks for their help. Josiah is a defrocked priest who nonetheless spends the entire series rebuilding a church that no one seems inclined to go to. Ezra is a gambler and a confidence man from the South. He tends to view himself outside of the Seven but when push comes to shove he is always a part of them. JD is a spitfire from the East who has come out West shortly after his mother has died in order to live out the adventures he has read about in dime novels. Buck is Chris’s oldest friend and his polar opposite. Affable and physically affectionate he treats JD like a kid brother and tends to worry over Chris. He was with Chris in Mexico selling horses when Chris’s wife and son were killed which might explain why their friendship sometimes teeters between devotion and recrimination.

And then there is Chris and Vin. They are also flawed gems.
Chris Larabee

Don’t let the dark clothing fool you. Those are widowers clothes that he’s wearing and despite their neat, somewhat dusty appearance they are steeped in sweat from grief and probably no small amount of misplaced guilt. When we first see Chris he seems to be at loose ends. With cowboys shooting up the town he walks out of the saloon as if the bullets flying around him are no more dangerous than a bumblebee at a picnic. It’s hardly an act of bravery or even confidence and seems to imply that he merely does not care. Reckless and fatalistic he carries himself like a man ready to meet his end. He meets Vin instead.
Soft-spoken, he often uses his voice - or his silence - as a threat long before he draws his gun. While it’s usually very effective, the rest of the Seven seem to be immune to it. In the Pilot even young JD shouts him down. He is a man full of high emotion, surprisingly easily hurt and also surprisingly, easily touched. Still, when Mary Travis, who publishes the towns paper, tells him that she is trying to scare away the bad element he tells her, "Lady, I am the bad element."

It’s not an unfounded boast. A former horse rancher he became a gunslinger with a formidable and dangerous reputation after his wife, Sarah and his young son, Adam were killed in a fire. As revealed in Inmate 78 he might have turned his gun on men when it wasn’t entirely necessary. There is a lot about Chris that seems to be navigated by his lesser angels. He can be sullen and unforgiving and just as mean to an old friend as to anyone else who crosses him. In One Day Out West he holds a knife to Buck’s throat when he finds out that Buck has revealed too much of his personal history to Mary Travis. It’s a shocking scene to watch and never fails to remind me that Chris tends to guard his grief jealously.

He seems to be aware of his shortcomings. In Nemesis he parodies his own hard drinking behavior in a effort to draw out the man who was hired to kill his family. There is much staggering around and shouting and breaking glass leaving him in an empty saloon to meet at least one of his demons.
I doubt that anyone has loved him because it’s easy. He is the kind of man that you hope for. You can see - and not just by his clothing - that he is governed by grief and rage and despite the incident with Buck most of it is turned in on himself. Under the influence of Vin and the rest of the Seven, a grown man is reborn - one who must relearn how to live, how to fight fairly, how to love and how to smile.

Vin Tanner

Although Vin is younger he has probably been through more hardship than even Chris. Orphaned at five when his mother died of "putrid fever" (diphtheria) we are left to imagine that he was raised by uninterested parties until, at some point, he was taken in by the Kiowa and the Comanche. He has retained many of their ways from clothing to language to a certain kind of stillness that does not beg for attention. A deadly sharpshooter and a tracker, he was a buffalo hunter for a time before he became a bounty hunter. When he meets Chris he is sweeping the boardwalk in front of Watson’s Hardware having turned into something of a drifter after he was framed for murder by Eli Joe.

Despite all this he is remarkably free of the bitterness that has such a hold on Chris. His soft spoken Texan drawl makes him sound like a small lion that has been taught the alphabet while his wry sense of humor speaks of his native intelligence and also of how much he pays attention even when he appears not to. Functionally illiterate, he speaks comfortably in Indian dialects, some Spanish despite teasing Chris with, "What’s ‘no bueno’ mean?" and is also a poet.

Aside from wanting to clear his name he doesn’t seem to want or need anything else. Self contained and private, the details that he does reveal about himself are always stated in a matter-of-fact way as if to stave off pity or too much attention. Like Chris, he can become flinty when unexpectedly exposed as when Mary Travis discovers that he can’t read or when Chris eavesdrops on him and a married woman named Charlotte in Wagon Train.

He possesses a very wide protective streak. It’s most obvious with women like Charlotte and an older woman named Nettie Wells who reminds him of his mother. Nettie, who is raising her niece, Casey, is someone to be reckoned with all on her own. Still, Vin responds to her immediately with his best manners and his determination to set things right. His protectiveness also extends to the rough men that he rides with. In Penance he travels to Vista City to help clear Josiah of murder charges and later in the series travels to Red Fork to gather information on a woman who has murderous intentions towards Chris. Watching him you get the feeling that he has made precious few connections with people the way that he has with the rest of the Seven and especially with Chris. He is a loner in a group of loners and yet he remains a part of them even when it endangers his life.

Chris and Vin

This is Vin.
This is Vin the first time he sees Chris.

The way they meet and accept each other has the feel of myth to it and yet what follows is all about men who have become disenfranchised for their sanity or their safety and are making their way back to the one person who finally makes sense to them. Despite Chris’s reluctance to step too far inside of a church in Love and Honor it’s apparent he is seeking some kind of redemption. And while Vin is innocent of the murder he’s accused of that does not make him completely innocent. At times they both look like men who have discovered that it’s the small sins that can weigh a body down. Although they might not understand the how and why of it, when they walk side by side they look like their burden has been halved. The simple feat of proximity makes the other a better man.

From the beginning they are in each other's space and then seem unable to step out of it. They look as if they have been magnetically drawn to each other over the space of their age difference, through small dusty towns, through grief and hardship to stand elbow to elbow in a saloon. Chris, who jokes away Buck’s exuberant hug in the Pilot ("Easy, big fella. Folks will talk.") and seems to approach others as if he might break them unintentionally, suddenly is unable to pass Vin without touching or leaning towards him. In the final scene in The New Law they are all walking to the saloon and I swear, if it had gone on any longer we would have seen Chris, with his crooked gait, walking all over Vin’s toes. Likewise, in The Trial he can be seen in the background whispering in Vin’s ear throughout the whole proceeding.

Chris openly adores Vin and the feeling is obviously mutual. Vin, who seems at once, hungry for and unused to being touched, holds perfectly still when Chris sets his hand on his shoulder in Working Girls as if Chris’s affection for him might fly away if he pays it any attention. Later, in Safecracker, Vin seems to initiate a forearm grip that looks, at times, as if they are trying to save each other from going over some unseen edge.

In the Pilot, Chris and Vin are sitting on a bluff, waiting for the men who outnumber them to arrive. Vin is taking turns looking through a spy glass out over the desert floor below them and stealing glances at Chris. With feigned casualness Vin tells Chris that if he doesn’t survive Chris should take his body back to Tascosa where it’s worth a $500 bounty. It’s a daring revelation to make by a man who reveals as little as possible and to a gunslinger he has known for only a few days. Trusting Chris even further he tells him, "I figure if a friend collects, I get the last laugh." Vin’s logic elicits shy, hesitant smiles from Chris that seem to indicate that he thinks Vin is worth a small fortune, too, but not one he ever intends to collect.

Later, when they are safely back in town Vin joins Chris at the saloon where he is topping off a shot glass. When Vin tells him that he’s looking to get an early start for Tascosa Chris pushes his glass slowly over to Vin and utters a line that jumps the rails of subtext: "I was thinking about whiskey, a room, a bed and more whiskey." It’s an invitation that lacks only the gold lettering.

Much is made of their silent communication and it’s no exaggeration. If you want an example of how well they understand each other you only have to watch them try to explain themselves to anyone else. In Lady Killers, Casey is hiding out in the livery, distraught over the thought of JD being attracted to one of the female bounty hunters. Trying to comfort her Vin inadvertently states her worst fear by assuring her that JD is probably only sowing some wild oats. He actually nods to himself, satisfied with his answer before Casey makes a hilarious teary-eyed, runny nose, flying pass at him proclaiming, "I’ve got oats!" He literally squeals trying to defuse her. Chris fares slightly better only because his quiet ways have such an edge to them that he keeps all but the bravest souls at a distance.

The Women Folk
Four Corners possesses a large population of strong, forthright women who are important on their own and tend to put in sharp relief Chris and Vin’s wants and needs.
Wagon Train is a busy two-part episode that gives both Chris and Vin ample opportunity to pursue other loves. When a land deed is hotly contested by Dicky O’Shea, Judge Orin Travis has the Seven escort a group of homesteaders safely out of the territory. Mary Travis joins the wagon train for a possible story and also to spend time with an old friend and widower, Gerard Whitman. When she leaves the court house on his arm she passes by Vin and Chris without so much as a glance.

"Who’s that with Mary?" Vin asks.
Chris, unusually loose limbed and apparently more amused than concerned tells Vin, "I wouldn’t know."
Mary Travis, by default, should fill all the hollow space that occupies Chris. A beautiful woman, she is recently widowed herself with a young son, Billy, who clearly idolizes Chris. In theory they make perfect sense but in practice they are more like siblings who are ready to give each other hell but will protest if anyone else tries. Both are single-minded and tenacious which only makes their half-hearted run at some kind of connection in Wagon Train all the more...half-hearted. If her time with Gerard is meant to spur Chris her way it fails resoundingly. While he notices the couple growing closer he is more inclined to tease the both of them than interfere. Asking after Chris’s friendship with Mary, Gerard points out that a man "would have to be blind not to notice her charms." Chris agrees with, "Well, I ain’t blind" but is having such a good time messing with Gerard that he can barely stay in his saddle.

He does however, take Vin’s involvement with Charlotte Richmond, a married woman, much more soberly. While Mary makes her courtship with Gerard very public Chris takes to eavesdropping on Vin and Charlotte much to Vin’s consternation. Charlotte, sweet and ill used by a cold and indifferent husband, triggers all of Vin’s protective impulses making their budding romance more of a rescue. Their relationship eventually leads them to run off together only to return when they find out the homesteaders are in more danger. When Vin rides back into camp Chris gives himself away when he asks Vin before his horse has even come to a stop, "Are you back for good?" It’s such a plaintive question I can only imagine that it triggers Vin’s sympathy for Chris, as well.

Later Chris tries to get some of his own back only to give himself away again with this exchange:
Vin: Chris, I’d like to set things straight.
Chris: It’s your life. None of my business.
Vin: Reckon you think I’m in the wrong here.
Chris: What I think is you’re already gone.
Vin: I’m right here.
Chris: For how long? I need to know I can depend on you, Vin. Let me know when I can.

It’s a sweeping accusation to make that wears heavily on Vin and speaks of Chris’s efforts to protect himself from anyone else leaving him unexpectedly. While Mary is congratulated for initially accepting Gerard’s proposal of marriage Vin is left to renew his trust with Chris implying that they have more at risk than any of their other relationships. The episode ends with Mary going back to Four Corners without Gerard or Chris, Charlotte returning to her husband and Chris and Vin riding off with the rest of the Seven, side by side.

When Chris does seek out female company it’s usually the honest transaction of money for time and attention with a working girl. Lydia is first seen in a tent city just outside of Four Corners called Wickestown. Her gestures towards Chris seem more comforting than carnal consisting of a kiss on the cheek, smoothing his hair back and her quiet proximity. Not that she doesn’t try. When she and several other working girls seek refuge in Four Corners she invites Chris to join her in a bath while he remains behind a curtain as if it’s his modesty that’s at stake. Vin is even less enthusiastic when she laments over a drink in the saloon that "Mr. Larabee ain’t as friendly as he usually is."

Maria, another beautiful working girl in the border town of Purgatorio gets a little further with Chris, initially searching out information for him in The New Law and then manages to get his shirt off and few kisses in Obsession. She’s one of my favorite supporting characters along with Casey because she is completely unflappable and is not afraid to ask the hard questions. She’s the one who asks Chris, "Do you drink to remember or to forget?" and he answers honestly with, "I don’t know." While Sarah is undoubtedly the most important woman in Chris’s life she is also the one we know least about. Shown only briefly, she bestows Chris with a small smile and a kiss as he leaves with Buck for Mexico and appears to possess the same serious nature as her husband. It’s easy to imagine Chris finding her stern ways almost exotic after spending years with more effusive personalities like Buck or even Ella. Her sudden and violent loss haunts not only Chris but also her father and Buck who carries a lot guilt for keeping Chris in Mexico for an extra day. I doubt that Chris will ever get to the point where he can remember her happily which might be part of the reason why he shies away from getting close to another woman.

Ella Gaines walks like a woman but talks and lives like a man. She reenters Chris’s life with the precision of a sharp knife. Leaving nothing to chance she calls for Chris’s help on the anniversary of Sarah and Adam’s death when Chris is visiting Maria in Purgatorio. Aptly named, Purgatorio is where he goes to drink with his grief, finding neither respite from, or an end to, his pain. From that low ebb Ella offers him a purpose, her well heeled company and the possibility of having everything he was building with Sarah and Adam. He is caught in her shiny web even as the others, especially Vin, grow disenchanted and then suspicious. By the time Chris announces that he’ll be staying on with her none of them can express any real joy although Vin manages to choke out, "Good luck to you."

He also rides over to Red Fork to find out more about her and brings the bad news back to Chris. When Vin points out that Ella owns the company that was supposedly trying to drive her off her land and that she has lied to him "up and down the line" Chris warns Vin with, "I’m gonna forget you said that." As if Chris’s good opinion of him is the only thing keeping him around Vin assures him that "come sunrise, then...I’ll be goin’." He actually doesn’t go far showing up for a gunfight and protecting Chris after Chris finds out that it was Ella who hired the men to burn down his ranch and kill Sarah and Adam.
From the look on Chris’s face at the end of Obsession it’s clear that Ella insidiously achieved her goal of making Chris just as obsessed with her as she is with him.

Magnificent Seven is somewhat unique in that it thrives in two very distinct universes. The first one follows the series and is set in the Old West sometime in the 1870’s. The other is a modern day AU created by MOG and set in Denver where the Seven work as ATF agents. I don’t know of another fandom where a single AU has captivated so many of it’s best writers - and it’s readers. I’ll set the watermark high and mention a few of my favorites from both times.

Old West
Blackbird’s Wind Change deals with Chris and Vin finding each other in a time when there were few to no references for men being in love. Smart and thoughtfully written it features a slow and steady courtship that’s all the more touching for the lack of angst that it involves. It can be found at Blackraptor.
Gwyneth Rhys writes amazing Old West stories that illuminate Chris and Vin. The Lucifer Match follows them to hell and back without being overwrought while Cold Enough to Snow is an Autumn tale about second chances that never fails to move me.
A recent favorite has been Home by The Tenth Muse1. She has a great ear for the way Chris and Vin talk with that slight 19th century formality and their own brand of flirting. It’s also at Blackraptor.
Painted Eyes has written two epic length Gen stories that are Chris and Vin centric and are too good to pass up just because they’re not slash. For Faith and Moved by Silent Hands are breathtaking with not a single word out of place.
Likewise, The River Styx by Estevana Rey should get the attention and praise it deserves.

Call Me by Maygra is a perfect example of how good the ATF AU can be. Set in modern day Denver it is nonetheless true to the characters and insightful. I’ve read it so many times I can quote it. The Penalty Series is also quotable.
Gen writer, Linda B offers short, potent stories that leave me thinking about the characters long after I finished reading. After Clouds, Sun showed me that Chris and Vin love each other just as much platonically as they do otherwise.

Other AU’s
All Seven characters have proven to be very versatile. If you want the characters outside of the Old West or don’t care for them being government employees there are several other noteworthy AU’s.
SkipTrace ~ Charlotte C Hill along with Maygra and Megan Kent portray the boys as bounty hunters based out of Atlanta.
Escorts ~ An AU by Fiercy where they work at the oldest profession.
Two Blood ~ Created by Joe Lawson where the Seven can shape shift into wolves.
Family Matters by Stan Lee, Tykes and Lost and Found by Robin Serrano and ZorroRojo, Little Britches by JK Poffenberger, S. Berry and Barbretta Hayden ~ The Seven as children or teenagers.  All can be found at M7SlashArchive.

M7 Sites
Blackraptor ~ Large Slash archive. Requires an age statement.
M7 Slash Archive ~ Smaller archive that is host to some harder to find authors such as Robin Serrano, Megan Kent and ZorroRojo.
Lady Angels M7 Library ~ Gen archive that hosts work by Painted Eyes and Estevana Rey.
Death Dogs ~ Huge rec archive.

Fan Resource Sites
Zen’s Magnificent Seven Page ~ Great site. Includes transcripts for all 22 episodes and photos.
Magnificent Seven Trivia ~ Anything but trivial it includes Just the Facts that separates canon from fanon, Horse Sense, Old West Slang and a nice little map of Four Corners.
Slash Horizons ~ A slashy take on the characters - especially Chris and Vin that also hosts the work of Ravin and Prism.
MOG’s ATF AU ~ The ATF Bible.
Shooting from the Hip ~ A resource for writers, readers and editors.

Book Recommendations
At the risk of making this sound like a homework assignment I’d like to recommend a few books that might inspire you the way they have me. They can all be found at Amazon.
The American West by Dee Brown ~ A straightforward history of the west from the Civil War to the turn of the century.
Everyday Life in the 1800’s - A Guide for Writers, Students and Historians by Marc McCutcheon ~ As advertised if offers quick references for clothing, slang, health and medicine and courtship rituals.
Dear Friends: American Photographs of Men Together, 1840-1918 by David Deitcher ~ Literally an eye opener for me that shows men of all backgrounds remarkably relaxed and displaying noteworthy affection. The tintype and daguerreotype photos are shown in their original frames and are beautiful. Thanks to Rain for pointing this art out to me.

A little more history.
The show ran the first 9 episodes on CBS starting in January ‘98. It was cancelled and then brought back due to fan support in January ‘99 for 9 more episodes and then was cancelled - again. In May 2000 TNN showed the last 4 episodes never aired on CBS. The Hallmark channel showed the series until about a year ago leaving fans like myself to live in hope that MGM will someday soon put it on DVD.

In closing…
As with most slash pairings there are all the looks and touches that speak of deeper meanings.  With Chris and Vin there are also the harder things to come by like understanding, acceptance and quiet good company.  I’m perfectly aware that slash implies sex and yet when I finally got around to writing for M7 and got to the sex scene it felt almost incidental.  They are devoted to each other as few characters are and I believe that when their friendship becomes sexual – skipping over gender and societal rules – it’s because of a multitude of reasons that begin with trust, take root in solace and endure with something as simple as pure affection.


Your thoughts are welcomed.
Tags: magnificent seven

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