This is not part of the story. This is basically a series of extended bullet points that provide context for the story. I hope you will take the time to read this, but there won't be any further developments to the story. There will be explanations, though.
Spoiler alert, though I've tried not to give away the surprising plot points.
I know it's a little weird for an author to tell people how to interpret their work or what you're "supposed" to think about it. However, I'm going to offer some of my thoughts behind this story. I am a fanfiction author, and I worry that my amateur writing skills might obscure some of the things I want to convey, so I will explain them. Why paint a picture with a fine paintbrush when you can use a roller? Subtlety isn't helpful if it isn't effective.
I don't want you to think that I'm trying to change anyone's mind about this story. I know people will dislike it by the fact that it's a thing in the world. Nothing is universally liked. It's important to bring a diversity of opinions to the table, and this story is only one. I am also doing a fair amount of manipulation with this story. I have an agenda, and I am specifically directing you to certain issues. I am promoting my understanding of the world by developing the story as I have. I know many people will be uncomfortable with such blatant emotional manipulation. That's very fair. I don't think I would have written this story five years ago, for example. The thought of committing emotional manipulation myself would have weighed on me too heavily. But please also recognize that every story you read has an agenda. Most of the stories that we have in Madam Secretary glorify normativity, heterosexuality, and monogamy. Hell, this story glorifies heterosexual monogamy. That isn't necessarily bad at all, but it is making a social statement. My story is also making a social statement. I'm very pleased that I've gotten critical reviews because it tells me that I've forced engagement with difficult issues. If I'm going to write a story like this, I want it to offer enough originality to the point that some people dislike it. This is not fluff, and it is not meant to be fluff.
I may need to apologize. I did not necessarily consider that by posting chapters separately, I changed changing the reception of the story. I think it needs to be read as a whole. It is critical to have Elizabeth's response shown. I probably should have taken that into more consideration, and I understand that posting it bit by bit without context may have been jarring to folks. I apologize for that. I want to think more about how the story changes when it is delivered in segments instead of as a whole. I might decide to repost it as one chapter if I decide that it is not conscionable to break it up. I will say when I wrote the first chapter that I was not necessarily planning on continuing it at all. But then more ideas kept coming to me, and I wanted to explore them. My style is to write and post very rapidly, but in this case, I might have been better served by holding the story until I felt it was completed. One of the things I love about fanfiction is our ability to address things so quickly. I love being able to have responses to episodes up within a matter of hours. I think it helps us process things as a group, and that builds community. In this case, I also wanted to post the story before the next episode comes out and makes it completely obsolete. It is difficult for me to remember exactly what we knew from the previous episode after seeing the new episode. I didn't want to have to make hundreds of small revisions to take into account the new plot. So I posted it very quickly partially out of laziness.
I also take very seriously the charge that I glorify domestic violence. I have not intended to do that. I have attempted to write a story that makes you think about your personal definition of "too far." I want you to work that out for yourself. Know that domestic violence is never okay. It is never justified. There are resources available to help you out of dangerous situations, and I want you to utilize them. If you need help identifying these resources, please feel free to contact me. If you take nothing else away from this fic, please understand that no matter what you do, no one has the right to harm you. There is no situation in which you would be guilty for another person's violence. You do not have to be free of all wrongdoing to be a victim. Choosing to commit an act of violence is solely the responsibility of the individual. There may be countless intervening variables, but the responsibility still lies with the individual. Go look up transcripts from the Nuremberg trials if you want to hear this argued fully. The commentary on those trials is something that should be required reading for any modern study of ethics.
Other actions done by Person A on the encouragement of Person B may not be the responsibility of Person A. For instance, if Person B offers to sell Person A some beach front real estate in Florida that turns out to be swamp land, I do not believe that Person A should be held responsible for being misled. Person A did not commit a violation of ethics by purchasing land. Violence is a different ballgame to me, particularly physical violence.
This is the HBO of fics. I never claimed it wasn't fucked up. It is fucked up, actually. It's supposed to be fucked up. I never claimed that strangling your wife was acceptable. It is super, super not acceptable. Don't strangle people. Don't get drunk on your own power and forget the effect you have on others. How you use your privilege is your responsibility. Henry's actions here are unethical, illegal, and OOC. On the show, he has a tendency to bottle things up, though, and I wanted to explore that. For some reason, I'm a little obsessed with Henry being violently angry. I think it's because he represents so many things antithetical to violence, but he also has the background as a fighter pilot. I haven't quite been able to personally come to terms with that, yet.
Do I glorify domestic violence? I'm going to argue no. Here's why. Elizabeth realistically denies what's going on. That is very typical with domestic violence victims, and it's important to acknowledge that. I'm also trying to explore what you do when a tendency to violence is seemingly the only thing wrong with a relationship. Do you try to salvage it? He didn't outright beat her. Of course what he did was wrong, but it wasn't quite as cut and dry and the typical domestic violence situation is portrayed. I've specifically toned down the violence to make it seem at first like not a big deal. I want to trouble the line of what domestic violence is. We think of it as outright beatings, but this story is very much domestic violence even though there aren't any beatings. I want this to seem kinda benign until you realize that it isn't benign at all. Because no one is going to tell you right before they manipulate you that something not okay is about to happen. No one is going to draw that line for you. You need to draw that line for yourself, and it is desperately hard to do. If you are ever in that position, you will have trouble with it, and I want to show that even a strong female character whose role is to buck gender stereotypes will have trouble identifying domestic violence and responding to it. Feminists can be victims of domestic violence. People who study domestic violence can be victims. It is one thing to objectively see cases and identify domestic violence, but it is another entirely to live that experience.
I'm showing Henry as relatable and human because abusers are human, and that's important. We have a tendency to turn abusers into animals or monsters. Ignoring their humanity makes it more difficult to identify real life abusers who are polished and professional. I want you to identify with him in some ways. I want you to feel uncomfortable that you are identifying with a guy who hurts his wife.
To clarify, Elizabeth does remember what happened. But she has no idea how to tell Henry that it wasn't okay. Her strategy is to convince herself he didn't mean to do it. Because maybe he didn't. Maybe he did. I'm leaving that line up to interpretation. There is also a sense of fear about confronting him about it. She can't know if he'd react violently or not. So she would wait a few days to talk about it until he had demonstrably cooled down. She desperately wants to keep her marriage alive, and so she would want to try to keep the situation from becoming any more volatile. She wants to keep him from reacting violently. In some ways, she knows she has made some mistakes, and she blames herself for making Henry treat her violently. Of course he was not justified, but that is how many victims of domestic violence feel. Self-blame is powerful and incredibly pervasive. That would keep her from calling Henry out immediately. Potentially trading Talia for whatever motivation she has is difficult. Elizabeth would feel guilty about it, and Henry was capitalizing on that guilt. And to be fair, she hasn't been blameless in their relationship trouble this season.
I think in the scope of things, Elizabeth stands up for herself very well. If you are in a domestic violence situation and you kick the person to the curb after two significant incidents, not to mention going to therapy after only one incident, you're doing better than most any domestic violence victim I know. Because this is fanfiction, the timeline has been greatly condensed.
I want to apologize in some ways for what I call the "Pygmalion ending." I want to challenge the identity of the domestic abuser. Can they change? Can they learn? That's up to you. I think Elizabeth's character would give him the chance of coffee again. I'm not going to speculate beyond that. I want you to judge for yourself what you think she would do. I think that will be more personally enlightening for you. Also, I'm not sure I've decided what she would do. I think it is odd that we choose some actions (rape, domestic violence, etc.) and say that committing those crimes changes a person's identity, that they will always be defined as a person capable of those actions. As if they weren't capable of those actions before they did them, which doesn't make sense. Or maybe it does, depends on how you look at the world. Either you think the potential for something is always there, or you think the act of doing the thing creates the potential for it. We hold that other crimes besides violence can be rehabilitated. No one would say that someone who got a speeding ticket is a separate class of human, and yet that is also breaking the law. I want you to wrestle with that. You may feel that certain crimes do change the nature of the person who commits them, and that is cool. It's also cool if you think people can change, and that they aren't forever defined by some specific actions. You're an adult. Make up your own mind.
I very intentionally had Henry start his coffee request with the last words he said to Elizabeth. I wanted to show some measure of continuity. I want to offer the possibility that even compatible relationships may not be able to last through every "life phase" (or whatever language you want to use). Henry and Elizabeth are still deeply compatible, but the ethical dilemmas they cope with in their careers may be too difficult. I don't know if I think they would be or not. But in this story, I'm exploring the possibility that they can't manage the demands placed upon them by their careers along with maintaining their relationship. If that were the case, there is a possibility that once they are out of that career situation, they might be able to sustain the relationship again. But the way Henry treated Elizabeth might preclude any future relationship. That's up to you. Though I am interested to know what you think would happen.
I dislike the language of trigger warnings. I'll put a content warning on it, but the word trigger is reductive. Guns have triggers, and guns kill people (sorry gun rights activists). I don't know about you, but if I get triggered, I am not going to go off like a gun a kill someone. I also think that it should not be my responsibility to offer trigger warnings. However, I agree that this material is pretty difficult, and to be a good person, I will offer a warning in the description. I prefer to call these warnings "content warnings" instead of "trigger warnings." I do not provide too many warnings as a general rule. I have personally found that it is important to learn to assess material quickly to find out if it will present a problem for you. Of course this isn't possible in every situation, but I feel that this story doesn't have the violence come completely out of left field. You have a bit of warning/notice. I empower you to proactively make decisions about what content to consume or continue consuming. Don't wait for me to tell you that material could be difficult. Not everyone will do that. I have this story rated T, but it might be more appropriate to rate it as M. Let me know if you have thoughts on that. I do want to make sure that if there are any people under the age of consent in the MSec fandom, they are dutifully informed of the nature of the content that is available to them.
Do please let me know if you still feel that this story glorifies domestic violence. I may want to make edits to make my writing more clear. Again, I am taking the time to explain some of the things I have attempted to convey in this story because I am not confident I have conveyed them sufficiently in the writing. Your thoughts on that would be appreciated as I try to improve my skills.
I also want to know if you think the story would be better as a single chapter. I want to take some more time to think about how the length of chapters affects the presentation of the material.