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Panic and Preconceptions

June 26, 2019 06:45PM
Summary: Lydia Bennet was just starting to come to terms with what Wickham had done to her. Richard Fitzwilliam had just returned from his deployment and was facing his own demons. Will a chance encounter help them work through their past trauma?

Notes: Trigger warning, this is a story primarily about a character coming to terms with and recovering from a past rape. It's not explicit, but there is a lot of emotional carnage.

Lydia Bennet sighed into the dregs of her paper coffee cup and looked around her. Plastic tables surrounded by a smattering of uncomfortable chairs knocked askew. The restaurants were all inching towards closing – the spaces under the heat lamps were cleared and cleaned and the bored teenagers behind the counters were just counting down the last few minutes. The convenience shop was still open and there were a few stragglers mingling about. This shitty service plaza was her last bastion of safety before the chaos of the weekend, the last place to hide before she’d start running into people who knew her.

She sighed again and looked at her phone: 11:52pm, 3 texts and 5 missed calls from Kitty, one each from Jane and Lizzy. She’d missed her own sister’s bachelorette party. It felt so bitchy on the surface, but she just couldn’t handle seeing everyone from high-school again. She knew that the facade of the happy, boy-crazy, carefree Lydia was cracked beyond repair. For three years she’d avoided the truth – everyone else expected her to act a certain way and since she hadn’t been able to process it herself she’d just played her part. It wasn’t until she’d gone away to college and started her Women’s Studies course that she fully understood what had happened to her. Her breakthrough had turned into something of a breakdown but now that she’d started seeing a counselor she was making progress.

Still … it was her first time going home since dredging all of this up. She’d talked a bit with Lizzy – she’d been there when Darcy found them, so she understood everything better than the rest of the family – but Lizzy had enough to deal with already with the wedding. Nobody else in the family knew what she was going through. She scanned the room again and saw a man coming out of the restrooms. Her initial response came from the old Lydia: cute guy, auburn hair … before her eyes settled on his uniform and she froze. Suddenly her vision tunneled, she fought to catch her breath, she was shaking. Snippets of that awful night came back to her and she felt sick.


Richard Fitzwilliam rushed out of the bathroom, eager to get back on the road. He was already unreasonably late and Darcy just might kill him if he had to endure the whole bachelor party with just Bingley, Brandon, and Hurst. Will and Elizabeth had already pushed back their wedding date until after his deployment and it would be ungrateful of him to delay any longer – no matter that everything back in the states felt foreign to him now, or that he’d watched a good friend die less than a week ago.

Ruiz’s truck had been hit the day before Fitzwilliam’s intended departure date and he’d delayed until his friend succumbed to his injuries. He still might have made it to the party earlier, but he had to visit Mrs. Ruiz, check on her and the kids, and give her the letter that Ruiz had dictated to him before he’d died. She hadn’t taken it well and he’d stayed longer than intended trying to console her and help with the kids.

Looking up, he saw the familiar vacant stare, labored breathing, and trembling of a panic attack on a young woman across the room. He glanced around, but the place was nearly deserted and nobody else seemed to notice her distress. He glanced out at his car then shook his head, apparently his role today was to aid damsels in distress. He walked over and knelt in front of her chair.

“Hello, I’m Richard,” he said softly. Her wide eyes settled on his face. “That’s it, look at me. I need you to take slow, deep breaths,” he said as he demonstrated. She blindly followed orders and after a few minutes, her breathing evened out and the trembling started to subside. “Good, are you alright?”

“I’m ...” she started, but she began to tremble again when she looked down at his chest. She shut her eyes tightly and tried to calm her breathing again. “Thanks for trying to help and … no offense or anything … but you’re just going to make it worse dressed like that … my therapist says it’s a trigger,” she answered in a strained voice.

He looked down at his uniform and quietly cursed to himself, she must have PTSD. “Stay here and focus on your breathing,” he said, looking around the small plaza. He headed to the convenience store and purchased a cheezy tie-dye sweatshirt that had “Buffalo, NY” embroidered on it. He took off his uniform jacket, shoving it in the bag and replacing it with the souvenir shirt. When he returned to her, she seemed to be mostly recovered but weary. She hardly looked older than Georgiana – certainly too young to have seen combat.

“I’m sorry about that,” she said, her eyes focused on some grains of salt in the middle of the table. “You seem like a nice guy it’s just …”

“Believe me, I’ve been there. I’ve seen my share of trauma,” he answered as he sat down across from her.

“Trauma …” she repeated. “It’s such a weird thing. A week after it happened I was back to my normal life like nothing had happened, but all these years later here I am flipping out at the first sight of a uniform.”

“Years? You hardly look old enough to be out of basic,” he answered in surprise before he could catch himself.

“Oh, I’m not a soldier,” she said to the grains of salt, “though it was a soldier ...” Fitzwilliam cringed. This couldn’t turn out well. Suddenly she looked up at him, “You know, once upon a time I loved the sight of a man in uniform.”

“What happened?” He asked uneasily.

“You won’t believe me,” she answered quietly, “nobody does.”

His hand clenched under the table as he remembered Georgiana with a similar look of shame. “Try me.”


Lydia looked at the man, his eyes were weary, apprehensive, like he’d already pieced it together. She hadn’t been able to talk to anybody but her sister and her therapist about this but she suddenly felt like she could tell this stranger anything. It wasn’t like she’d ever see him again. “I was fifteen,” she took a shuddering breath, “he was a private stationed at the base in Meryton. He was handsome. I was silly. He offered to ‘take me away from it all.’” She gave a bitter laugh, the only problems she’d had that she was running away from were that she was the youngest of five girls and Jane and Lizzy were getting more attention than her. “I jumped at the opportunity. I flirted shamelessly. He acted on that flirtation. I said yes … then I said no … over and over …” tears were rolling down her cheeks at this point, but she continued her story, “I didn’t realize until it was too late … he was so much bigger than me … stronger … there was so much blood …” she just trailed off numbly.

“He should be drawn and quartered,” he muttered, “or at the very least court-marshaled.”

“He was, I was underage after all … statutory.”

“He forced you and all they charged him with was statutory?” She could hear the suppressed anger in his voice but knew it wasn’t directed at her.

She brushed tears off of her face, “I went with him willingly. I stayed with him for a whole week after.”


“He apologized after,” she shrugged, “told me it always hurts the first time. I was young and still wanted to think we were in love. I didn’t have the money to get home on my own.” She’d felt so helpless, she’d been dependent on him and had desperately tried to convince herself that everything was ok. “He was so tender afterwards.”

“That doesn’t make it ok.”

“I know that now. My sister’s boyfriend tracked us down and I broke down in tears when I saw Lizzie. I told her everything and she believed me but when I got home … Jane didn’t believe that anybody could be that bad. Kitty ‘knew’ that I had enjoyed myself but was just trying to get attention. Mary read me a sermon about how it’s every young woman’s job to preserve her virtue. My father wrote me off as the silliest girl in the country. And my mother … she was the one who encouraged me to go after him in the first place. She tried to get my father to drop the charges … so we could get married.”


Fitzwilliam’s stomach dropped and his head fell to his hand, “married at fifteen to your rapist? I hate your mother a little bit.” How could anyone be so cruel he thought, but then he remembered that his aunt Catherine would have done something similar to Georgiana.

“Me too,” she gave him a guilty smile, “though I only admitted that in therapy last week.”

“God, I’m so sorry,” he reached his hand up to comfort her but then remembered the fear in her eyes and dropped it back down.

“Everyone had their expectations for me, for how I was supposed to act, so I just pretended like everything was fine, like it was no big deal,” she gave a weary sigh, “but then I went off to college and learned a few things. I hadn’t even realized that it was rape until I learned about revoked consent. And now I have to go home for this wedding and face everyone in the middle of all of this soul searching …” She dropped her head on her arm in defeat.

“They’re your family, I’m sure they’ll understand,” he suggested weakly. She just raised her eyebrow at him in a gesture that felt vaguely familiar. “If it makes you feel any better,” he ventured, “I know how you feel.” The eyebrow raised again in challenge – seriously, where have I seen that before? – and he continued, “ok, not exactly how you feel. But I’ve also got a family wedding this weekend. It’ll the first time I’ve seen most of my family since I got back from Afghanistan and they’ll all expect the charming, charismatic Richard of the past, not the soldier who just watched his friend die then read his last words to the widow.”

“I’m sorry,” the look of genuine concern she gave him soothed his anxiety just a bit. “I’ve been sitting her complaining about something that happened years ago when your problems are so recent.”

“Don’t apologize,” he said, “I know how strong those triggers can be, a kid knocked over a sign at the airport this morning and I hit the floor certain that there was an explosion.”

“We’re just a mess, aren’t we?” She asked, dabbing at her eyes, “we need some lighter conversation.”

“I’ve got one,” he smiled, “this wedding I’m headed to? Well, when I met Elizabeth, the bride, I almost made a move on her myself before I realized how jealous my cousin was getting. So I tried to play wingman a bit and show her what a good guy he was by telling her a story about how he helped this friend get out of a bad relationship …”

“Don’t tell me,” she said with a look of shock, “it turned out that he broke up his friend and Elizabeth’s sister? Then Elizabeth got angry, turned your cousin down, and it took months for them to get together?”

His jaw dropped, “are you psychic or something?”

“Allow me to introduce myself,” she said with a smirk, “I’m Lydia … Bennet. I’m pretty sure I was one of the ‘objectionable’ members of Jane’s family.”

Elizabeth, of course! That’s where I’ve seen those eyes before, he thought. “Right. I’m Richard Fitzwilliam, Will Darcy’s cousin. How are Jane and Bingley?”


“They’re doing great, they’re expecting their first child to arrive just before their first anniversary.” Lydia smiled at the irony, of course the random stranger she chooses to spill her story to has to be related to Darcy.

“You know,” he said somewhat awkwardly, “this super uncomfortable situation could work out to our advantage.”

“How?” She asked, intrigued.

“From what I gather, both of our families are expecting us to be flirtatious, charming, and merry correct?”

“Sounds about right,” she said with a pout.

“Well, nobody would be surprised if I latched on to a beautiful young bridesmaid.”

“And it would be totally in character for me to chase after a handsome groomsman,” she answered, catching on.

“Outwardly we’ll fit in, but we can also lean on each other.”

“No expectations though?” She asked, “I’m in no frame of mind to start anything.”

“No expectations,” he confirmed, “it’s all just a show anyway, at least this way we’ll have a safe harbor for support.”

“And if one of us needs a break we get away from the crowd for a bit, everyone will assume we’re ‘slipping off somewhere quiet’” she suggested, feeling more comfortable with the prospect of this weekend for the first time since the breakdown.

Author's Note: Memorial Day was tough for me this year. I was traveling and found myself surrounded by a whole bus load of soldiers and trying not to have a full blown panic attack at a service station. So, sitting in a hotel room halfway between my current life and where I grew up I decided to use fanfiction as an improvised creative arts therapy exercise and deal with some of my own past trauma.

Panic and Preconceptions

MorganAJune 26, 2019 06:45PM

Re: Panic and Preconceptions

Lucy J.July 31, 2019 05:37AM

Re: Panic and Preconceptions

Shannon KJune 27, 2019 01:21PM

Re: Panic and Preconceptions

MichaJune 26, 2019 08:51PM


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