Deryn was happy.
Being an Empress was just as awful as she had feared at times, but it was great in others.
Women were allowed in the navy and the airforce now in Austria-Hungary, although she had had to fight hard against her council to make it so. Currently, she was working on getting the same rights in the army, where apparently there was 'increased risk' or some stupid piss poor excuse of the same sort.
The people of Austria-Hungary had learned to accept their rough and tumble Empress and her gentle and wise husband, who had both changed things for the better in the country that had almost been torn apart by war.
The biggest change? Austria-Hungary was now a neutral country, where both Clankers and Darwinists could thrive. They had become very progressive in their currently 3-year rule.
However, things didn't always go that smoothly for the pair.
"You are an insufferable git, Alek!" his wife growled, eyes flashing like walker headlights.
"Don't be difficult, Deryn!" Alek shouted back, glaring at her. "You shouldn't be taking unnecessary risks."
"You can't tell me what I can and can't do, you clart-sniffin' bumrag!" She screamed, her middy's slang creeping into her vocabulary with her temper.
"I will not fight you on this, Deryn! This is one thing I have to insist upon!" Alek insisted with frustration and finality.
"No! I told you one of the only two things I ask for is to be able to fly. You're taking that away for nothing!" She said, eyes cutting into him as she began to pace.
Alek hated to see her like this, so clearly hurt and angry. But her health came first. "I'm not taking the air away from you Deryn; I'm just protecting you and our children! Or did you forget you're carrying them right now?"
"As if I could forget this hulking balloon sticking out of my middle," she scoffed, looking down at her stomach.
"Well that 'hulking balloon' contains our children, and they're as fragile as a balloon; one wrong poke and they'll die," Alek said grimly, trying not to think about something so painful. He hadn't even met them yet, but he loved them. There was no way he was going to let her put them in danger, even for her own happiness.
"So I'm just supposed to stay on the ground because you don't think I'll be careful enough?"
"Now you're just jumbling my words. I trust you completely, but accidents happen in the air that you can't prevent. And I'm not making you stay on the ground! You can have someone take you up in a blimp or a small airbeast."
"But it isn't the same! You have no idea what I've done for you, you daft prince!" Deryn said, voice cracking. "You have no idea how much I've already given up for you. Did you ever think that I may not have wanted this? I gave up the air for you; I gave up my old dreams for you, Alek. And I may not want them back but I'm just trying to hold onto a small sliver of them. Please let me!"
"I'm sorry that you've had to give up more for me than you've gotten back, but I've done everything I can to make this life as good for you as possible. This is one place that I can't let you be reckless."
Silence greeted the pair like an old friend before Alek squeezed his temples with one hand and muttered, "Never mind; this yelling and stress is no good for you either."
Deryn sat down in the window seat and drew her knees up as close as she could to her chest, hugging a pillow and looking up at the sky to which she had tried to escape to in a Huxley earlier that day. Apparently piloting any sort of air beastie was frowned upon when you're an Empress and ridiculously enormous with the next two heirs to the Austrian throne. Tears stung her eyes and she blamed it on the pregnancy hormones, deciding instead to channel them into a much easier emotion. Anger. "I'm so barking tired of being careful! I" Suddenly Deryn trailed off as she felt the oddest sensation beneath her when she shifted. She looked down and, upon seeing the spreading stain on the emerald green fabric, realized what exactly was going on.
Her water had broken, more than one week earlier than predicted.
"Oh," she squeaked lamely, clutching her stomach.
"Deryn? What's going on?" Alek said, panic in his voice as he rushed over to kneel by her side.
Just as he caught sight of the stain, she whispered fearfully "ALEK!"
"God's wounds, are you
?" he whispered, unable to finish.
"Yes, yes I do believe I am," she replied, looking up at him with wide eyes.
Alek's face drew into a nervous frown. "I'll go fetch the doctor. Don't move, meine liebe."
Alek rushed from the room as Deryn's first contraction slammed into her and, caught off guard, she clutched her stomach and a low keening noise burst from her lungs. It was that moment that Deryn realized just how much she had underestimated the ordeal of childbirth.
And damn if it didn't scare the clart out of her.
Alek returned as she attempted to breathe, gasping and cursing. The doctor looked on in disdain at her airman's language before she yelled "Well? What do I do?"
The doctor watched as Alek rushed to her side and attempted to pick her up behind her knees while Deryn complained that she was in labour, not an invalid.
"Where's the best place for her, doctor?" the Emperor asked more calmly, but his eyes were wild as Deryn struggled to her feet and leaned on his shoulder.
"Just on ze bed iz fine, just make sure she iz not curled up," he replied as midwives rushed in behind him, having heard the commotion.
Alek supported her as she staggered over to the green velvet bed they shared with a moan. He helped her lay down and pushed her shoulders back when she tried to curl around her center.
"You heard the doctor; that's not a good idea," Alek said, smoothing her short hair back.
"Ugh," Deryn exclaimed as she slumped onto the bed and the nurses began stripping her elaborate gown off her as well as the expensive green sheets. Alek stood back as they changed her into an old shift and glared at the very male doctor who didn't look away as any gentleman would.
When he heard a small whine come from the direction of the bed again, he whipped his head around and blanched as he looked at his wife, never having ever seen her in so much distress. That was the moment Alek truly began to appreciate what Deryn was doing for him.
girls," Deryn panted, clutching the bed sheet as the latest contraction ebbed.
"Why?" Alek wondered, going to her side to take her hand.
barking strong!" She squeaked, clutching Alek's hand for dear life even though she wasn't experiencing a contraction.
It took him several moments, for it was such a foreign concept, to realize that Deryn was scared.
Another contraction hit and Deryn was nearly bent double, her face as red as the lion on the imperial flag as tears leaked from the corners of her eyes. Nurses rushed around yelling things about 4 centimeters and getting some sort of salve as the doctor tried to ask Deryn questions about the pain while she panted.
Alek's stomach rolled at the chaos and when Deryn glanced at his face after the pain, she breathed a laugh.
"Weak stomach, daft Prince?" She questioned, resting herself.
"I guess so," he muttered.
"Your Majesty, it is very improper of you to be in the birthing chamber. You should leave," a midwife said, attempting to shoo him.
He stood up and looked down at her, trying to show imperial authority. "I will not be leaving my wife, but thank you," he said politely at the same time Deryn yelled, with much less restraint, "he's not going anywhere! These children are his as much as mine!"
Almost immediately after yelling at the midwife Deryn's face went a sickly colour and she heaved her stomach contents onto the floor beside the bed. Alek's stomach flipped as a midwife beat him to her side to hold her hair and he concentrated on not vomiting along with her.
"Barking spiders," she moaned as tears leaked from her eyes again.
Alek returned to her side, ignoring the fact that he was now effectively kneeling in her vomit. "Don't worry, prächtig, you're doing wonderfully," he whispered, clasping her sweaty hand as she closed her eyes against the pain once again.
After 6 long hours of cursing and yelling, it seemed that Deryn and their children had both had enough.
"Here comes the first one!" the midwife announced as Deryn let out a frustrated groan.
"Barking spiders, about time!" she shouted, giving a tremendous push and her face going redder than it already was. A few minutes later a high-pitched shriek pierced the air and Alek realized that this time it wasn't Deryn as the first of their twins met the world for the first time.
"It's a boy!" the woman announced a second later and Deryn nearly cried with happiness.
Almost immediately she began to push again, sweat pouring down her face as her cries increased in volume.
After several minutes of panting and exhausted pushing, a second cry tore through the air and Deryn slumped to the bed in obvious relief.
"It's... a girl!" the nurse announced shortly after and Deryn sighed, a smile gracing her face for the first time in almost 7 hours.
And then she began to cry.
"Are you okay?" Alek asked.
"Perfect, I am absolutely perfect," she breathed and Alek, who had been holding her hand the whole time, brushed the tears from her cheeks as he watched her with a tender smile.
As the twins were finally handed over to Deryn and the bustle around them resumed, Alek just looked at Deryn's face as she looked at their children with the most adoring smile he had ever seen.
Suddenly Alek couldn't help but think that all the other times he had seen her in a dress could not hold a candle to this moment, when she was the most radiant, courageous person he had ever seen.
Finally he looked at his children and realized that he was going to feed them, change them, comfort them when they were sad and watch them grow into incredible, unique people no matter who tried to stop him.
He couldn't wait.