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The Empty Bassinet

Chapter Text

August 1749

The worst thing about it all, Franz Stephan had since decided for himself, was the silence that seemed to dominate wherever he would go. It was the sort of silence that would not disappear when he would participate in the evening gathering in the grand salon, and it was the silence that would slowly but inevitably close in on him when he would enjoy a glass of good wine in the solitude of his private study at night. Out of everything that came with it, it was said silence that showed him what he did not have - and it had not even made halt when it came to affecting the relationship he had with his beloved wife. When Maria Theresia had gotten the idea to expand the palace of Schönbrunn after the birth of their first child by having another floor and two dozen rooms build, neither she nor Franz Stephan had expected for them to be filled with nothing but the same sobering, heartrending silence. Franz Stephan knew how lucky he was to be married to the woman he loved. He had been fifteen when he had came to the court of Karl VI and he, back then, never would have thought that he would lose his heart to the Karl’s oldest daughter, Maria Theresia. Nine years his junior, they had not found to each other until the summer of 1735. Oh, what a joyful summer it had been. It had been the first time that Franz Stephan had no longer viewed her as a younger protegee of sort, as the young girl that he had allowed to braid flowers into his hair, but as the beautiful woman that she had grown into. The fact that the marriage between them had been arranged by their fathers in 1723, one year prior to his arrival at the Viennese court, both of them had known. There had not been a way in which they could not have known it, considering that Franz Stephan had been reminded of his future duties as her future husband at every single dinner. The emperor had loved his daughters to an extend that was very unusual for a monarch that usually preferred to have sons to his name instead of three daughters, but Karl VI’s love of his daughters had been sincere and Franz Stephan had known that Maria Theresia had been granted to choose whether she actually wanted to marry him or not, a choice that a princess had rarely ever been allowed to have. He could still hear Karl’s voice, saying that If she does not desire to be wed to you, Franz, there will be a dozen other that are willing to take your place.

He had not known how it would have been appropriate for him to act around Maria Theresia. With Leopold, his older and very much beloved, brother dead, his father residing in Nancy and his mother trying to improve her poor health in a health resort on the North Sea, the first few weeks at the foreign court had been rather lonely for him. While a few members of his father’s entourage had accompanied him to Vienna, inter alia his teacher, he had been incredibly lonely. His days had been spend sitting quietly at Karl’s side, as he had been supposed to learn by watching him work, and his nights had been spend silently sobbing into his pillow about the loss of his brother and the life that he had been forced to leave behind. No one had asked him whether he had wanted to live in Vienna or not and at first, no one had seemed to notice that he had not been doing as well as he should have done - that was until he had broken down into tears in front of Karl one evening. Franz Stephan no longer knew what the reason for his distress had been, but he had not forgotten how Karl had stood from his chair, almost immediately so, and had drawn him into an embrace that very well could have been his father’s. He had clung to Karl almost desperately him as he had cried the undefinable sorrow off his young heart and after that incident, after he had spend a good half of an hour crying on the emperor’s lap, things had taken a turn for the better. Karl had then begun to take him on as if he had been a son of his own, taking the young boy with him wherever he had went and even though the fact that Franz Stephan had soon became Karl’s hunting partner had caused more than just one displeased letter from his father, who had wanted his son to go after his education, he and Karl had stayed close until the emperor’s death in 1740. Suddenly emerging from his thoughts, Franz Stephan shifted in his chair and reached for the half empty pitcher of wine to refill his glass anew. When he had retreated to his study, it had not been his intention to lost himself in those heavy memories. All he had wanted to do had been to enjoy one or two glasses of wine before he would join Maria Theresia in their shared bed and yet, as he refilled his glass for the third time after he had absendmindedly emptied it, he found himself unable to resist the temptation of giving in to the memories that were not all unhappy and heavy on his heart.

The summer of 1735. Franz Stephan chuckled lowly when he snatched the glass up again and leaned further back into his chair. If there was such thing as the summer of a lifetime in one’s life, it would, without doubt, be the summer of 1735 for him. He could still remember the first time that he had looked at Maria Theresia as a woman, had never forgotten the tension which had formed in his chest in that moment and had refused to ebb away for a very long time. It had been during an evening of festivities, which had been held in celebration of Elisabeth Christine’s birthday, and Maria Theresia had been sharing a joyful dance with her mother, who, on the occasion of her birthday, had been much less strict about the compliance of court protocol. Franz Stephan’s memories about it were still as clear as day, despite the fact that almost fourteen years had passed since. He could still recall how he had stood rather at the edge of the ongoing festivities, trustworthily as always at Karl VI’s side, and had watched Maria Theresia dance with her mother when it had hit him. Maria Theresia had tipped her head back as she had laughed at something that Elisabeth Christine had whispered into her ear and the hot flush that had shot through Franz Stephan’s body had established himself into a feeling of tension in his chest. As if Maria Theresia had noticed him staring, she had turned around towards him and had smiled at him. He, as embarrasing as it had been, had been unable to react and had merely resumed to stare at her while she had looked at him for a few moments longer. It had only been Karl’s chuckle from beside him that had pulled him out of his trance and had enabled him to smile back and raise his hand in greeting. “She likes you,” the archduke and emperor had spoken to him in a low voice after having leaned closer to him and Franz Stephan’s heart had somersaulted all over again. “She... does?” “Indeed, yes,” Karl had retorted, a small but honest smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “She is asking a lot of questions about you.” “Is she?” Again, the older man had chuckled before he had answered, “She is. But you must find out for yourself, son.” Franz Stephan had taken a slow sip from his wine as he had tried to process what he had just been told, very much aware of the fact that his face must had stood in a bright red underneath the power that he had been wearing. Later on, he would not know where he had eventually taken the courage from to ask her for a dance. But he had done it, and Maria Theresia had accepted. For how long they had ended up dancing Franz Stephan, to that day, did not know but if it would have been an entire hour, he would not have been surprised.

Even though they had, quite literally so, been watched by the entity of the court, neither of them had seemed to matter. Since the dance of choice at the Viennese court had been the Waltz for a few years by then, they had danced much closer to each other than they would have done it if they would have danced in Nancy instead. He had held one of Maria Theresia’s hands in his while he had keept his left arm loosely held around her waist, swirling her around like he had learned it from an early age on and oh, he had been certain that Maria Theresia’s hand had burned where it had rested in his. She had been so breathtakingly beautiful that evening, with flushed cheeks, glistering eyes and a few loose strands of hair that had refused to be bound back into her up-done hairstyle. They had danced until Maria Theresia had stated that she, if they would keep moving in circles, would surely faint and Franz Stephan had thanked her for the dance with a lingering kiss onto the back of her hand, “Thank you,” and Maria Theresia had tilted her head as she had smiled at him. “You are most welcome.” While they had parted after that, Franz Stephan had not been able to concentrate on anything but her for the rest of the evening. He had tried to watch her as inconspiciously as he only could, and if Karl and Elisabeth Christine had noticed him doing so, they had not mentioned it. After said evening, they had begun to spend more time together. Maria Theresia had invited him over to her daily game evenings in the crown princess’ salon and Franz Stephan had not only come after every single invitation, but had offered to take her onto a walk and show her the newest acquirations of his book collection. He did not need to think about it, he knew that there had not been a day that summer that they had not spend together. The courtiers had noticed it as well and while what they had done had never been behind close doors, the nobles had eaten it up like starving men. Good God, Maria Theresia and him had walked through the vast gardens of Schönbrunn with their arms locked and at the same evening had heard rumors about them having done ungodly things behind a hedge. But court talk like that had been and still was a normality, even or especially since they had been due to marry. After all, in their social ranks marriages based on love were a thing even rarer than a twin pregnancy. When it had became clear that they had been getting closer, Franz Stephan had tried not to think about the marriage that had been set up between them when Maria Theresia had been no more than a six-year-old girl.

While it had not taken him long to realize that he had fallen in love, not more than a few days, really, Franz Stephan had been left in the dark about whether Maria Theresia had returned the feelings or not. He had not wanted to approach her too boldy, considering that he had already wanted her to be his wife and thus had not been eager to scare her off, but his heard had ached every time that they had bid each other good night with no more than a smile and a nod of their heads. Now that Franz Stephan thought about it, he truly had fallen head over heels in love with her before he had even kissed her for the first time. He took another sip of wine, leaning further into his chair. Their first kiss. Oh, it had been his most cherished memory before their first child had been born. About two weeks had passed since the evening that they had danced together and it had been Karl’s idea for Franz Stephan to invite Maria Theresia for a ride. “The weather is exceptionally good today,” the older man had said as he had looked up from the files he had been bend over, “and I am certain that my daughter will find great enjoyment in it.” So he had invited her and while he would have been uttermost surprised if she would not have agreed, Franz Stephan’s heart had still somersaulted when a valet had passed him the note onto which Maria Theresia had written her acceptance. They had set out for the forest that delimited the gardens of Schönbrunn that Karl and him used for their hunts and he had been so greatful for the fact that his horse had known how to walk on the path, as he never could have concentrated on it with someone as beautiful as Maria Theresia riding next to him. “What do you say,” she had interrupted his flow of dreamy thoughts, making him clear his throat and quickly avert his gaze away from her. “A short race surely could do no bad.” “What?” His obvious confusion had made her laugh and while it had caused a surge of embarrassment through him, it had been worth it when he had gotten to see her blinding smile. “A short race, François.” François - she had always called him by the name that he had christened with, a most endearingly little fact. “Are you certain?” Maria Theresia had cocked a playful eyebrow as she had taken the reins tighter, “Do you fear that I am not?”

He had shaken his head, suddenly not able to find his voice, and she had made a sound that he failed to put his finger upon. “Or... maybe you are simply not ready to lose.” That time it had been his turn to laugh, “I could give the same question right back to you.” “So, do you accept?” The stallion that Maria Theresia had been mounted upon had already pranced as if it knew that it could possibly be granted a chance to run and she had still been looking at him with a raised eyebrow and a daring smile. There had been no more doubts that he had already loved her then. “Where to?” She had turned her horse around, her eyes narrowed, “To the edge of the woods I would say. We have not ridden very far.” Franz Stephan had nodded sharply and had mirrored her by turning his horse around as well. “What do you demand as a price if you should win?” “A kiss.” If he would have said that he had been dumbstruck, it would not have been an underestimation. He had expected her to say that it had been a joke, that she had merely said it to see his reaction, but no such thing had happened and once he had noticed how her smile had faded, he had hurried to accept her proposal. “’Tis a deal then,” he had said, hoping that his smile had not betrayed his immense insecurity and nervousness as he had urged his horse forward until it had came to stand next to Maria Theresia’s. “What is it that you want if I happen to lose?” His eyes had instantly found hers when he had turned his head to look at her. “A kiss, of course. It is only fair.” “Yes, I do agree. It is only fair.” Their gazes had kept each other and oh, he had been ready to kiss here right there and then but she had pulled him out of his yearning thoughts once more. “On my signal, François?” “Of course.” If had been moments like these where the age gap between them bad become obvious; Maria Theresia, eighteen years of age and grinning at him in youthful delight and him, closer to twenty-seven than twenty-six and very much aware that she would not only be the woman he would be forced to marry, but the one that he would have married out of his free will. The one that he wanted to be the mother of his children. Maria Theresia had counted down and when her called-out “Go!” had resounded through the forest around them, their race had begun. Franz Stephan took a slow sip from his wine, savouring the sweet taste while his eyes were still focused on a spot of the tabletop in front of him. It had been his intention to let her win, but God be damned, he had not even needed to do so.

Her horse had ran as if it had been born to do nothing else and while his horse, a prime example of a horse bred for hunting, had given its all, Maria Theresia had still won with a good few seconds’ lead. Franz Stephan had not hard feelings about it and when he had heard her laughter before he had even reached her side, his heart had somersaulted. “Do not say that you let me win,” she had laughed, holding a hand to her mouth while she had been downright shaken by laughter and he had pulled a short grimace in return before laughing himself. “Be reassured that I will not tell them day I did.” “Well it would be a lie if you would tell them that, François!” Since they had came to a halt at the edge of the woods and riding through the park would have been a breaching of court protocol, they had dismounted their hourses to lead them by their reins instead. Maria Theresia’s cheeks had been tinted into a soft shade of pink - and he had known that it had not been due to the ride, especially since she had refused to look at him. “What do you demand as a price if you should win?” “A kiss.” It had been his time to act and thanks to God, he had managed to do it. Without saying a word he had turned to step into her way, earning himself a low gasp, and had let go of his horse’s reins to take her face into his hands. He was certain that he had felt how it had grown even warmer. “Do you not want it?” “What?”, she had whispered, hear eyes almost frantically moving over his face as he had leaned in almost enough for the tips of their noses to come into touch. “The kiss.” Maria Theresia had not answered, not verbally at least, but Franz Stephan also had not waited for a possible answer before he had closed the mere centimeters-wide gap between their faces by pressing his lips onto hers with just the slightest of pressure. She may not have been his first kiss, but it had, by far, been the most precious kiss he had ever shared and he had not tried to deepen it before he had pulled back again, albeit not letting go of her face. “Now you have your price, Your Highness,” he had whispered while he had stroked one of her blushed cheeks and until that day he had never seen the blue of her eyes, which was so extraordinarily speckled with brown, shine more brightly. “Are you satisfied?” “Do not say that.” Her words had been carried by her breath and had, to Franz Stephan’s shock, sounded rather unsteady. “Do not say that it but another duty for you.”

Taken aback by what she had said he had been unable to answer, had opened his mouth without bringing a single sound out and his chest had clenched when he had seen how tears had been rising into Maria Theresia’s eyes. “Please do not say that I am... nothing more than your duty, François.” Aware of the way that his chin had been trembling, he had smiled down at her as he had wiped at the tears that had freed themselves from her eyes. “You could never be a duty to me.” “What?” Her wide, tear-filled eyes had looked up at him with so much hope that it had nearly been enough to cause him to tear up as well and he had needed to clear his throat before he had been able to speak again. “I love you, Theresia.” Their gazes had steadily kept each other and Franz Stephan had done it Maria Theresia alike when she had let out what could have been described as a sobbed laugh. “You do?” “I do.” He had been about to kiss her again, but she had beaten him to it by cupping his face and pulling him down into a somewhat overwhelming kiss. Other than he had done it, however, she had not kept her hands on his face for long before she had wrapped her arms around him and had pulled him into an embrace. Oh, Franz Stephan had been as speechless as he only could have been and he knew that his cheeks must had burned just as brightly as Maria Theresia’s had when he had looked down to see her nestled against his chest. Blinking hard to get rid of the blurriness of his eyes, he had closed his arms around her. “I love you as well,” she had whispered, turning her head to look up at him and he had kissed her again. Onto her forehead at first, then onto her cheek and the corner of her mouth before their lips had brushed against each other and he had kissed her a bit more boldy that time. They had held onto each other for a little while, enjoying their togetherness that had been disturbing by nothing but their horses neighing softly beside them. “Since when?” “Hm?” “Since when do you know that... you love me.” “Ever since I saw you dancing with your mother,” he had brought a hand up to brush a strand of hair behind her ear, “you were so beautiful that evening, Theresia,” and had kissed her forehead. “What about you?” Instead of answering right away, Maria Theresia had made a humming sound and had returned to nestle against him. “I am not sure” she had finally said, “but it has been long before that.”

Franz Stephan sighed as he raised the glass to his lips yet again. That summer had been absolutely spectacular. It had been the summer of his lifetime and while he was not any less happy with Maria Theresia as his wife, he did miss the time when their life together had not yet been dominated by grief that neither of them really succeeded at hiding from the other. When they had returned to the palace hand in hand rather than just with locked arms, every present pair of eyes had been on them. From nobleman to servant, everyone had watched, some more conspicuously than others, as they had walked en route for the emperor’s study to report the gratifying news with him and when Maria Theresia had told his father that she would not marry any other man that him, Franz Stephan of Lorraine, he had been certain that a weight of a hundred bricks had been lifted from his shoulders. “I love him, Vati,” she had said, reaching for his hand to squeeze as they had stood in front of Karl’s writing desk, “and I know that he loves he as well.” He had agreed to her word with a nod, the smile never leaving his face and his heart refusing to stop pouring out the love for her. “If you say that he is the one.” “He is, Vati.” Karl had obviously tried to stay serious, but the glimmer in his eyes had been tale telling as he had looked at the man that he would wed hit daughter and heir to and when he had announced that he would immediately begin with the preparations of the weddings, Maria Theresia had wrapped her arms around Franz Stephan with a laugh. They had been married in the Augustinerkirche on the twelfth of February 1736 and oh, what a grand wedding it had been! Franz Stephan needed to smile from the sole memory of it alone. He had known just how lucky he had been to get to marry the woman that he loved and, even more importantly so, that loved him just as much. It had been an uttermost grandiose event, with guests from all over Europe and evening festivities that could hardly ever be matched to anything that had happened ever since but between all the spleandour and beauty that had surrounded him that day, there had could not have been anything more beautiful than Maria Theresia shining in her dress. “I still cannot believe that I get to see you like this,” he had whispered as they had laid together in their shared bed after they had made love twice in a row, lazily running his fingers over the curve of her spine and kissing her sweaty temple. Maria Theresia had chuckled, “Well, you did not really try to win me for you.”

“Excuse me?” He had cocked a playful eyebrow while she had laughed again and had moved to lie further on top of him. “You did not need to, of course. But I surely would have liked to see you try.” “Oh, I can imagine that my love.” She had sighed, her fingers drawing imaginary circles on his naked chest. “I love you. Dear God, I really do love you, François.” “Is it such a surprise?” His voice had been teasing and once he had moved his hand up her back again, he had rested it in the back of her neck to fondle with the soft hair it had found their. “Am I such an undesirable man?” “Do you expect me to be honest?” “Good God,” he had groaned, “please send me the strength to deal with that woman!” “If I ask my father I have no doubt that he will make it possible for you to travel to Florence alone,” Maria Theresia had said with a sigh as she had rolled off him and over onto her back. “What?” “I would surely prefer to stay in Vienna.” Franz Stephan had growled and his young wife had giggled when he had crawled on top of her within a second and had attacked her neck with demanding kisses. “I will not leave without you,” he had said with a growl still presence, one hand moving down between her legs yet again. “I could not be without you for so long.” Maria Theresia had gasped his name when he had resumed to please her with two fingers, her body sensitive from the attention which he had paid to it earlier that night. They had set out for Florence two weeks after their wedding, still so very much in love and hopeful as for what their future together would bring for them. The journey to Florence had been a rather unspectacular one, without any problems or incidents, and they had been solemly welcomed by the court of the Palazzo Pitti, from which he had been supposed to come after the duties of his title as Grand Duke of Tuskany. They had stayed in Florence for three month - and it had been during those twelve weeks that Maria Theresia had noticed the first signs of a pregnancy. My God, how happy he had been when she had told him, with glistering eyes and a wide smile, that she had been expecting his child. That children would have been a duty for them regardless, neither Franz Stephan nor Maria Theresia had thought about in that moment as for them, a child would be a product of their uttermost honest love only.

“Are you really?”, he had whispered as he had stared at her in disbelief from where he had been sitting on the edge of their shared bed. “You are pregnant? Really?” Maria Theresia had nodded and had held her hands over her stomach, albeit there had not yet been a swell visible underneath the satin fabric. “The doctor has confirmed it, François. Not to mention that I already should have bled twice.” “You are pregnant with my child.” His cheeks had gained a bit of color as she had laughed and had moved to stand in front of him. “Of course it will be yours.” “It is not...” “I know that you did not mean it in such a way, my love,” she had said and had cupped his face, her thumbs stroking the soft stubbled on his cheeks. He had only noticed his tears when she had wiped them away, a choked sob escaping him as she then let go of his face to take him by the wrists and guide his hands to his stomach. “It will not be long until you will be able to feel it.” Franz Stephan had shaken his head, just once and still in disbelief as he moved his hand over Maria Theresia’s soft stomach. Why he had been so overwhelmed by the news that he would be a father, he had not known. “I love you,” he had eventually whispered and had leaned forward to kiss her stomach, “and I love you just as much.” Above him, Maria Theresia had gasped herself when he had whispered against the satin fabric of her nightdress. “François...” “Whether you will be my son or my daughter, it does not matter for I will love you all the same.” It had not been a lie. They had talked about it before, whether they would desire a son or a daughter as their first child, and had came to the conclusion that it, in fact, had not mattered for them. With the Pragmatic Sanction safe and secured in place, meaning that a daughter would have the same right to the throne as a son. “So if... it should be a girl,” Maria Theresia had said as they had conversed about the topic of children one night while sitting on the balcony of their apartment in the Palazzo Pitti over a glass of wine, “you would not be disappointed?” Franz Stephan had reached over the small round table to take her hand, “No, I will not. Even if we are destined to have a dozen daughters before a son is born, I shall not be disappointed.” “Do you mean it?” “Have I ever lied to you, Theresia?” “No...” “Than that would be my answer to your question.” “The child cannot hear you as of now,” she had laughed as he had murmured a few further words against her stomach, and he had taken her by her hands to pull her astride onto his lap. “Have you notified your father?”

“No, I have not. I wanted to tell you first.” “Good.” They had both laughed as Franz Stephan had guided his hands underneath the hem of Maria Theresia’s nightdress to stroke the soft skin of her thighs. “It is my right to be the first to know.” “You wish,” she had laughed, shaking her head most endearingly so and brushing a curl off his forehead. “It, in fact, is my father’s right to be informed of it immediately as he is the regent and you are - ah!” “You are pretty cheeky today,” he had purred into her ear, making her gasp when he ran his hand over her chest with quite a boldness. “And you are already sounding like a father, François.” A father. Any possible arousal that could have been there had dissolved into thin air and he had grinned as he had hid his face where her neck had met with her shoulder. He would become a father. They had set out for their return to Vienna with their hearts full of anticipation and love for a person that they had not even met yet and by the time that they had settled down in their apartments of the Hofburg again, the dresses Maria Theresia wore had no longer concealed her growing bump. In Franz Stephan’s eyes, she had never been more beautiful than during her first pregnancy. There had been a glow to her during those months, one that he could hardly explain to himself. Maybe it had been her face, which had became lovely rouded and had seemed to shine whenever he had seen her, or maybe it had the fact that she had seemed to be utterly content with herself and the child that had been growing inside of her. When it had came to him, he had hardly been able to keep his hands off her. It had been but in a harmless way, of course. As soon as they had been in the privacy of their rooms he had caressed her, had allowed her to take the much needed naps with her head propped up on his thigh, one hand stroking through her hair while he would read through whatever files he had been required to put his signature under. The further the pregnancy had proceeded and the greater his wife’s struggles had become, the more Franz Stephan had tried be of help and not make a comment when he would keep him awake by constantly turning around in bed. “Mon cœr, is there anything that I can do to help you?”, he had asked her after she had spend what could have been two hours alternating between turning onto her left and right side, trying to find a comfortable position to sleep in.

“Well,” his wife had snapped, “you cannot take it out of me so no, there is nothing that you can do. Stop being so silly.” He had swallowed and had continued to stay turned away from her, his hands clutching at his pillows. Even then he had known that he probably should not have taken it by heart - he had not wanted to imagine how it must be like to have a child growing inside his stomach - and yet he had failed to not let it affect him. Before he could have said another word however, he had heard sniffling and shuffling from beside him and had rolled over onto his back as soon as he had perceived it. “My love?” Maria Theresia had no longer been lying beside her but had sat on the edge of the bed, her back turned towards Franz Stephan whose worry had skyrocketed when she had sniffled again instead of answering to him. “Theresia.” There had definitely been a hint of panic in his voice as he had nearly shot into a sitting position and had moved over the soft mattress on all fours to kneel behind her. “Do you want me to call the doctor?” She had not looked at him, had merely wiped at her nose with the back of her hand before she had whispered a “No”. “My love...” Moving to sit rather than kneel behind her, he had parted his legs so that he had been able to nestle his chest against her back and had closed his arms around her, his hands splayed on her rounded belly. “What is it that upsets you so?” Another sniffle had followed. “I... I did not mean to snarl at you...” He had barely managed to silent his snort, Karl had told him just how much a pregnancy could hinder a woman from being rational. “I do not know what it is,” the ageing archduke and emperor had said, laughing, “it mushens their brains, probably.” “It is hardly a reason for you to cry,” Franz Stephan had whispered against the side of her neck, leaving a quick kiss behind. “I do know that,” Maria Theresia had retorted with yet another sniffle, “I know that it is not but I cannot stop.” He had kissed the same spot again before he had, with quite some struggle, moved around her until it had been possible for him to lean down and kiss her stomach. “I believe that it is time for you to come, my daughter.” The midwives had forecasted that it will be a girl, as Maria Theresia, in their words, had carried high. Above him, his wife had snorted at his comment and had ran her hands through his hair once. “It is not, François. I do have to carry her for three more weeks before she will be ready.”

“I cannot wait,” he had sighed and God had known that it had not been a lie. He truly had no longer been able to wait for their child to come, to get to experience the role of a father instead of solely that of a husband. “Me neither, I never thought that I would miss sleeping on my back.” “I can imagine.” “I apologize but I do not think that you can.” “Oh but I can. Do you not remember the time that I fell of my horse and hurt my back?” “Now that can hardly be compared.” He had laughed out and had kissed her stomach yet again, “Ah yes, you are right. It was so much more painful...” “François!” Maria Theresia’s hand pushing him back had not been strong enough to cause him to fall over, and he yet had let himself plop back down onto the mattress, stretching out his body and yawning obscenely before grinning at her. “What?” Maria Theresia had shaken her head, but a smile had been on her face as she had looked down at him, her left hand blindly stroking her stomach as it had done all so often. “I love you.” Franz Stephan swallowed hard and refilled his glass anew. It was to late to allow his mind to go down that specific road of memories but he had been helpless to stop it, for the happiness that had dominated their lifes back then was just too alluring and so he merely filled his glass with another serving of wine, eyeing the full pitcher that stood on the small side table by the door. It would be sufficient for him to relive it all. “Come here,” he had said, reaching out with one hand to show her that he had desired to have her close. She had accepted his offer and had, not without groaning from the exertion that it had taken her, laid down beside him and had turned onto her side so that he had been able to hug her from behind. “You ought to try and get some rest, my love.” Maria Theresia had snorted and had brushed her hair to the side, thus revealing the side of her neck against which Franz Stephan had instantly nuzzled his face to pepper it with small kisses. “I would, but she is kicking me whenever I try to do so.” “She is?” His hand had been taken and guided to her stomach, and Maria Theresia kept her hand on top of his as she pressed it down with just the slightest of pressure. He had gasped when he had felt what could indeed have been a kick against his palm and while it had not been the first time that he had felt it, it had tugged at his heart all the same.

“Have you thought about a name yet?” Maria Theresia had hummed in agreement. “I thought about Elisabeth, for your mother as well as mine.” He had pulled a quick grimace even though she could not have seen it and cuddled a bit closer against her, tucking her head underneath his chin. “There have been so many of them...” “We shall decide it when she is born, then.” The next three weeks may have been the longest three weeks of Franz Stephan’s life. He had counted down the days to the due date that had been calculated by the doctors and midwifes, had made sure that he would not be bound into any of his royal duties that might demand him to leave the court of Vienna as he had not wanted to miss the birth of his first child. His daughter, with whom he had already seen himself bend over his many books, teaching her about mineralogy and the natural siences that had fascinated him ever since he had been a child himself. There had been multiple false alarms, as it had been Maria Theresia’s first pregnancy and she thus had not been able to read all of the signs correctly. The only thing amusing about those last three had been the occasions when she would wake him up in the middle of the night to ask him, with batting eyelashes and soft eyes, to go and get her a sweet treat from the kitchen. He had done it without complaining, smirking at the funny scene they had provided with Maria Theresia eating leftover cake during the early morning hours with Franz Stephan massaging the strain out of the sore muscles of her back. And then, a few minutes prior midday on Tuesday, February 5th 1737, while he had been participating in a conference at Karl’s side, he had gotten the notification that his wife had gone into labour and had requested his presence. Even if the conference would not have been cancelled right away, he would not have hesitated to act against protocol by dashing out of the conference room and to the part of the Hofburg that their apartmens were located in. He had been out of breath by the time that he had reached the desired door, but it had been the fact that Maria Theresia’s pained cries had already filled out the antechamber that had nearly robbed him of his breath. “It is normal for the first birth to be worse than the following ones, Your Highness,” one of the midwives had said, pulling him out of his shock. He had not even noticed her sitting in a chair and standing up once she had seen him approaching. “Her Highness is waiting for you, Your Highness.” “Is it... alright for me to go in?” The midwife had nodded, “Yes, Your Highness. I would advocate it, as Her Highness could use the support.”

It would have been a lie if Franz Stephan would have said that he had not been somewhat frightened when he had opened the door to his wife’s private bedroom and had peeked inside. Half a dozen of midwives had seemed to huste and bustle about, aiding the doctor that had positioned himself between Maria Theresia’s spread legs. Considering her state of being, he had guessed that the birth had not just begun in the last half of an hour. “My love.” Closing the door behind him he had hurried to get to her side, a soft gasp escaping her when he laid his cool hand onto her burning forehead. “François...” Jean Baptiste Bassand, the court physician, had looked up at the same time that Franz Stephan had turned his head in order to address him and had nodded once before he had returned to his task. “You are doing so well, my love,” Franz Stephan had whispered, kissing her temple. Maria Theresia had been panting, unsuccessfully trying to change herself into a more comfortable position and he had swallowed hard when he had seen how her arms had trembled as she had tried so. Two of the midwives had came to his wife’s aid before he had had figured out how he could have been of help and he had taken a few steps back to watch how another pillow had been put underneath Maria Theresia’s shoulder. “The cervix is widened and as soft as it ought to be,” the physician had stated as he had risen off the bed and had walked over to the basin to wash his hands. “I am certain that there will be no further problems, Your Highness.” “What? There were problems?” The growl in Franz Stephan’s voice could not have been missed, “Why was I not notified earlier?” Before he could have lost himself into a fit of range, however, one of Maria Theresia’s hands had came up to catch him by the wrist. “I,” she had been cut off by a pained gasp, “just was not ready for it. It is alright, François. It - ah!” “Another pushing contraction, Sire,” the midwife at Maria Theresia’s side had said to the doctor prior to shifting her attention fully onto his wife. “Push, Your Highness, you must push.” Maria Theresia had complied and Franz Stephan had wished that he would have been able to help her, but with the midwives and doctor around the bed, there had, literally so, been no space for him. “When did it start?” “Shortly after Her Majesty was served her breakfast, Your Highness.”

He had been to open his mouth and start yelling again about how unbelievable it was that he had only been notified now and not five hours ago, but one shared look with Maria Theresia had been enough to make him understood. She had not wanted to disturb him in his work. Oh, they would have a word about that later but right then Franz Stephan had nodded and smiled, hoping that it had been convincing. His knees had felt unusually weak and if a chair would not have been brought in for him just a few moments later, the chances of him collapsing would have been high. “Very good, Your Highness,” the midwives had whispered to Maria Theresia after the pushing contraction had passed but she had not answered, had merely panted and kept her eyes closed as a cool cloth had been laid onto her forehead. The following hours had been absolutely torturing, for his wife more so than for himself, of course, and in hindsight, Franz Stephan had not been able to tell how he had managed to sit in that chair for another four hours. His gaze had been fixed upon Maria Theresia, his most beloved wife, whose struggle had intensified the further the birth had went on. “I cannot,” she had cried at some point, “I cannot do this anymore.” “It will not be much longer, Your Highness.” “I cannot.” Maria Theresia had bursted out into sobs, causing the midwives as well as the doctor from stopping in their tracks. “Your Highness -” “My love.” With an aching back Franz Stephan had heaved himself out of the chair to come to his wife’s side, taking one of her hands into both of his. Maria Theresia had been sight of pitty. Heavy-lidded and red-faced she had still been panting while she was being shaken by sobs at the same time. “I am so tired...” “I know,” he had whispered, brushing a few strands of hair away from her sweat-covered face, “but think of our daughter, you will be able to hold her soon.” It had no longer been just her arms that had been trembling - her bend legs, which had been gently held apart by a midwife each, had shaken so badly that Franz Stephan had felt worry instead of anticipation gripping at his heart. He had not witnesses a birth before and while he had roughly known what to expect, he had been overwhelmed nonetheless and had whispered sweet words of encouragement to Maria Theresia for a few more moments. A change in her mood had only occured when the doctor had exclaimed that he had already felt the baby’s head. To this day, Franz Stephan thought as nipped at the wine, he could remember the rush that had went through him when he had realised what the doctor had meant.

His child’s head. Jean Baptiste Bassand’s words, the prospect of the nearing end of the birth had managed to lift Maria Theresia’s spirits for the much needed last part but that time, Franz Stephan had not returned to his chair. He had stayed at his wife’s side, careful as to not hinder the midwives in their work and had kept Maria Theresia’s left hand securely in his Right, trying not to make a sound when she had squeezed it painfully hard. “Push push push, Your Highness, push!”, the midwife at Bassand’s side had spurred his wife on and what had happened in the next couple of minutes, Franz Stephan had failed to really fathom. Maria Theresia had pushed two more times, doubling up from the strain and the pain before she had fallen back onto the pillow with a gasp and a shrill cry had suddenly filled the room instead. His child. He had not know where to look, had not known whether it had been his wife or the small bundle which the doctor and midwives had been working with that had deserved his attention, but after a second or so he had leaned down to kiss the top of Maria Theresia’s head. She had been whimpering by then, though he had been unsure if it had been due to his kiss or what the midwive between her legs had been doing and he had kissed her again, stroking her hair. “It is a healthy girl, Your Highness.” “A girl,” he had whispered, a choked sob escaping him as well. He had not been able to help it, for he had been simply too overwhelmed by the birth. “Do you hear that, my love? We have a daughter.” Maria Theresia had merely gasped, probably because she had failed to found her voice, which, considering the struggle that she had went through, had been understandable and when he had tilted her head back to look at him with wide, tear-filled eyes, he had captured her into a deep kiss. They had been interrupted when the swaddled newborn had been placed onto Maria Theresia’s chest but God, Franz Stephan had never been more greatful for an interruption. He had continued to stroke her hair as he had watched, with a blurry vision, how she had brought the baby up to kiss its forehead before she had carefully touched their daughter’s tiny face with the back of one finger. “Hello, you,” she had whispered, her breath hitching and her body trembling as if she had tried to surpress another sob as the baby, their daughter, had opened her eyes with the incoordination of a newborn.

A short while later Franz Stephan had left Maria Theresia’s private bedroom with the small bundle securely held in his arms. His beloved wife had fallen asleep after a few minutes of holding their daughter and nursing her for the first time, and it had been the doctor’s as well as the midwive’s suggestion that he ought to take the his newborn child with him. Not that he had argued about it. He had been absolutely fascinating by the small human that he had waited months for and had loved before he had even met her for the first time. As he had expected, there had been a relatively large group of courtiers that had come together in the antechamber, Karl and Maria Theresia’s mother, Elisabeth Christine, at the very top of it. “What is it?” “Our daughter will be baptized on the name Maria Elisabeth.” A few gasp and even sniffled had erroded as multiple congratulations had been called out and Franz Stephan had not even tried to banish the proud smile from his face as Maria Theresia’s parents had taken turns in appreciating their first grandchild. “How is my daughter?” “She is sleeping right now. Bassand told me that she will recover without problems.” The archduke had nodded and had turned towards his wife, “We will visit her later, my sweet.” They had talked for a short while longer and when Karl had embraced him to whisper another congratulations ot him, long after the courtiers had left again, Franz Stephan’s vision had blurred anew. He had been never been so truly happy before. As he cleared his throat and ran his hand over his face while shifting where he sat behind the writing desk of his study, the burn in his eyes was not one of happiness. He ususally managed to suppress the memories of Maria Elisabeth’s birth well enough for they were simply too painful. When he had held her in his arms, he never would have believed that... said happiness would be very short-lived. Taking a deep breath, Franz Stephan braced himself for next surge of memories. Bassand had been right, Maria Theresia had recovered exceptionally well in childbed and had grown into her role as a mother without any problems. While bed rest had not been what she had necessarily liked, Franz Stephan had never seen her with anything but a smile on her face when he would return to their appartment and see her in bed, their daughter peacefully sleeping in her arms.

Good God, how he had loved that child who had been the perfect mixture of himself and the woman he loved. Maria Elisabeth had been such a sweet little girl and had, to no great surprose, won her grandfather’s heart in a storm, so much that Karl had bought her a first set of jewels when she had turned just six months old. The archduke had absolutely adored her, had nicknamed her Liesl and had often spend entire afternoons with her, thus enabling his duaghter and son in law to spend some equally cherished time together. Maria Theresia had refused to leave their daughter to the sole attention of the nursemaid, stating that there had not been a need for it as long as she would not have any siblings and Franz Stephan had agreed, of course he had. He must had spend hours talking to Maria Elisabeth in that nonsense baby voice once Maria Elisabeth had begun to babble and oh, how his heart had soared when he had gotten to hear her laughter. Every ounce of free time had been spend with his little family, he had even negotiated the hunts to which he had usually accompanied Karl multiple times a week. He had cherished the time, knowing, with a strangely aching heart, that his daughter would not stay so young for long. A grand week of celebrations had been arranged when their daughter had left nursery on her first birthday as a truly happy and healthy child, and to Franz Stephan, the prospect of loving her any less because she had been a girl had been unfathomable. He feared however that he, if he would not have been partially raised by Karl, would have done just that. He still remembered how disappointed his father had been when his mother had given birth to his sister, how his father had even refused to do so much as to hold the baby because it had not been another son. Here, in Vienna and with Maria Theresia at his side, there had been space for nothing but love. When he had daydreamed during those months, he had seen them surrounded by an entire flock of children, surrounded by children’s laughter that would fill the many spacious room of the Hofburg. His world had been brighter than it had ever been before, and it had gotten even brighter when Maria Theresia, a few months after Maria Elisabeth’s first birthday, had found out that she had been pregnant with their second child. He had been lying in bed with his daughter sleeping on top of him when his wife had told him of her circumstances.