Yuuri does not understand what is happening. He had risen early, just like always, gotten ready and had a quick breakfast in the servants hall before his Lady rang. Working for Lady Phichit is most pleasant and even if coming to the Giacometti estate has been a bit of a readjustment, Yuuri feels he’s slowly found his place in the household. The Chulanont household was much smaller in size but larger in population, which meant more maids and valets and less footmen. For the Giacometti estate it is quite the opposite, for even if there are several other maids, none of them have any other duties beside cleaning. Yuuri is the only one, except his lordships valet, that works towards the Marquess couple. The rest of the staff works around the house, to make sure it stays in the impeccable shape the Marquess demands.
Phichit is as lively as always, even seven months of pregnancy has not calmed his fiery spirit, and chatters on and on about the houseguest that arrived yesterday. Duke Nikiforov seems to be a smart alpha, with a healthy view of the political climate but a bit eccentric, at least if Yuuri is to believe his lady’s words. After neatly braiding his hair and making sure all his garments are in order, forgoing stays this late in the pregnancy, Phichit gives him a list of things to pick up in town after breakfast. As soon as he’s made sure his Lady has made his way safely down the stairs to the breakfast room, he hurries back up to find a coat and hat. It does not look to be chilly, but walking takes quite a while and Yuuri would do best to be prepared.
He makes his way all the way down from the upper floor where the servants bedrooms are located down to the basement containing the servants hall. The cook Mrs. Honda calls him over to ask if he would pick up some dried orange peels and peaches in town, handing him a bun of bread for his troubles. Yuuri agrees, grabbing a large basket by the servants door and stepping out into the summer sun.
He lets the empty basket swing from his grip, trying to decide if he is to pick up the dress Lady Phichit had ordered that had come with the train yesterday first, or the goods for Mrs. Honda. He’s completely engrossed in his own mind so he all but startles with a loud yelp when a figure appears beside him on the gravel path.
It’s the duke. Yuuri has to gather his wits quickly so he does not embarrass himself further. It would not do to make his employer look bad for such an important guest. It does not help that the Duke is the most handsome alpha Yuuri has ever seen, and that after getting a wift of his scent yesterday Yuuri had not been able to stop thinking about him for more than a moment. It’s a preposterous thing to do, considering their difference in status. Yuuri is very aware of that, but since he has no prospects of ever finding a mate, he can dream.
“Mr. Katsuki,” the duke greets and Yuuri startles by the formal greeting, much more fitting between equals of nobility than for a duke towards a maid.
Yuuri finds his footing fast and courtesies, with his head lowered, trying not to be disturbed by the alpha’s smooth voice and enticing scent. “My Lord.”
When Yuuri raises his head he can see a beautiful smile on Lord Nikiforov’s lips and he has to look away so as not to be enchanted by those deep blue eyes and gorgeous silver lashes. It should not be allowed for someone to be so handsome. Lord Nikiforov gestures for them to continue walking, and Yuuri stumbles a little as he starts up again, the duke falling into step with him. If he did not know better, Yuuri would say it looked like a courting walk, which of course is completely preposterous.
“Phichit told me you are headed into town, may I join you?” Lord Nikiforov asks and Yuuri glances up with him with a slight frown.
“Would you not be more comfortable in a carriage, my lord?”
His Lordship has several carriages and Yuuri is sure that if the duke asks, being such a close friend to the Marquess, he would supply it. The duke frowns slightly, even if there is a smile on his lips. He has lovely lips.
“Please, call me Lord Nikiforov.”
Yuuri startles, eyes growing wide as he shakes his head viciously at the strange suggestion.
“I could not,” he protests, looking straight forward to not stumble on his feet from looking too much at the dashing alpha.
“Why?” Lord Nikiforov asks and Yuuri has to hold back a laugh.
“It would simply not be proper,” Yuuri informs him, even though he’s sure that Lord Nikiforov is very aware of that.
“Even if I beg?” the duke teases and Yuuri can not help but look up at him, at the sparkle in his eyes and slight flush on his cheeks. It’s a mistake, for it makes Yuuri’s heart race in his chest, as if he’s never seen a handsome alpha before. Yuuri can’t help but let his eyes dart to the unbitten gland on Lord Nikiforov’s neck, and then down to his naked ring finger. How someone with such wealth and such good looks can be unmated baffles him completely.
“That is ridiculous,” Yuuri retorts as he shakes his head, trying to push down the smile tugging at his lips.
“Mr. Katsuki, are you calling me ridiculous?” the duke teases and this time Yuuri can not hold back the smile that spreads on his lips, however much he tries.
“I suppose I am,” he admits and even though most alphas would reprimand him immediately, and promise to let his employer know how improper he’s being, Lord Nikiforov simply smiles, as if Yuuri’s teasing is the greatest gift he’s ever been given. It turns Yuuri’s stomach into butterflies in the most distracting way.
“Please,” Lord Nikiforov says, voice soft and expression warm. “Would you do me the immense honor of referring to me as Lord Nikiforov instead?”
“Why?” Yuuri asks. He can see no reason to. As soon as they are back at the estate Yuuri will have to address him by his formal title any way.
“I would prefer it,” Lord Nikiforov says and Yuuri feels helpless under his gaze, fears he might give anything to live under it.
“Alright,” he agrees, despite his better judgement.
His lordship… No. Lord Nikiforov follows Yuuri through all of his errands. Into shops to pick up dresses for his ladyship, and into the general store to pick up goods for Mrs. Honda, and to the doctor's office to get the medicine for the poor footman Alexander who is still down with a fever. Lord Nikiforov seems thrilled by each visit, asking question after curious question about any and everything. Yuuri can not help but find it utterly endearing as he answers each and every one of them. Lord Nikiforov smiles brightly, listening attentively to every word that comes out of Yuuri’s mouth. Never before has anyone paid so much attention to him. It makes his heart flutter in a way that can not be healthy.
It becomes evident when Yuuri’s basket, that is now hanging off Lord Nikiforov’s arm, is full, that Lord Nikiforov has no business of his own in town. As they start to make their way back to the Giacometti estate, Yuuri can’t hold back the question that’s swirling in his mind and as Lord Nikiforov ends a most endearing story of his dog Makkachin, Yuuri has to ask.
“Why come with me today? Since you had no business in town yourself?”
Yuuri wonders if he was merely interested in the town, but surely his Lordship Giacometti would have been a better suited guide for the duke than Yuuri. Lord Nikiforov looks a bit sheepish, which is a look Yuuri guesses he does not sport often. His cheeks tint with pink and he looks into Yuuri’s eyes with a warm gaze, making Yuuri’s treacherous heart jump. Does it not understand this can never be.
“It is very simple. I wished to spend more time with you,” Lord Nikiforov says, as if it is the most normal thing to wish for in the world for a duke to want to spend time with a maid.
“Why?” Yuuri asks, baffled. Something sour starts to turn in his stomach when he realises that from what he’s heard in the past, the only times nobel alphas are interested in maids are when they need someone to warm their bed.
“I find you out most lovely,” Lord Nikiforov says, and it’s said with such sincerity that Yuuri almost believes it, and his heart skips a beat. But he can not. Yuuri can not fall into the trap that so many has before him, to fall in love with someone who would never love him back.
“You must find me foolish if you think you can sweet talk me like this,” Yuuri says as he casts his eyes down on the gravel road, taking half a step away from the alpha to create more distance between them. “You may be very handsome and charming but I can not disgrace my family in such a way to become a nobleman's whore.”
The words are curt and cunning, but no less true for it. Yuuri could not turn up at his parent’s house round with pregnancy or with an infant in his arms and no mate. They are struggling enough as it is to make the inn go round. They do not need two more mouths to feed.
“You find me both handsome and charming?” Lord Nikiforov says and when Yuuri looks up at him with wide eyes he’s smiling, mouth shaped like a heart.
“That was completely beside the point,” Yuuri points out, sending the alpha a glare.
“Mr. Katsuki, I mean you no disrespect. I only wish to know you better,” Lord Nikiforov presses again and Yuuri’s heart aches with the wish for it to be true, but loves like that only come in books and novels. They can not be in real life, and certainly not to someone like Yuuri, unassuming and dull. The duke must find him rather stupid to think Yuuri might fall for something as easily spread as some false praise.
“What for? So I will lower my defences and you can sneak into my heart so I will do whatever you say with no claims or promises?” Yuuri snaps, now angry. “You think I have not seen how other noble men flirt with the maids to get them to raise their skirts and then leave them with nothing more than a ruined reputation and a broken heart?”
Lord Nikiforov stops, eyes wide in shock as he looks over Yuuri who stops as well, even if he knows he should simply keep walking. The duke is probably not used to having omegas turn him down. Has probably charmed his way in to dozens of hearts only to leave them broken behind. Lord Nikiforov takes a step closer, only for Yuuri to take a step further back as they continue to stare at each other.
“I would never disrespect you in such a way,” Lord Nikiforov says in a rush, eyebrows furrowed and expression worried, as if he truly means it. “Mr. Katsuki you must believe me when I vow to you that I am not that kind of alpha.”
Yuuri takes a deep breath to try to calm himself as he searches the duke’s face for any insincerity, any trace of a ruse. He finds none. His scent is clear too, worry and attraction the main pheromones sticking out to Yuuri’s nose in the evergreen and rose scent.
“What of it then? Why would you want to know me?” Yuuri asks, voice soft as he crosses his hands in front of him. Perhaps there is a perfectly reasonable reason for the duke wanting to make Yuuri’s acquaintance.
“I wish to court you,” Lord Nikiforov says and any ideas of there being a good reason for Lord Nikiforovs strange behaviour disappear like fog during a sunrise as Yuuri’s mouth falls open in surprise.
“I’m sorry?” he stutters, blinking rapidly as he tries to truly take in what the duke just said.
“I mean it,” Lord Nikiforov presses, stepping closer again and Yuuri is far too shocked to move away. They stand with just a few centimeters parting them, and Lord Nikiforov reaches out to take his hand, slowly bringing it to his lips. Yuuri’s heart thundered in his chest as a soft kiss is placed on his knuckles, blue eyes warm and sincere as they meet Yuuri’s.
“I have lived a very lonely life, and I have had many omegas who have been offered for me to wed, but none have captured my interest. None like you. I do not care about your status or family’s wealth. Spending the day with you today has been most lovely, and I fear I have not had such a good time for as long as I can remember. You are not only beautiful and smell divine, but smart and kind. I mean it with the utmost sincerity when I ask to court you.”
Yuuri can only stare, try to make sense of this shift in his world. A duke wants to court Yuuri. The most handsome alpha who is also a duke wants to court Yuuri who has no money nor title or anything at all except a decent skill in sewing and laying hair.
“You’re serious?” he asks, because he really can not believe it.
“I am,” Lord Nikiforov says, squeezing Yuuri’s hand firmly.
“Are you mad?” Yuuri whispers, heart pounding, body slowly filling with what can only be hope.
“Can love drive one mad?” Lord Nikiforov says and Yuuri can’t hold back the small laugh that escapes his lips as he shakes his head at the absurdity of the situation.
“You are mad,” Yuuri concludes and Lord Nikiforov smiles back, warm and oh so inviting. His expression turns soft, hand squeezing Yuuri’s again.
“Mr Katsuki, I beg you. I understand if you do not find me befitting for you, and if that is the case I shall apologize and leave you alone. Leave the estate immediately to try to mend my broken heart, but please give me the opportunity to show you my sincerity and worth. All I ask for is a chance.”
“How? I am not a Lady. I have to work and have no time for dinner parties or balls, nor do I get invited to them. I have very little free time for you to take me out for anything. I have no relatives in the area to chaperone us. I cannot see how this will work.” Yuuri has to voice his worries, for even if his heart has started to hope, there are so many things that stand in the way for Lord Nikiforov to formally court him as he would a proper lady.
“Yes. I have already talked about this with Phichit-”
“You talked to his Ladyship about me?” Yuuri interrupts, only to snap his mouth closed for his impropriety. Lord Nikiforov simply smiles that dazzling smile of his, and Yuuri’s stomach erupts with butterflies that tingle all the way out to his fingertips.
“Of course. I needed to know if there was even a possibility of me having the privilege to court you. I needed to know if you were promised to someone already.”
Yuuri can’t help but smile. Lord Nikiforov seems to have thought this out properly, not just fallen into temptation. It’s oddly flattering.
“Very well. What did his ladyship say?” Yuuri asks, smiling towards the alpha before pulling his hand out of his grip, starting to walk back towards the estate again. He should not be late, even if this conversation is most lovely. He walks slowly, so the alpha may catch up to him. When Lord Nikiforov does, he offers Yuuri his arm and Yuuri can not resist the urge to take it, no matter how silly it is.
“He and Christophe would not be opposed to me courting you if I promised to do so with respect, which I do,” Lord Nikiforov says, and as Yuuri looks up, he can see a soft blush on his nose. “They will, if you want to, let me take you out in the afternoons when the work in the house are a little less, and Phichit has agreed to chaperone us.”
“You’ve planned for this,” Yuuri concludes, trying to keep his breathing level. This close, he can smell the alpha’s scent much more clearly, and it makes his head dizzy. It’s a wonderful scent, very befitting of such a handsome alpha.
“I have. I feel I must, for I want you with such an urgency it fills my entire being with it,” Lord Nikiforov says and Yuuri’s mind fills with improper thoughts by the words. He coughs and stares ahead.
“Want me? As in lust?” he asks. It’s improper for an omega to speak of such things, but Yuuri needs to know, has to make absolutely certain this is not a ruse. Thankfully, Lord Nikiforov seems to find it more amusing than improper as he laughs warmly, and Yuuri can feel him gazing down on him. Helpless, he turns to meet those breathtakingly blue eyes.
“You have a very curt mouth, my sweet,” Lord Nikiforov says, seemingly delighted and Yuuri has to school his expression back to a neutral one to not give the duke any ideas, now that he seems so adamant on treating Yuuri right.
“I merely want to make sure I know all the details before I agree. I do not wish to make a fool out of myself,” Yuuri confesses, with a little too much honesty to not taste bitter on his tongue.
“Very well,” Lord Nikiforov says with a nod. “I did not mean in terms of flesh, even though you are very lovely and after marriage, I would love nothing more than to know what is under that dress of yours. But the want I was referring to lies in my heart, for every time I look at you it feels like it shall beat out of my chest. I have never felt this way before. Please. I am at your disposal.”
It’s achingly sincere. Yuuri feels completely defenceless against it as he looks up into the duke’s gorgeous face. With a deep sigh Yuuri decides he can no longer hold back. It could be the worst mistake of his life, or the best decision he has ever made. Either way, Yuuri must do this. He fears he might regret it for the rest of his life if he doesn’t.
“Alright. If you set it up with his ladyship I will allow you to court me,” he says with a soft smile. Lord Nikiforov stops and Yuuri with him, turning so he can look at the alpha. Lord Nikiforov is smiling, wide and beautiful and Yuuri can’t stop his own from spreading on his face, blood rushing to his cheeks.
“You will?” Lord Nikiforov asks and Yuuri lets out a little laugh as he nods.
“Oh darling, you have made me the happiest alpha in the world,” Lord Nikiforv says and Yuuri laughs again as he rolls his eyes.
“You must have very low standards,” Yuuri shoots back, tugging a little at the arm still linked with his, starting to move them back to the estate once again.
“Quite the opposite. I intend to show you,” Lord Nikiforov promises, and Yuuri thinks his heart might burst.