There had been many ladies at first, then as the years passed their number dwindled significantly until finally there was no one. Frankly, Raoul had decided that he really preferred it that way. Some of them ended in tears and screaming, and some ended as easily and quietly as a whispering wind, but end they all did. He began feeling as though it wasn't really worth the effort, not anymore. He wasn't lonely, not by any means, not when he had a pack of devoted friends, a large family, a massive brood of nieces and nephews, and of course, the Own. He was generally very much happy with his life, and had decided that to court at all was to court disaster. So he said no when noble ladies offered to escort him back to his rooms, no when servant girls made eyes at him, and mostly he said no to any situation that might encourage a woman to think he was game worth hunting. His life made sense to him this way. He didn't want children, didn't want someone else in his life that needed looking after, and he especially didn't want any more of the uncertainty and vulnerability that came with romantic entanglements.

But still, sometimes he wondered what it would be like. He wondered when he walked into Gary's study and found Cythera sitting on his desk, both of them laughing as she told him a story. Their ease and comfort with each other had been palpable across the room, so much so that Raoul had backed out and left before they could see him. Raoul wondered when he was invited to a Royal dinner shortly after Thayet finally agreed to move back in with Jon. Both of their faces were filled with an intense mixture of pain, hope, and love that was too raw for him to bear to look at for any length of time. It happened on the rare occasions when he visited Goldenlake, watching his mother pass his father sugar for his tea without him even looking up to ask, or when he remembered the way King Roald had devotedly cared for Queen Lianne. He thought about it when he visited the Swoop last, and saw Alanna eye George's naked torso as he jumped into a crashing wave with their children, her face flushing as she bit her lower lip. He teased her for looking like a girl with a lusty crush, rather than a woman who had been married to the man for nearly 20 years, but inside he wondered all the same.

It was moments like these that he thought of when Buri had offered to walk him to his door, her eyes somehow managing to be both lascivious and terrified at the same time. It was those moments that compelled him to lean down and touch his lips softly to hers. He thought of these moments when he decided to risk all of the stability and order he had built up over the years, and all of the security he resided in, and decided now was the time to finally just say yes.