Limerence is joy and sorrow met together; where hope and self-derision have kissed one another, with ache and longing the offspring. The ignored, non-existent liminal space in a world where there is only single and partnered, nothing beyond and nothing between. Limerence feeds on the glimmer of hope, feeds and grows and creates a twilight world where the unlovable is beloved. It is delusion and inspiration - motivation to go on in the face of abject reality. It is deception embraced as a fall into Lethe: a world through the rose-coloured looking glass where all is slightly wrong and yet more is right than that without.
In his first months at Cambridge, shy and newly arrived from boarding school, he met his first limerent object. An actor with the Footlights, tall and strong and blond and handsome: he took Malcolm under his wing and offered him friendship, gratefully received. This Adonis was in second year, and with that extra year of seniority, he guided his junior through the difficulties of university: they discovered interests in common and things to admire in each other, and grew close.
Malcolm grew to admire all that his Adonis did and said and thought. He looked up to him. His breath grew short when Adonis was in the room; the slightest comment or smile could make a bad day wonderful.
Malcolm loved Adonis. But Adonis did not love Malcolm.
He has learnt that a broken heart will heal, and that a scarred heart can and will scar again.
He went about in a haze for a time; a buffer from the world, first of hatred, then numbness, and then disinterest. He was recruited to the service, and knowing that Adonis had not been the only man he'd been attracted to, he hid himself, fearing the repercussions aimed at a man in the public service who loved men and not women. He threw himself into his work.
And then he met Colin.
They were friends. Better friends, in the end, than he'd been with Adonis. Colin's mind was remarkable, and his social skills more limited than Malcolm's own. They were equals. Wonderfully equal. They could talk about anything, and did. And Colin shared his crushes with Malcolm, and Malcolm listened and gave advice and sat quietly while his heart broke again. He hoped that one day Colin would finally open his eyes, but he knew at the same time that Colin never would.
And when Colin was killed, Malcolm's heart broke again, and his composure broke as well, letting his colleagues see behind the mask to his true self, and that final exposure hurt at least as much as all the rest.
He has learnt that it doesn't hurt less the next time, only differently.
Zoe was perfection. His feelings for her – his adoration for her while he still loved Colin, but knew Colin didn't love him – terrified and confused him. They knocked him out of his homosexual comfort zone. He wanted to protect her: a problematic wish when she was an operative and he a mere tech-geek. But then, everyone loved Zoe, in their own way: she inspired that in people. Colin and Tom made sure that incriminating photos disappeared. Harry treated her like a daughter. Ruth worshipped her from afar, and Danny worshipped her without disguise or artifice. And Tessa pursued her, and captured her, and the rest of them smothered their doubts and stood back.
He would have done anything for her. To make her smile rather than frown. To chase away the tears. To keep her in her perfection.
He has learnt that the deep, abiding passions can co-exist with swift and powerful ones. Women, he suspects, would call it a "crush". Men, he knows, do not. But language does not rule his heart. His heart has room for more than one type of love, and knowing that has broadened his world.
She appeared among them and soon had been there for a lifetime, and life was nothing without her. Ruth became the heart of the Grid, and Malcolm loved her. He had looked up to Adonis, been desperate to protect Zoe's alabaster form from harm; had longed to comfort and support Colin through anything and everything. Ruth became the centre of his world.
It happened slowly. She became more and more a part of his life. He knew when she walked in the room and when she walked out. He knew that she didn't love him, and he wanted her to be loved by someone she loved in return. He became her brother, "Giles", and wept with her when she was rejected. He loved her unconditionally, and told himself that was enough. He returned to church again because of her, because he realised that if God loved him the way that he loved Ruth, God deserved thanks and praise for putting up with his ignorance.
But Ruth would never return his love, and it still weighed heavily on his shoulders. And there were days when he wasn't sure he could go on.
He has learnt to pick himself up, set his shoulders, and step forward, one foot in front of the other, one day and one hour and one footstep at a time.
She left a hole in their lives, unacknowledged, without the time to grieve or a justification to mourn. Harry's eyes fixed on Ruth's empty desk, and Malcolm caught Harry's eyes when his own were on the same journey. They shared drinks and memories at the George together. They speculated on where she was – imagined her life, free but (they each hoped, guiltily) alone.
The numbness remains for longer. The terror of being hurt again outweighs the terror of loneliness. He cries alone, in a darkened room, when the world doesn't need to be saved and he has a moment to himself. And this way of life, this false hope always shattered, the longing never fulfilled or reciprocated – he thought he knew how to cope, each time life threw the same scenario in his direction. Now, he's no longer sure; he no longer knows how to go on coping.
He has learnt that there is a word for the way his life has been lived. It's an obscure, unknown word that rarely makes it into the dictionaries, but there's a comfort in being able to put a label on it. Limerence. A life lived in uncertainty and dashed hopes; a mental shelf full of small cardboard boxes, marked with the names of limerent objects from date to date, cataloged and organised and tucked beyond thought, where the pain can be dulled until it one day dies away.