McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.
Chapter 322: Scent
When Tim got home, he spent a few minutes writing up a quick sketch for Skye, then did some research on how perfuming works and very rapidly came to the conclusion that this is not something five minutes on Wikipedia was going to take care of. He figures he needs to know something about alchemy for this to work in the first place, since he's got a vague idea of Gabe and Skye eventually both leaving the sides they were fighting for, combining his magic with hers, and the whole McGee clan taking over their own land/island/whatever. He's fuzzy on what the eventual stakes of this war are, but he does like the idea of several different sides all fighting with each other and blending will-base magic with component-based magic.
Besides, that seems to be pretty standard fantasy fare these days. Team Good and Team Evil are about twenty years out of date, unless you're writing for kiddies. (As Sarah explained to him in extremely complex detail last week while they worked on cooking Thanksgiving dinner.)
It occurs to him as he's quickly jotting notes, that the scent he got Abby hits him really, really hard. It also occurs to him that while Abby likes the way his soap/shampoo/deodorant combo smells, and seems to like the cologne he wears on occasion, he has also noticed that this does not seem to produce the same result as the perfume he got her does for him.
It also occurs to him that, should he find himself in possession of some downtime later tonight, say, after Kelly goes to bed, that he could research this further and see if there were any scents that might produce said result.
Once upon a time, Tim wore cologne every day. Get up, shower, soap, deodorant, moisturizer, cologne. Having been the kind of guy who read Redbook and Marie Claire and similar publications he was well aware of the fact that women are significantly more sensitive to, and aware of, how men smell then men are for women. And that while it was true they didn't want guys to completely douse themselves in scent, that making an effort not to smell like sweat, ball funk, and unwashed clothing was a good plan.
So, he always aspired to smell good. Clean. Fresh. But not so covered in cologne that visible smell rays poured off his skin. And when it turned out the only moisturizer that kept his skin from feeling like sandpaper was FemmeGlow (He did, eventually, with Abby's help, locate a much better replacement.) which smelled like a combination of candy and pink flowers, he decided that it would be nice if he didn't smell like a sixteen-year-old girl.
So, cologne. And yes, it helped. He usually smelled good. (Though still like flowers. "Lilacs," Ziva said. Might be right, he doesn't know what a lilac smells like. Wasn't precisely the scent he was going for, though.) Or, at the very least, Gibbs has never said anything about him "reeking" or made any off-color comments about "a French cat house." (Though he does remember the 'trying too hard' comment in regards to him wearing Old Spice.)
Two things changed that daily habit, first up Jimmy's "If you don't want everyone on earth to know you're sleeping with her, not having her smell like your cologne is a good plan." That was the first step in maybe not needing cologne every day. (It was, by then, several years since Abby introduced him to the skin oil one of her buddies made that kept his skin happy and was, blessedly, unscented.)
The second part was a few months later, when he and Abby were just bumming around his apartment, enjoying a lazy weekend. Nothing to do, didn't go anywhere, he'd been writing, she'd been gaming or messing around on his computer. Spent the day in their pajamas. And when that day came to a close, he was heading to the shower (hadn't gotten one earlier) when Abby said to him, "You know, it's okay to smell like you. With as sensitive as your skin is, it'd probably be a lot happier if you didn't scrub it every day, and you don't need to do it to keep me happy. I wasn't kidding, I like how you smell."
That brought him up short, because as well as he could tell that was the first time in the history of womanhood that a girlfriend was asking her guy to shower less. "So, wait, you want me to get fewer showers?"
"Some bits of you probably need a daily wash, but not all of you. I mean, you're really conscientious about it, and if it's for you, that's fine, but if it's for me, I'm okay with you smelling like you."
It turned out that she was right. So, just like his hair gets a daily rinse but only gets washed twice a week, that's what happens with most of his skin (yes, certain smelly bits get washed every day) but (barring dealing with dead bodies) the rest of him gets washed every three days or so, and his skin is significantly happier for it.
And that's pretty much how it's been for the last two plus years, but now, as he's sitting in front of his computer, searching through the website of the company that made Abby's perfume, he's rapidly coming to the conclusion that there probably are scents out there that will make her jump him, and that he might enjoy locating them.
Plus, it's not like the whole sleeping with him thing is much of a secret anymore. Married, live together, kid that looks like both of them, that cat's well and truly out of the bag, so, if he did locate the male equivalent of the scent he got her, it wouldn't be an issue if, on occasion (a little wicked smile lit his face) say, at work possibly, Abby smelled like him.
Just like he's never felt self-conscious about walking around with her perfume on his skin.
On the site, he finds lot of different options, (Jimmy wasn't kidding, there are at least two hundred scents. And, no, there isn't a "men's" section.) and most of the tiny vials were in the ten to twenty dollar range, and there were even smaller tester sizes (one milliliter) in the five dollar range, so… He ends up spending a very pleasant twoish hours looking through everything. He's on the verge of going kind of bonkers and getting like twenty-five testers, when it occurs to him, that yes, the write ups on all of these scents sound great, and the names are fabulous, but he still has no idea what any of them smell like, and maybe, since there is an actual store that sells this stuff less than ten miles from his house, that going there and investigating would be a good plan.
Saturday morning, he and Kelly have a mission.
Okay, so there are probably some things that you shouldn't do with a baby. Scent shopping may be one of those things. It's hitting him as he's heading through the parking lot toward a tiny closet of a store that Kelly might not love this. It's also hitting him that if there's a space in this store large enough to turn the stroller around he'll be shocked.
But in he goes, and it is small, tight quarters. It's pretty much empty, just a lot of goth posters on the walls, and a glass counter with a laptop on it. He's not seeing bottles all over the place, or vials, or any of the rest of it. And, what's really surprising to him: it doesn't smell like anything.
He does see the blue-haired woman (though now it's green) who sold him Abby's perfume.
She looks up at him and smiles, seeming to remember him, as well. "I read your books."
Definitely remembers him.
"Least I could do. Sold out of Thousand And One Nights after your tweet. Got a whole bunch of new customers all at once that day. That was a very good day."
"Good to hear it worked for you."
"Yeah, it did. So, what brings you back? No way you went through two ounces of Thousand and One Nights in less than a month."
He hadn't thought of that, but probably should have. "Maybe. Wanted to find something for me. I went on your site, found a bunch of things that looked good, and then realized I liked the way they sounded but had no idea how they smelled."
She looks him over, head to toes, seeming very amused and surprised at the idea that he'd check out her site or like anything on it. "What sort of things caught your interest?"
He unfolds the list of scents he'd almost ordered online before the idea of trying them came to mind. "I was thinking of these."
She looks through it, hmmming, quietly, and then heads off. A minute later she's back with a collection of amber colored glass bottles and a box of coffee beans. "You picked a lot of wood scents, leather scents, or dragon's blood scents. Do you know what Dragon's Blood smells like?"
He shakes his head. Then he pulls up the leg of his pants enough for her to see the calf tattoo. "I like dragons."
She nods approvingly. "Cool. That your only ink?"
"No. Only one that's easy to see." It's cold out, he's wearing long sleeves, and a coat. "Got knot here." He taps his right arm. "Bit of code there." He taps his left. "Abby, my wife's, lips here," and touches his wrist.
"Mind showing me the knot?"
"No." Though he's a bit puzzled for why it'd matter. He shrugs out of his jacket and button down, and pushes up the sleeve of his t-shirt.
She eyes the knot appreciatively. "That's beautiful. Sam Onthan's?"
"Yes, actually. You know him?"
"Yeah. I thought the dragon might have been his, too. He did the piece on my back, and he's a customer of mine."
"Oh." He does remember that Sam, and his studio, have a fairly unique scent, though beyond 'kind of like incense and ink' he'd be hard pressed to explain what it smells like. "So... is seeing this useful?"
"Yes. Scent is very personal. Better I know you, the better I can figure out what'll blend with you," she says while opening one of the bottles, pushing it toward him. "This is Dragon's Blood."
Like any guy who's spent more than ten minutes in a lab he wafts a bit toward himself, instead of sticking it right under his nose and snorking it up.
Green haired-woman... Okay, he needs a name for her. "I'm Tim, in real life. Thom's my penname. Little girl here is Kelly."
"Hi, Tim." She leaned over the counter so Kelly could get a good view of her. "Hello Kelly. I'm Janice." He's a little surprised her name is so... normal, and she catches that. "What were you expecting? Raven?"
"Or Phoenix or Soibhan or something."
She half-smiles at that. "What can I say? Not too many Ravens in 1979. So, what do you think of it?"
He wafts more of it toward him, and Janice appears to approve of his technique. "Sweet. Incense-y. Fruity? Flowers? Little dark on the edges. Maybe something woody? The way dark red is supposed to smell? Puts me in mind of the store I used to get my roleplaying books at."
"Okay." She closes that up and hands him the box with the coffee.
"I know what that smells like."
"You and everyone else. Helps you get off one scent and onto the next."
She pushes the next bottle toward him, but doesn't take her hand off of it. "Just about everything you picked has a sandalwood note to it."
"Yeah, one of my partners wears sandalwood a lot; I like it."
"Then you probably know the scent, sort of." She opens the bottle. "That's real sandalwood. Remember the costs more than gold thing?" He nods. "This is one of them. Sandalwood trees have to be fifty-years-old before they're any good for perfumes, they're endangered, and finding responsibly sourced sandalwood is a bitch. But this is it, the real deal. I'm hooked up with a plantation that's doing it right, so they only harvest four trees a year, which means this stuff is more expensive than gold."
He leans closer and wafts it toward him. "Wow. That..."
"Doesn't smell like you expected it to, does it?"
"No," And that's not a bad thing, at all. This is... just... really. Yeah, he likes it a lot. She's looking at him expectantly, so he tries to explain how it smells to him, as she closes it and tucks it back nice and safe. "This is... buttery almost. Dry. Woody certainly. Not..." He doesn't have a word for the scent he thought sandalwood was, but isn't.
"Much at all like what you thought it'd smell like?" He nods. "It's so hard to get the real stuff, it's usually not actually in sandalwood blends. Usually it's a synthetic version. Don't get me wrong, there are some good synthetics out there, but you don't get the depth from the synthetics. If the real stuff is in a blend, it's at way less than one part per thousand."
"So, do you use the synthetics in your blends?"
"In some of them. Depends on if it's a base note. If Sandalwood is supposed to carry the scent, then I use the real stuff. If it's a nuance, then I'll use the synthetics. No need to use the real stuff if you won't be able to smell all of it."
Tim nods with that. It makes sense to him. "I like it."
"You and just about everyone else. There's a reason it's endangered, and unlike the Pandas it's not because it has a hard time making baby Sandalwoods."
She looks him over again, and right now he's in his classic bumming around with Kelly gear. Jeans, t-shirt, button down, jacket, sneakers. She's looking a little doubtful, but her eyes flick back to his wrist, where the wrist cuff is visible.
"A lot of the ones you like have leather notes. Do you actually like leather, or do you like the idea of it?"
He knows he looks like a mild-mannered suburban dad right now, so it's a fair question. "I like actual leather. Actual leather doesn't like an almost six-month-old drooling on it, and baby spit up isn't good for it."
She looks at Kelly, who is sitting in her stroller, gnawing on her pacifier, and watching the two of them intently. "Good point. What color?"
He thinks that's a pretty weird question, can't imagine how the color effects this, but what the hell, why not? "Both of my jackets are black. My boots and most of the shoes are black. I've got one brown belt, one brown pair of shoes. The wrist cuff is black." He pauses, debating adding the last bit of leather he owns. But, it's not like he's ashamed of it. It's just private. But, so's what he's hoping to find a scent for. "My collar is black."
Her eyebrows shoot up. "Interesting."
He smiles a little, appreciating the sudden added respect he's seeing in her face. Like between that and the tattoos he's identified himself as someone who belongs in this shop. "Wouldn't have pegged you for that."
"She thinks so."
Janice smiles and makes a little note on the pad next to her. "How do you feel about patchouli?"
"Hippies? Pot?" He shrugs. It's nothing he's ever contemplated. "Don't feel anything about it. My day job is in law enforcement, so might be nice not to smell like a head shop."
"You're a cop? Those stories real?"
"No. They're more a love letter to my job and team. The people are real, the cases aren't. And I'm a cop for another month, and then I'm moving up the food chain."
She looks at him for another few seconds. "So, are you MacGregor?"
"Enough. Some of the time. I'm MacGregor, and I'm Thom, and I'm Tim, and a few other guys, too. Are you always Janice?"
She seems to understand that. "Not always. So, when you said code..."
"I meant I've got a few lines of python on my bicep. It's my master's thesis in forensic computing."
"Huh." She took out bottles, opening them carefully. "Left is real patchouli, right is oakmoss."
He wafts and sniffs. "I prefer the oakmoss. Earthy, kind of cool, forrest-y? The patchouli smells like dirt to me."
"Okay. That's a genetic thing. Some people smell patchouli as a deep, earthy, spicy scent. For some people it's a pile of dirt. How's it smell to your wife?"
"No idea. Never noticed her wearing it."
"Do you usually wear cologne?" She's marking off scents on his list.
"Not for a few years."
"What did you used to like?"
"Burberry Classic. Polo Black."
That also surprises her. "That's a lot lighter and crisper than anything you've got on this list." She doesn't say, kind of generic, but he's got the sense she's thinking that, too.
"Used to wear it every day. Also used to care a whole lot more about blending in with everyone else. I was thinking of some sort of special occasion-"
"Like night out, or night in?"
"Both. Thousand and One Nights is... really good on my wife."
Janice smiles smugly at him. "Makes you want to eat her alive?"
"Yeah. I was thinking about something along those lines for me, well, not for me... Thousand and One Nights is for me. On me?" Janice nods. "Little, black, lacy things look dumb as hell on men, so the scent equivalent of that."
She's giggling slightly at that. "I bet you'd be awfully cute in some sort of little, black, lacy thing."
He looks her over coolly, wondering if she's trying to see if he'll blush, and says, dryly, "My wife didn't agree. And I didn't, either."
She laughs at that answer, pleased by it. "So, you want something sexy?"
"Something for date night or work would be fine, too. But mostly I'm looking for good night at home, or very good night clubbing."
"What kind of club?"
He thinks through the different places they've been, and are likely to go again. Hell, if they ever all get babysitting again, it's their turn to pick the place. And he knows where they're going. He smiles. "For the night I'm thinking of, Enoch's Cove."
Now she's blinking in shock, apparently she knows the Goth club he's thinking of. "You're a member?"
"Since 2012. We don't get there very often, especially not since Kelly joined us, but, yes, we're members. Abby's been since '99."
"I feel like I should already know you, or her, at least."
He smiles at that. "Abby knows everyone. She's probably on your Facebook feed. Friend of a friend or something like that."
"Maybe. Okay, last thing." She opens three vials. "Which one do you like best."
They all smell the same to him, he's not sure if he can smell a difference, or if he thinks there's supposed to be a difference so he's imagining one. He tries burying his nose in the coffee beans between sniffing, but it doesn't help. "I honestly can't tell the difference."
"That's fine. I'm just checking how sensitive your sense of smell is. They pretty much are the same. One on the left leans sweeter, middle has more bitter notes, right is musky." She puts the stoppers back into the vials and packs everything up. "Okay, back in a bit."
She comes back with seven of the tiny tester vials, two of them already filled, five pipettes, and five amber bottles. One of the little testers she set aside. "Not for you. Present for your wife, for her, when you're wearing the collar."
"Every day wear." She pushes two of the amber bottles toward him. "One's a blending in with everyone else scent. Think storm over the ocean." He sniffs and yes, it does put him in mind of sitting on the beach, feeling a storm rolling in. Really, literal beach. Not that vaguely blue "beach" scent that so many home scents/perfumes have. It's freaky how much that smells like the ocean. He's not sure how it'd smell on him, or if he wants to smell like the literal ocean, but it's interesting.
"One not so much blending in scent, still light and appealing, but not sexy, good work scent. Woods: cedar, sandalwood, little pine, rosewood, all well-aged and clean."
"Might have Gibbs sniffing my neck." He mutters, inhaling, and this is definitely woody, in a good way. Actually does make him think of Gibbs's basement a bit. "Add some bourbon to that, and it'd be the perfect scent for my dad."
"I've got a version like that."
"Yeah. Wood, rum, little bit of sea spray. It's very popular."
"I need one of those, too. He build boats."
She smiles, heads back for a moment, and puts a small bottle of that next to the tester that's for Abby.
"Date night. Out somewhere nice." She pushes the next bottle toward him.
"Something like that. Something you'd wear a suit, or better yet, tux to." She opens the bottle. "Little sexy, restrained. Nothing's happening until you get home, but you're probably cutting out early." He nods along, liking that description quite a bit. "Little sweet, little heavy: sweet myrrh, frankincense, black amber, jasmine, mandarin orange, three woods, drop of vanilla to smooth it together."
He really, really likes that. It's very male and sophisticated, expensive, lush. When she was listing myrrh and frankincense he was afraid it was going to be a bottle of Christmas, but this really isn't. This is the man DiNozzo Sr. thinks he is, but isn't. Hell, this is the man James Bond thinks he is, but isn't. "Just grab a big one of that."
"Try it on your skin first. Can't do returns on these. That's why you're going home with testers. These will smell different on you than they do in the glass."
He looks away from the tiny vial and up at her. "Let me guess, this is another one where the full-sized bottle is frighteningly expensive?"
There's that smile again, sharp and amused. "It's not cheap."
"Then I'll make sure it works on my skin."
"Good plan." She recaps the bottle and opens another. "Enoch's Cove night. Dead sexy, for you. Dragon's blood, leather, smoke. This one wears close to the skin. She's got to get in your lap before she'll smell it, but once she does, she won't want to leave." He sniffs and blinks. It's his jacket. The original leather jacket. The first piece of really good leather, really good clothing, he ever bought. The one he adored, that Abby had to cut to test for radiation. Soft, supple, black leather that felt like a warm, sexy hug draped over his body. His jacket, but better, whole, warmed by the sun, worn outside on a really splendid fall day, ripe with harvest scents, little hints of smoke in the air. He's just sort of gaping at it, stunned that there's that much... response in him from a smell. "I take it you like that one."
"Oh, God, yeah."
She caps it and hands him the coffee beans to clear his sense of smell, making a few more notes. Then opened the next bottle. "The metaphorical something black and lacy. Got any plans for this afternoon?"
He shakes his head.
"You do now. Give me your wrists." He does, taking off his cuff and watch. "This isn't the stuff you got at the men's department at JC Penny's. Little bit goes a long way." She takes the pipette, deposits a milliliter of the scent into one of the testers, dips the wand that's attached to the cap into the scent, and strokes it across his wrist. "Just what's on the wand, rub it over your wrist." She closes up the vial. "Rub wrist together, then wrists on throat. You can add a bit more to thighs or ankles if you feel like it's too light, but much more and you'll start to knock people over."
He was half-paying attention to her words, half-wondering what he'd just put on. It smells like... he's got no clue. It smells good. Not sweet, not sharp, not anything he can name, but it smells really good to him. It's a much more 'classic cologne' scent than the date night scent, but it's somehow deeper, richer, more 'him' than any one he's tried before. He'd make out with himself wearing this, if he could.
"White musk, white sandalwood, Spanish moss, few florals, little herbal so it's not too femme, slight hint of ocean. You've got a pretty strong ocean vibe to you."
He laughs at that.
"I'm a Navy cop."
She laughs, too. "I think this one's going to get along well with you."
He's nodding along, no idea how it'll smell to Abby, but it's making him feel sexy and eager. "What's that last one?" he asks looking at the little, already filled tester, sitting next to them.
"For you to test on your own." She taps the tester, not opening it. "He's got no middle gears. Depending on your body chemistry he's just very, very animal male lust, full-on grab her by the hair and take her off to ravish her, or he's dirty goats and cat pee."
Tim was all in favor of that until she got to the downside. "Doesn't sound very appealing."
"He's not, if he doesn't agree with you. If he does... Well, let's put it this way, he's the only thing that's ever gotten my wife to look at a guy twice. Helps if you're already leaning in that direction to begin with. But he usually takes at least ten minutes to warm up, sometimes closer to half an hour, and in the bottle he reeks, so he doesn't get opened in here."
"And does he wash off easily if he doesn't agree with you?"
"Eh..." No is clear on her face. "Maybe don't rub him on your neck until you know if he agrees with your chemistry."
"Okay." He looks at the little collection of vials in front of him. "So any of the things I liked the sound of in front of me?"
She circled two of the names on his list, while affixing little stickers to each vial with their names, and pipetting the scents into them. "Some of the others," she put little stars next to three of them, "Will probably be good choices, too. But how about you go play with these, test them out, see how they work with your skin, before adding much new stuff. Only so much your nose can take before it shuts down."
And with that, she tidied everything up into a small bag and with a swipe of the credit card, sent him on his way.
A/N: So, I'm a fan of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. They make really nifty perfumes. All of the scents mentioned here are either stolen from them, or my own ideas based off of their work. Plus, unlike the fictional version I'm writing about here, BPAL's prices are significantly lower.