It was one of those things that came with his genetic structure, he supposed. Keen, perfectly-honed senses of a Gallifreyan and the imagination of a human needed to piece out what smells blended with another to mean what.
It was very useful, at times. Discerning what oil was used in which explosive and thus which needs to be diffused first. Sorting out what poison was in which cream puff before obnoxiously popping the un-poisoned one in his mouth. Memorizing the sweet, fragrant smell of the Detrassi Sunflower and then reproducing it to break a password on the sensory-adept computers of Alganqua 7.
It was also a curse, as well. Like should the TARDIS decide to land on the dung planets of Santoir 4 or the onion-worshipping centers of Retrrioo. It was also absolutely terrible when he was forced to take the number 55 bus.
The worst was how hard it made forgetting.
Rose Tyler never wore a perfume before she met the Doctor. She never had a particularly strong scent, either. It clung to her hair, sweet and elusive. Whenever he thought he’d captured exactly what it was, the scent was always lost to him. Soft, sugary, innocent. It was a pleasant, if unrecognizable, smell.
Jackie always smelled of whatever perfume was the trendiest (or, the Doctor suspected, the closest inexpensive alternative). Rose never followed that trend, opting instead to spend her money on jewelry or souvenirs. There were things that were more important than how she smelled, she’d say. He’d agree, if she didn’t have such a unique scent of her own.
They walked hand in hand with her through an early 20th century carnival, still giddy with excitement from their last adventure. She pressed herself against him, her hair brushing his nose. Even with the slight tang of sweat from running, it was still there, that distinct Rose-ness. He leaned in and tried to nibble the candy floss she’d gotten in her hair.
“I don’t have any candy floss in my hair!” she’d giggled. “Is there anything you won’t try licking?”
He avoided carnivals, now. It made him nostalgic, he couldn’t figure out why. Something in the air. Something sweet and elusive.
Jack Harkness wasn’t a man to wear cologne unless the night truly called for it. In those cases, it was a strong, spicy, overly masculine scent with peppermint. But that was only on special occasions. No, his modus operandi when it came to scents was his own, natural, 51st-century pheromones and sticky hair gel.
Though, if the Doctor were really honest, there was always something sweetly alcoholic about Jack’s smell. Like vermouth and strong gin. Well, Jack always was a martini man (extra dirty, he’d add with a wink to any bartender they’d ever run into). But the scent was subtle, hidden, like a lot of Jack’s good traits.
“Have you been drinking?” the Doctor asked, leaning over to sniff his companion’s hair. Definitely olives and sexuality. It was a positively filthy scent, one Jack wore with style.
Jack put a hand on the Doctor’s leather-clad shoulder. “I don’t need drinks to loosen up, you know.”
The Doctor always ordered a hydrogen hydroxide when he went to Milliways. It was something without the guilt-inducing scent of olives from the future.
Martha Jones never went anywhere without perfume. It was a “sexy girl” scent, one of their less-than-polite captors had said at some point. It was a scent the Doctor imagined was very popular, but never smelled anywhere else. Like lilacs, musk and pheromones, grown-up and still terribly hormonal. The smell wasn’t overwhelming, but it was always there, lingering by her pulse points.
She kept it in her pocket in a tiny, roller-ball bottle. He would find it sometimes in the bathroom of the TARDIS, or sitting on top of a pile of her clothes in the laundry. A tiny blue bottle with some liquid inside. No label, of course. Martha had a habit of peeling labels off of things when she was nervous, sliding her fingernail under the wrapper and slowly working off the sticky material. Her lipstick and some of the canned goods in the pantry were also mysteries because of this habit of hers. Maybe if he could just figure out what that scent was underneath the lilac…
“Martha, you ready to go?” he called, sticking his head into the wardrobe room where Martha was finishing up getting ready for their very formal 75th-century ball. He’d pulled on his infamous tuxedo, but she had to actually look the part of someone from this century. Her hair was piled into tight braids on top of her head and her dress was slick and silver. She grabbed the tiny bottle of perfume and rolled the tiny ball over her neck, the liquid glistening momentarily against the dark skin of her throat.
The Doctor didn’t realize he was staring. Martha looked up at him curiously, trying to judge what he was seeing. He offered her his hand. “Come on.”
He never did figure out which perfume it was, though whenever he passed a perfume shop on Earth, he picked up the small tubes of perfume, checking the scent and the peel-able-ness of the wrappings.
Donna Noble’s scent changed over the course of his time with her. Before, he knew her small car had an exhaust leak, because she smelled like car fumes, hidden underneath a trendy, bubblegum scent. It was a sour scent, something that could’ve been nice but really wasn’t.
When he met her again, she’d grown as a person and her choice of scent had, too. She wore something softer and sweeter, like coffee and sugar. Of course, she was terribly unpredictable and would impulsively purchase perfumes from any planet, even if they didn’t go with her metabolism or skin type. He became used to the undertones to her scent, not the actual scent itself.
On her birthday, he picked up a genetically re-coded perfume on Venusia 8. It was in a tiny, exotic-looking bottle, and he wrapped it and held it in the pocket of his coat until long after her birthday had passed. He was never very good at domestic things, like gift-giving. She found it eventually and wore the sharp, spicy scent almost everywhere she went. She still wore other perfumes, she still bought new ones impulsively, but it became her favorite. And it suited her perfectly, an odd, biting scent that was sweet without falling over into the realm of syrupy. The Doctor’d done a pretty good job.
“Don’t start getting all cocky, Spaceman,” she said, her voice teasing. “We both know you didn’t code it up to fit me, the Venusians did!”
Now, the bottle sat on the side of her night table, stopped up and never to be opened again. He imagined somewhere back in Chiswick, Donna smelled like trendy bubblegum perfumes and car fumes.
When Martha said good-bye, she saluted him rather than hugging. He’d held her once before, he knew that the sweet lilac perfume was never worn, not after needing to hide during the Year. She was just medical-grade alcohol and crisp uniforms, now.
Jack saluted as well, knowing better than to hug the Doctor what with all of the wrong-ness that he radiated. His smell still hung sharp against the Cardiff winds, no longer pheromones and martinis, he now smelled like death and gunpowder.
When Rose left, she kissed his double, not him. He’d hugged her earlier, though. He knew what he was missing. The candy-floss sweetness was gone, replaced by the scent of saltwater and void stuff.
They lost the parts of themselves they didn’t even know they had.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Partner(s): Rose Tyler (canon), Jack Harkness (canon), Martha Jones (canon), Donna Noble (canon)
Word Count: 1,292