Warning: Graphic medical descriptions and something like necrophilia.
Notes: I'm sorry I'm so weird. This wouldn't fit in a comment over here, so... yeah.
The last woman Herbert West had touched so intimately had been seventy-two years old and the cadaver for his gross anatomy lab in his first year of med school. He had hacked off limbs--but gently--and split her sternum and held her heart in his hands. He'd been kind to her, the sort of deference that one gives a person whome they know is doing them a inconvenient favor.
He touched their girl the same way, except in reverse, pulling all her pieces together, bringing her new limbs instead of taking them away. Sometimes he put his hand over her heart and gave silent thanks to Meg Halsey for dying and giving him and Dan the opportunity to create something new together. At other times, he stared at the place where their girl’s head would be and remembered how it felt using the saw on the skull of the old woman, cutting vertically and exposing the labyrinth of sinuses, up to his elbows in chunks of brain matter and bone dust and choking on the formaldehyde. He had enjoyed that class.
He could imagine Dan in gross anatomy. Herbert was sure that Dan would have passed the saw off to a partner and held the hand of his cadaver during the worst parts without realizing it. Maybe he touched the heart and thought about the complexity of life, the inevitability of death. Maybe he just looked away, pretended to be jotting down notes or drawing out a diagram.
In the years between gross anatomy lab and the assembling of their life-sized doll, Herbert had dealt with patients, of course, and assisted in autopsies. But it was always something impersonal, a part of his job. He shied away from touching living, conscious patients, leaving the compassion and bedside manner to Dan whenever possible. Dealing with internal organs was one thing, but touching patients made them too personal, too close. When he looked at their girl, her pieces bare and wrenched together with metal rods and hinges, he could see the old woman that she would never be. The cadaver in his class had slack breasts that slid down on either side of her chest. Her vulva had been small and neat, topped with grey pubic hair.
Their girl's breasts were firm and rounded. Herbert often found himself with a hand cupping her breast as he made an adjustment to her torso or shifted the reagent-soaked gauze that covered her. He found that she was not unpleasant to touch--cold, yes, but yielding and pliable. Still flesh, but preserved and waiting patiently in limbo.
When Dan was away, working a different shift or out with that woman from Peru, Herbert would stay downstairs. Sometimes he worked on their girl, but just as often he would fiddle with his chemistry set, tweaking the formula for the reagent and keeping her company. They hadn't even found a head for her yet, but still he felt guilty when she was alone for too long. He never told Dan that he'd begun to think of her as something like a person.
He sat and mixed beaker after beaker of reagent, then tested each solution on dead cells that he observed through the microscope. As he did this, working methodically and falling into a pattern, he'd think about what would happen once they finished the girl. Assuming the experiment was a success, would he and Dan keep her? Would Dan want to exhibit her or keep her private and secret? As a pet? A child? A lover? That thought gave him pause.
He'd asked him once, as they were both bent over her, threading her with plastic veins. Dan had not looked up from his work, but his brow furrowed as if he’d never considered that there would be an end. "I don’t know," he said. "There’s no guarantee that it'll even work the way you want it to." Herbert had bristled at this, but said nothing. "I guess we’ll know when we get there."
The girl's legs were always spread open for the expediency of her assembly, and Dan had draped a thick piece of gauze between them for the sake of some imagined modesty. Herbert knew Dan had thought of her as Meg, ever since Herbert had put her heart into his hands. He imagined Dan touching her piecemeal body the way he touched Francesca, the way he touched Meg when she was alive. But the girl was as much Herbert's as she was Dan's, perhaps more so. He thought about both of them touching the girl in Dan's bedroom, continuing to experiment on her. He thought about touching Dan while the girl looked on, curious and uncertain. He thought of them hunched over her immobile and headless form, stitching and cutting and tightening screws and holding her flesh, their fingers pressing deep dimples into the waxy skin every time their eyes met for a moment over her breasts.
He lifted the gauze from between her legs and considered her pelvis. They had argued over the best way to ensure stability in the hips and legs, allowing for coordinated movement. Dan had wanted to leave her as she was, to see how she fared after re-animation and make adjustments if necessary. Herbert felt she needed something more, like the connections they’d already forged in metal and plastic. A harness, he realized as he stared at her parted labia. Hooked into the spine, to keep the torso from separating.
While he considered the logistics of creating such a harness, he ran one finger from the base of her labia to her clitoris. Herbert’s mind was full of straps and supports and, for necessity's sake--a zipper.