Sometimes Frankie closes her eyes, and for a split second, she's somewhere else.
The "where" of it varies. Sometimes it's a different country, somewhere she can vaguely place either from having seen pictures or just an intrinsic knowledge that's become part of her since the stigmata. Languages unfold themselves around her, curling through her brain cells until she can understand Spanish, Welsh, Arabic without ever having studies it. When she has these flashes, they're brief, but enough to tell her what she needs to know- there's someone there who needs her help, someone praying for a saviour, and she's being called up to bat. Incomprehensible as that is.
Sometimes it's a different place and a different time, somewhere she can't recognizes but that feels intrinsically foreign in the way that other countries don't- a different cadence of words in the air, different clothes, even a different sun in the sky (even though she knows the sun has been what it is for a millennia, and it won't change now; call it evolution or intelligent design, but it's there). Most often, when this happens, she's in Jerusalem. She knows this, not because she's studied Aramaic or Hebrew or because she recognizes the people who pass her by, but because the place is always the same- high above the city, mounted on a hill, nailed to a cross like she's meant to serve as a watchtower for everyone who moves below. These flashes sometimes come with pain, but she's gotten used to it, and she doesn't cry out- not in her visions, and not in the real world. Occasionally (she's told) she'll frown or murmur in her not-sleep, and Andrew will shake her awake, and it'll be like nothing happened in the first place.
Andrew knows. No one else does. For one thing, they try to keep their movements as quiet as possible- as quiet as they can, given that having a faith healer arrive in town is the kind of big news that tends to spread quickly. But the Church is still less than pleased with both of them (Andrew slightly more than her, which is kind of surprising; he's the one who left, but she was basically the catalyst for the whole thing) and while they officially don't send out hitmen after people they dislike, they also officially don't recognize Jesus's gospel. So Frankie keeps it vague when she calls Donna to tell her what she's been up to lately, and says almost nothing about her job whenever she talks to her mother- as far as Mom knows, Frankie is traveling the world with Habitat for Humanity, and that explanation works out fine for everyone. Hell, it's even semi-close to the truth, for whatever the truth of this whole traveling-faith-healer/former-stigmatic/vessel-for-Jesus situation is.
Which Frankie really isn't sure about anyway.
"Hey." Frankie pokes Andrew in the arm. "Hey, we're about to land." They're in a plane that's just coasting into the Cairo International Airport, and Andrew's still asleep, his reading glasses sliding down the bridge of his nose. He had papers scattered across his lap earlier- he decided that their trip to Egypt was as good a reason as any to brush on on his medieval Coptic- but Frankie cleared them up after the plane jerked and midair and they all slid into an untidy pile on the floor. The words and symbols mean nothing to her, except in those brief moments when she sees herself elsewhere and knows everything, but she's okay with that- languages are Andrew's department. People are hers'. One of the stewardesses walks by, and Frankie smiles at her as she goes, before she pokes Andrew again. He wakes with a sudden grunt, blinking in confusion. "Wh-"
"Rise and shine," Frankie says, and points out the window. They're low enough over the city that she can see the tops of buildings, baked brown in the summer heat, and the cars moving further down. One of those cars- she doesn't know which- is being driven by the person they've come to meet, a man who Frankie saw briefly behind her eyes, stretching his arms out towards her. Help me. Comfort me. Save me.
And she will. She doesn't really know anything about him, apart from what she saw- that he's in his mid- thirties, bearded and thin. His cheeks are hollow, but she got the sense that the gauntness isn't a byproduct of hunger- it was too stark, too sudden. Whatever's happened to the guy, it happened recently, and it happened fast. Cancer, maybe- she's sometimes helped cancer patients, although it never sits quite right with her that she has to do it on a case-by-case basis instead of somehow laying hands on a few hundred people at a time and getting it done that much quicker. More often, what she does is spiritual in nature: curing demonic possession (rare, but it happens) holding the hands of the dying and assuring them they're going somewhere good, even just moving among groups of people who've just had something horrible happen to them and trying to comfort as many as she can reach. It still seems inadequate a lot of the time, and it leaves her feeling exhausted, but it's also satisfying in a way that cutting hair never was.
"Ah." Andrew pushes his glasses back up and smiles, reaching out to squeeze her hand. "Ready?"
"As I ever am."
The landing is painless, as is the process of getting their suitcases- which Frankie would attribute to divine intervention, if not for all the times they've found themselves stranded in foreign airports where neither of them speak the language- and they're out in the street in less than half an hour, blinking in the sudden bright sunlight after the relatively dim coolness of the airport. Andrew fumbles in his pocket and pulls out two pairs of sunglasses, offering one to Frankie. She shakes her head. The sun is dazzling, but she'd rather take the sights in without looking through tinted glasses. As always, when they land in a new place- and Cairo is still new to her- a sense of excitement is building in her, of knowing that she's about to see things she's never seen before. In addition to that, there's a sense of- not holiness exactly, but heritage. Somewhere near here, if you believed the Bible (and really, it's not like she has much choice in the matter) the Holy Family walked through these streets, Mary holding her baby close to her chest, looking over their shoulders for Herod's soldiers. If Frankie closes her eyes, she can almost picture it: Mary, younger than Frankie is now, eyes shadowed with fatigue and worry. Joseph, not much older than his wife- although come to think of it, the Bible doesn't specify; he could be closer to Andrew's age, for all Frankie knows; trying to guide his family through the street, still overwhelmed with the burden they're carrying. Then she blinks, and the vision is gone.
"We could go straight to the hotel and drop the suitcases off," Andrew is saying, "but if you don't mind, I'd like to make a small detour first. There's a small church near here, St. Didymus, that I visited the last time I was in Cairo; they have a very rare copy of one of the original Sahidic translations of the Bible. I was able to examine it when I last visited, but there have been developments in the study of Sahidic dialect since then, and I was hoping to compare-"
Frankie smiles at him "You've been planning this, huh?"
"Well." He flushes slightly. "The developments are actually a few years old, and I had planned to ask my superiors for leave to visit Cairo when I had the time, but then-"
"But then I happened," Frankie finishes for him, giving his hand a squeeze to let him know she doesn't mean it bitterly. Things have changed, for both of them; but she knows that uprooting from working in a hair salon in Pittsburgh is a bit different from repudiating the church you dedicated your life to. "Sure, we can go. It sounds-" She stops short of saying "fun," and Andrew chuckles as she searches for a different word. "Well, the church will probably be nice to look at."
"It is," he says. "They have extensive stained glass inside, and some of the designs are based on the original medieval structure. It's quite a sight."
Frankie picks up her suitcase. "Let's go, then."
"Pretty" doesn't quite cover what the church looks like inside, Frankie thinks. "Beautiful" comes a bit closer, but it's not even that: it's the overwhelming sense of richness, spiritually and otherwise. The pews are all painted gold, as is the altar, and both of them combined with the dozens of lit candles makes the whole place light up like the glow is coming from within the walls, rather than just the candlelight reflecting off the pews and windows. The windows, too, are gorgeous- Andrew hadn't been exaggerating when he said that they had "extensive" stained glass. From Frankie's vantage point, standing at the altar and looking up, it seems as though the entire back wall of the church is made of stained glass- a dozen or more saints staring down at her, with expressions that range from gentle to judgmental. Just above and slightly left of the altar is the one that interests her the most- a woman, her head bare and shaved, with her robe pulled to one side and her breast exposed. A baby nestles in the crook of her arm, not feeding, but staring up solemnly at its mother while the woman gazes down at Frankie. There's something in her eyes that draws Frankie's attention- not pain, exactly, but not pleasure. Resignation, maybe; contentment. She can't tell.
"St. Perpetua," a voice says behind her, and Frankie turns around. A man is rising from his knees before the altar. "Martyred by the Emperor Septimius after she converted to Christianity. She gave birth in prison."
Frankie looks around. The two of them are the only ones in the room; Andrew met with the priest almost as soon as they came in, and they both vanished into a back room to look at the Bible. "Do you work in the church?"
The man shakes his head. "No. I'm only a devotee." He's speaking English, infused with a thick Egyptian accent; Frankie thinks he must have guessed she was a tourist just by looking at her. With her suitcase resting on the ground next to her foot, it's not a heard guess to make. "Are you? A devotee?"
Frankie looks back up at Perpetua. "I guess you could say that."
The man sighs. "I come here to pray every day. There are other saints who watch over young mothers, but my wife loves Perpetua the best. She can't come, so I make the pilgrimage every day in her place."
Frankie turns around, taking a closer look at the man for the first time. He's dressed in loose cotton pants and a white shirt, his beard spilling over his collar. It's the beard that strikes a chord of recognition in her. Sure enough, the skin above his beard and chin is hollow and pale, except under the eyes, where it's drawn tight and shadowed with blue-purple bruises. She's seen him before, when he was saying things that no doubt resemble what he just said to St. Perpetua. Help me. Comfort me.
"Your wife," she says slowly, "she can't come? Is she sick?" Approaching people she's seen in her visions is always difficult. Some of them take her appearance as a sign, once she explains that she was called to help them; they prayed for help, and God sent her. Others regard her with suspicion even after she explains herself, and she doesn't exactly blame them for it. She's a total stranger claiming to be on a mission from God, after all; she'd be suspicious too. But this man is here, in a church, praying at the altar. He has to have some sort of faith, or he wouldn't be wasting his time with prayer. And he just happens to be making daily trips to the church that Frankie just happens to be in at this precise moment, and then they just happen to bump into each other? Frankie's retained her belief in coincidence, but this is stretching it.
The man shakes his head. "Not her. Our daughter. She was born a week ago, and her heart-" He shakes his head again. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I'm telling you this."
"I do," Frankie says. He raises his eyebrows, and she adds quickly, "You've been praying, right? Stupid question, of course you have been. But, I mean, you've been asking for help?"
The man looks as though he doesn't know whether to approach her or edge away. Still, he seems intrigued enough not to take off on the spot. "Yes."
"Right." Frankie takes a deep breath. "Okay." She wishes Andrew was here: she's not sure how or why, but someone he seems to put some of the antsier people she deals with at ease. Maybe it's something he was taught in seminary school, the lingering aura of the collar. "This is gonna sound crazy, but I think I'm here to help you. I'm- well it's complicated But I help people, and I saw you once in a vision, and-" She's rambling, she knows. "Do you have anything of your daughter's? Like, a blanket or a sock or something?"
The man is still staring at her, but he's also reaching slowly into his pocket. "You help people," he repeats. He draws his hand out; he's holding a tiny knitted sock, soft yellow. "A vision," he repeats. Then his eyes narrow. "Do you want money for this? Because I-"
"No!" she says quickly. "No, no money. No payment. It's a-" She fumbles for words. "I just help people. It's what I do."
He still looks suspicious, but he passes her the sock. She holds it tightly, pressing her hand to her chest; it's so small, it disappears underneath her fingers, the fuzzy ends of the wool tickling against her skin. This is always the easy part, but again, she can't name why it is, or even what exactly she's doing. "What's your daughter's name?"
"Right. Okay." Frankie closes her eyes, tries to form a mental picture. It comes more quickly than usual- maybe because she's standing in the church, or because Amina's father is standing in front of her. The picture comes swimming up in her mind's eye: a newborn, cocooned in a hospital bassinet, a feeding tube extending from her nose. With the image comes noise, the persistent beeping of machines and the sound of someone murmuring nearby. Amina's mother, she assumes; she doesn't understand the words, but they have the cadence of prayer. Amina stares up at the ceiling, eyes focusing and unfocusing as she blinks.
"Hi there," Frankie whispers. In this liminal space, she's never sure whether or not the people she's seeing can see or hear her in return. Amina whimpers slightly, wriggling, but her head doesn't turn; if she knows Frankie's there, she's not giving any indication. That's fine.
Frankie reaches down, and gently presses a finger against Amina's bare chest. The baby whimpers again, squirming under her touch. Everything here is hyper-real, dialed up so that she sees and understands everything around her. Under her fingers, she feels the heart flutter and understands that there's a hole where it shouldn't be, keeping the heart from doing more than fluttering faintly, and situated where the doctors can't get to it. Frankie flattens her palm out, noting vaguely that the baby calms down as she does so, and thinks, heal.
For a moment, nothing happens. Then she feels warmth spreading under her palm, and sees light traveling under Amina's skin, wrapping itself around the hole until it's patched up. It grows from there, from an insubstantial glow to thick skin, thin and gold to pink and healthy. When it's done growing, Frankie gently pulls her hand away; her part in this miniature drama is over. Amina turns her head back and forth, looking for the hand that was just touching her, then screws up her face and shrieks. Frankie grins. That's the last of her trouble breathing: going by the noises she's making, she's got no problem getting air in anymore. Frankie takes a step backward as Amina's mother bends over her baby, and begins to pull away.
Arriving back in her own body is always the most unpleasant part: her legs shake under her, and her limbs feel weak and jellylike. She stumbles slightly, but waves Amina's father off when he tries to catch her, holding on to the edge of the altar with one hand instead. The other hand she opens, and extends outwards. "Here you go."
"You-" Amina's father's face has changed: where he looked suspicious before, now he looks torn between fear and wonder. "You were somewhere else."
"Yeah." Frankie nods, rubbing her forehead; a headache is beginning to throb there. She hopes Andrew didn't have any sightseeing planned for the afternoon. "I saw your little girl. She's gonna be okay now."
A smile unfurls over the man's face, and Frankie feels herself smiling back despite her headache. This, this is what makes it worth it: all the traveling, all the aches and pains and the self-doubt and the frustration. The moment of actual transformation makes it all worth it. She saved someone. It's still hard to believe.
"I have to go," the man says. "I need to see my wife. Are you- what's your name? Where did you come from? I want to thank-"
Frankie shakes her head. "Don't," she says. "I don't- well, it's kind of a long story. But I try to avoid names, when I can help it. Go see your kid."
"Thank you," he says, still apparently somewhat in awe. He's backing away. "Thank you- whoever you are- thank you so much." He turns and leaves the church at a pace that's just short of a run. Frankie smiles after him, still clutching the altar for support. The looming headache is in full force now, and it's making her faintly nauseous.
There are footsteps behind her, and when she turns, Andrew is there. "I may need to come back," he says, eyes alight with enthusiasm, "but I think we've done all we can for the-" He looks at her, taking note of her posture and wrinkled forehead, and his cheer turns to concern. "What's happened? Are you all right?"
"Fine," she says, and her voice is only a little wobbly. "Um, the good news is, our work here is done. The bad news is, I think I need to lie down. You don't mind heading straight to the hotel, do you?"
"Our work-" He frowns for a moment, then a smile spreads over his face. "Well, that was quick."
"Sure was." Frankie lets go of the altar and lets herself lean against Andrew instead. Her eyes feel gritty, but his coat is warm and comfortingly familiar against her cheek. "You up for an afternoon nap?"
He runs a hand through her hair, fingers gently massaging her scalp, and she lets out a contented sigh. "Yes, I think I am."
She smiles up at him. "Great."