It was probably foolish of her to come back to this place. But, on the off chance that the rumours were true, she wanted to give it a chance.
Years ago, Shiho Miyano was invited by her sister Akemi for a catch-up drink at Funiculi, Funicula. At that time, Akemi had chosen this place after hearing the urban legend saying you can go to the past in this café. Shiho was dubious back then, and even today, living under the name of Ai Haibara, she had trouble believing it could be true, but her research does tend to confirm that rumour, even if the conditions for traveling through time does seem fairly restricting.
From what she was able to learn, there were a certain number of rules to respect if one choose to go back. The most important was that, no matter what you did in the past, you couldn't change the present. Your stay in the past is limited to the time it takes for your cafe to get cold, and you cannot leave the café while in the past.
While these tend to dissuade most people, Ai decided that, for what she wanted to do, she could work alongside those rules.
Back when she was a child, the only member of her family that Shiho truly knew was her sister. Her parents had died in an accident while she was young, and she barely remembered them. She was then taken care of, alongside her sister, by family friends who provided her an education in the best of schools.
It was only too late she learned they weren't so much friends as simply her parent’s co-worker on a really important project for a criminal organisation. By then, she had already been recruited and any chance to leave was inexistent. She did believe in that project at first, a universal medicament, able to heal every sickness. But all she was able to produce was a poison, killing most everyone who were to ingest it. Even then, she stayed as close to her sister as she could while being monitored by the organisation.
Until they killed her.
Following Akemi's death, Shiho decided to stop working for them, for she has no reason left to do it. With no other choices left, she tried to take her life using the very same poison she developed.
But a very rare side effect occurred, and what should have killed her only made her younger. Under the guise of a seven-year-old, she fled the organisation and started a new life under the name of Ai Haibara. She sook help from the only other known individual who have survived her poison, and helped him takedown that criminal organisation, finally putting her past to rest. While she was able to create an antidote for him, she herself refused to take it, and decided to forgo her life as Shiho Miyano and fully embrace her new existence as Ai Haibara.
Ever since then, years have passed. She went through school again and was currently studying medicine at the university. It was an offhand comment made from another student who reminded her of this place. She had then needed time to research the place, and it took her even longer before she decided to visit.
She descended the stairs leading to the café with steps full of assurance. A cowbell rang as she opened the door, but it was only as she passed the corridor leading inside that a voice welcomed her.
The waitress was standing behind the counter, polishing some glass. Her round belly announced a fairly advanced pregnancy, but it didn’t seem to hinder her in her work. She was wearing the usual waitress dress, a white shirt with a black apron on top.
Beside her, there was a gentleman in his early old age, dressed as if he was coming straight from the last century, sitting at a table and reading some novel. The was also a father with his daughter discussing something that seemed to be homework.
She sat at one of the corners table and took stock of the café itself. On the wall facing her, there were three different clocks, each telling a different time. A quick glance at her own watch indicated that only the middle one seemed on time. Overhead, a fan was turning lazily, and while it didn’t appear very efficient, the temperature in the room was neither too hot nor too cold. Due to where the café was situated, very little noise from outside could be heard, giving the place a timeless feel.
The waitress put down her glass and approached her.
“What would you like to drink?” There was a certain monotony to her tone, she was far from cheerful but also not biting. As if serving customer was but a task to do, and her feelings had no influence on the matter.
Ai could appreciate that and went directly to the heart of the matter.
“I have heard you can go back in time in this café. I would like to meet my sister again.”
“Are you aware of the rules?” The waitress let no thought show, as if customer asking to travel in time were a dime a dozen.
For all Ai knew, maybe they were.
“Yes, but I wouldn’t mind going through them again with you, to make sure I know them all.” The waitress nodded, and Ai offered her the other seat at the table, which she gratefully accepted.
The waitress laid out the rules, and they were what Ai expected: you can only meet people who have visited the coffee shop in the past, and no matter what you do you cannot change the present. You need to sit on a specific seat, which is currently occupied by the old man reading a novel, and he cannot be moved forcibly meaning you have to wait until he decides to go to the bathroom to use his seat. You cannot change seat and you have to finish your coffee before it gets cold to be able to come back. She learned that this opportunity only happens once a day, but luckily, he hasn’t left his seat yet.
As if on cue, the old man got up and went to the bathroom.
“Miki will be the one to do the ceremony for you.” At her words, the little girl lifted her head from her homework. She was maybe seven, and her enthusiasm brought a smile to Ai. It was just like looking at Ayumi, back when they were in elementary school. She brought her to the other table, then went running to the back office, and came back a few minutes later wearing a wine-red apron over her clothes and holding a tray with a silver kettle and a white cup on it. Behind her, the man who was most likely her father followed with a step stool.
She held herself as if she were trying to appear very serious, but the spring in her steps betrayed her excitement. Ai smiled at her.
She put the tray on the table, and asked very seriously: “do you know the rules?” at Ai’s nod, she continued as if from a rehearsed script, “shall we continue?”
Ai inhaled, then nod. She was ready.
A strange contraption was put in the cup, and Miki explained it would ring if the coffee starts getting cold. Stepping onto the step stool, she starts pouring carefully, some of the coffee still ended on the side, as she was clearly not used to doing it yet, but her enthusiasms make it easy to forget.
As the steam rose from the cup, Ai thought of her sister, of the last time she saw her, when they both visited that café. She felt her surrounding begins to warp, her visions wavering as if she herself was turning into vapour, and she almost felt afraid it was a side effect of the apotoxine when her consciousness started to fade.
For Shiho, losing her sister was akin to losing her world. She hated the job she had no choice to do, she hated her employers, she hated her co-workers, and the only thing that kept her working every day was the knowledge she was keeping her sister alive as long as she was useful.
So, when she learned they decided to let go of her sister, she had no reason left to live. Prisoner in their hand until she changed her mind, at this time taking the apotoxine only felt like justice. A scientist killed by the poison she created. Their tool taking herself out of the board with the false success they didn’t plan for.
Surviving in a younger body was but a reprieve, a setback for she knew they would find her again and either kill her or make sure she would have no choice but to finish her work.
But finding Kudo, meeting Ayumi and Genta and Mitsuhiko, having professor Agasa welcome her with no regrets for what might happen to him, all of those wonderful people brought her hope, the conviction to do what was right, to stop running away.
She would always be thankful to have met them, to have gotten this new chance at life. And today, she wanted to thank the one person who has helped make it possible, even if she was unaware of it at the time.
When she felt the world settled and opened her eyes, she found herself still in the café. But sitting in front of her and drinking calmly was her sister. She seemed to startle a bit when she noticed her, but quickly a smile found her place on her face and Ai drank on a sight she thought she would never see again.
“Akemi…” she started, but it wasn’t right, “big sister.” how long has it been since she last called someone by that moniker?
“Shiho! So, I guess those rumours were true in the end,” she said with a sly smirk. Ai remembered how much disbelief she had expressed about the idea of time travel, back on their first visit of the café, and rolled he eyes, but it was with good humour and they both knew it. She felt the tension leave her shoulders as she realises that, no matter how much time has passed, it still felt natural to speak to her.
A casual silence settled, and Ai took a sip of her coffee. Still hot. She knew what she wanted to tell her sister, but suddenly words were hard to find. Could she really tell her what she has in mind, when she was going to die and nothing could be done to change it?
Thankfully, Akemi took reins of the conversation. “So, how far from the future are you? How are you doing?” A teasing grin. “Have you found a boyfriend yet?”
And she found the words coming naturally. “Aah, it has been ten years now,” and with a wry smile “and still no boyfriend, all the boys are idiots.” Akemi let out a laugh at that. She didn’t question her youthful appearance, and Ai was thankful for it. She didn’t wish to explain to her sister what brought her to poison herself.
She took Ai’s hand in hers. “I am sure someday you’ll find the right one for you.” And Ai thought of all the new people she has met and let out a soft “maybe” in answer.
“So, tell me what you are doing then!” And Ai smiled and told her about leaving the organisation, adopting a new name as her own. How she made new friends, the detective club she was part of, and how now she was studying at university, and sure some of the courses were boring but it was worth it.
“I’ve stopped making drugs for them. I even helped in taking them down.”
Akemi’s smile was soft, but the look in her eyes said she got a lot more from what she said. “I’m glad. Really, you deserve to be free from their hands.”
Ai felt something in her throat, and the words just spilled out without her consent. “But you deserved to be free too, to live your life, to find love.”
Akemi’s smile didn’t leave her face. “They were never going to let us leave together, weren’t they?” There was only resignation in her tone, as if she knew to expect that outcome, but still wanted to believe things could have gone differently. Ai could only shake her head, couldn’t voice it.
“I am sorry I left you” Akemi continued “but I am glad to see what you became.” Tightening the grip on her hand, she said “I am proud of you, and I know our parents would be too.”
She felt tears gather in her eyes. A soft beeping sound came from the timer in her cup. She freed one hand to drink another sip of coffee and realised how much warmth it has lost. Time was getting short, and Akemi seemed to notice it as well.
She got up and went around the table. Ai looked at her coffee to find the courage to tell her what was on her heart, the true reason she went back in time.
“I am happy now,” tears started to drop from her eyes, “so thank you, big sister, for the chance you gave me.” She felt Akemi embrace her and enjoyed it for what little time she has left. As the timer beeped again, she tightened the grip on her sister one last time, before finishing her coffee. She smiled, as her world turned into vapour again.
When she opened her eyes once again, she was once again alone at her table. She quickly dried her tears and got up as the old man came back to his seat.
She went to the counter to pay for her coffee and made sure to thank the young Miki before leaving.
“Did you enjoy your coffee, miss?” Miki asked as she was leaving.
Ai made sure to smile. “It was perfect, thank you.”
“So, did you find what you were looking for?” Kudo asked her when they met later that day.
“What makes you think I was looking for something?”
“You look... lighter, somehow, as if a weight has left your shoulders.”
“Come on Kudo, didn’t you wife told you it isn’t a way to compliment a lady on her weight.” He starts spluttering, whether it was about his wife or the comment was unsure, but she starts walking ahead of him, a spring in her steps.
“But yeah, I found what I was looking for, so you don’t have to worry anymore detective.” She turned toward him and smiled, and Shinichi could believe it. Whatever has happened to her, it looked like she was finally able to stop looking over her shoulder for the other shoe to drop, and he was glad.
He caught up to her, and together they headed toward the meeting point with the rest of the detective boys.