Yuuri had never wanted to be a soldier. Indeed, he didn’t know of anyone who really wanted to, but they were all poor, and there was a draft, and so they all found themselves fighting, not for some great ideal, but rather for the hope that the war would someday end, that they would not see their lives end like this, that there would be something left of their lives afterward.
And then, finally, when the news breaks that the war is over, there are sighs of relief all around.
“We can go home,” someone says, quietly at first. Then, louder, more excitedly. “The war’s over! We’re free!”
The dam that had been holding their emotions back breaks, and at once, the men are embracing, many are crying, and all of them are swept away in the moment.
Yuuri, however, remains silent, at least until someone slings an arm around his shoulder.
“Hey, Yuuri, isn’t that great! They don’t need us here anymore!” Phichit says with a laugh.
Phichit is the only one of the soldiers that Yuuri considers to be a true friend, the only person that he thinks he’s going to miss.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Yuuri responds, smiling hesitantly. “I haven’t seen my family in three years.”
Letters have come, but they were few and far between.
“Or your sweetheart either, right?” Phichit adds, gesturing to the ring on Yuuri’s finger.
“That’s right,” Yuuri agrees softly.
He can still remember the day he got the ring with perfect clarity.
Summer was at an end. The oak tree towering over them had shed a few colored leaves as the wind blew.
”Please… for luck…” Yuuri had whispered, barely able to choke out the words through the lump in his throat, unable to say what he truly wanted but hoping that Victor would understand anyway.
Victor had looked at him with shining eyes as they placed the gold on each other’s fingers.
“Yuuri,” Victor had murmured, his voice full of warmth. “We’ll get married as soon as you come back.”
But that was three years ago.
Does Victor even want him anymore?
The thought nearly crushes him. Sometimes the image of Victor’s face was the only thing that kept Yuuri going when times got hard, but why should he assume Victor still felt the same?
It wasn’t as if Victor didn’t have other options. He had always been so hopeful, so bright. Everyone loved him, and he could have picked anyone in the entire world to be with.
Why would he pick a man he hadn’t seen in three years?
Some of his nervousness must show on his face, because Phichit narrows his eyes.
“Are you alright, Yuuri?” he asks worriedly.
Yuuri swallows thickly and nods.
“I guess I need to write to him,” he says. “A-And my family, too, of course. Tell them when I’ll be back”
Phichit’s eyes soften.
“Of course,” he agrees. “They’ll be so happy.”
The letter to his parents is easy. A simple “Love you, and I’m coming home soon” suffices.
Writing to Victor is much harder.
Every time he picks up his pen, his heart aches.
I hope you still remember me
I know I haven’t seen you in years but I can’t live without you anymore and
Is it too late?
He drafts several letters that he just can’t bear to finish.
Eventually, he writes one that he can send.
I hope this letter finds you well. I’m sure by now you’ve heard the news of the war’s end. I’m sorry that our correspondence has fallen short during my time overseas, but now that the war is over, there’s nothing keeping me here, and I can come back home.
I know that a lot can happen in three years and I don’t mean to hold you to anything you may have said before I left. If you’ve found happiness without me, I have no wish to tear you from it. All I care about in this world is your happiness.
I’ll be returning home at the beginning of April. I don’t want to make things difficult for you, so I’ll just say this. If you still want to see me, just tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree. Otherwise, I’ll stay on the bus and go back to my parents. We can forget about everything that happened between us, no hard feelings.
He sends it off before he can second-guess himself again, but it doesn’t make the ache twisting in his gut any easier to bear.
By the time he actually finds himself on the bus to town weeks later, the ache’s grown to a nausea that consumes his entire being.
With Phichit gone, he has no friends to comfort him. He takes a seat near the front of the bus and tries not to look as sick as he feels.
“You okay there, pal?” the bus driver asks kindly.
“F-Fine,” Yuuri mumbles unconvincingly.
“You sure? It’s a bit of a bumpy ride, and I don’t want anybody passing out,” the bus driver continues.
“C’mon, you’ve had enough drunks on your bus to know how to handle them. Don’t get us all off schedule for this one!” a woman across the aisle snaps.
A flush rises to Yuuri’s face, and he waves his hands frantically.
“No, no!” he exclaims. “I haven’t been drinking! I just…”
With a sigh, he explains his situation.
There aren’t that many people on the bus, just the driver, the woman, an elderly man sitting a few rows back, and a teenage girl sitting in the row behind Yuuri, but they all listen, occasionally nodding or giving him sympathetic looks.
“… and that’s why I’m taking this bus,” Yuuri finishes.
He falls silent, embarrassed at how much he’s told these complete strangers.
“Uh, you can just forget about what I’ve said,” he continues sheepishly. “I’m sorry for burdening you all like that.”
“Nonsense,” the bus driver says amiably. “We’re rooting for you, buddy.”
A chorus of agreement comes from the other passengers, and Yuuri ducks his head.
“Thanks,” he mumbles.
The passengers chatter amongst themselves, and they try their best to draw Yuuri into their conversations. But as they get closer and closer to where Yuuri knows the old oak tree stands, he withdraws more and more, until he has to cover his entire face with his hands.
“We’re almost there…” the girl sitting behind him says.
Yuuri doesn’t reply.
“Hey now, why are you hiding? Don’t you need to look for your ribbon?” the woman across the aisle asks.
“Please, look for me,” he begs. “I couldn’t bear to see what I might see.”
That is, an empty tree. Empty, like his life will be if Victor doesn’t love him anymore.
The bus slows to a stop, and Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut beneath his hands.
He hears a few gasps, but nobody says anything. His heart sinks.
Then, finally, the elderly man speaks up.
“Son… Are you sure you told this fellow to tie a simple yellow ribbon around this tree?”
“Yes…” Yuuri says sadly. “If… If it’s not there, we should just go…”
“No,” the bus driver says. “Buddy, look up. You’ve gotta see this.”
That’s fair enough. Maybe if he sees it for himself, it will feel real, and he’ll be able to… what, move on? Unlikely, but… Yes, he has to look. He places his hands in his lap, steels his resolve, and opens his eyes.
A hundred yellow ribbons—no, not yellow, gold--are tied around the old oak tree.
“That’s… He’s… Victor…” Yuuri sputters.
“I’d say your guy really loves you,” the teenage girl says, grinning.
“I… Yeah…” Yuuri murmurs dazedly.
The whole bus is cheering as he stumbles down the steps. A flash of silver amidst the oak tree’s blooms is all the warning Yuuri gets before Victor is there on the ground, running forward with his long hair (held back loosely by another gold ribbon) streaming behind him.
“Yuuri!” he calls desperately. “Yuuri!”
Yuuri is already breaking into a run before he can even think about it.
Victor crashes into him so hard that they both tumble to the ground. But Yuuri hardly notices, because he’s too enraptured with the feeling of Victor’s lips on his own, the sound of Victor’s hand running through his hair, the sight of Victor’s shining blue eyes.
Finally, Yuuri is home.