The best time to go hunting for supplies, they've learned, is right after the sun comes up.
Sunrise affords them the light, and even though it means the dead can track their movements easier, it circumvents the terrifying prospect of trying to traverse the city in the dark, when it becomes almost impossible to see the pathways across the rooftops or through buildings that aren't always as deserted as they seem. It also means they aren't moving about during the hottest parts of the day, when the sun beating down on their backs makes the constant exertion of roof-hopping and wall scaling that much harder. Something about the sweltering heat of summer also seems to aggravate the undead, stirring them into an easy frenzy, hordes all the more likely to hunt and attack survivors.
Maybe the discomfort of their bloated, diseased limbs makes them crankier, Shouto thinks, as he sits on the windowsill of an apartment complex thirteen stories off the ground. He can see some of the horde milling about below, but they're scattered, still. He doesn't know where they go during the night, only that there's less of them around early in the morning, their numbers swelling steadily as the sun climbs higher.
"Get up," he hears Katsuki say, "I'm not gonna tell you again."
Shouto looks over. Katsuki is nudging a sleeping bag lump on the worn old couch with his foot as he wraps his hands in the strips of cloth they all use to keep from getting scratched to hell when they run. Izuku is by far the hardest to wake up in the mornings, usually because he goes to sleep so much later than Katsuki or Shouto. He always stays up into the wee hours, adding more in his notebooks to the maps of the city he keeps, where the dangerous zones are, where there are still supplies or other survivors (hostile or friendly).
"You could let him sleep," Shouto tells Katsuki, as Katsuki growls at the sleeping bag. "I doubt it'll take all three of us for this run."
Katsuki shakes his head. "Can't leave him."
Shouto blinks at him. "He'll be fine."
"We can't let him wake up with nobody here, Half-and-Half," Katsuki says, a bit more forcefully. "Okay? We don't leave him alone, ever."
Slowly, Shouto nods. This isn't something Katsuki takes lightly.
Izuku also has insomnia. He can't sleep most nights because of the nightmares. He sleeps better when Katsuki is close by, though, so Shouto never says anything when Katsuki always, eventually, climbs into the sleeping bag with him after he thinks Shouto has gone to sleep.
It's not that Shouto minds. He already knows there's something between them, something strong. It's just that it reminds him. That they're together and he's—not.
"Okay, Shouto?" Katsuki prompts him. His voice is near to a threat but Shouto can hear the urgency disguised below the surface. "You can't. Even if—it's just you and him. If I—"
"We won't let him be alone," Shouto says simply.
Katsuki glares at him a moment longer. Then he nods, grabs the sleeping bag, and unceremoniously drags it onto the floor.
Shouto returns to watching out the window as Izuku rouses, already bickering with Katsuki, their morning routine. He wonders if they were always this loud, or if they've gotten louder, now that he's there. He thinks they may act more ridiculous when they have an audience, because when they think he's not watching, they're quieter.
He wonders if it's because he's still an outsider to them, even months after meeting them; if it's because they don't feel comfortable letting him in on the softer moments yet. Why should they? Those aren't for him to intrude on. It's more than enough that they let him travel with them, let him stay. He doesn't need them to grant him access to every part of them and their relationship.
But—god, sometimes, he wants it more than he can bear.
"Ready?" Katsuki asks, as Izuku bumbles about sleepily, trying to find his pants. Shouto pointedly does not look in his direction.
"Where to first?" Shouto asks.
"I wanna hit that convenience store we marked on the map last time," Katsuki says. He stretches his arms above his head, before bending down to touch his palms to the floor. Shouto stares at the strip of skin this exposes when his tank top rides up, before tearing his eyes away. It's good to stretch, before they head out—they're not exactly taking a leisurely stroll. "Oy, Deku!"
"I'm ready!" Izuku gasps, running up beside them. He shoots them a bright smile. "Thanks for waiting."
"Whatever," Katsuki says. "Race you both there."
Almost since the moment they met (not the very first moment, there was too much blood and screaming, that time), Katsuki and Izuku have had a lot to say about Shouto's hair.
He's used to wearing it past his shoulders, has had it like that for years, now. In actuality, he's too lazy to cut it; and in recent years, he's grown fonder of keeping it that way. When he first started growing it out, more and more people started to tell him that he looked like his mother, reminded them of her.
He vastly prefers this to the alternative, so the long hair has stuck around—even into the middle of a zombie apocalypse.
Shouto thought nothing of this, until the other two start commenting on it. It's Izuku who brings it up first, shyly asking him about it one evening, a few weeks after they've formed a sort-of alliance.
"I just wondered if you keep it that way to look, um... intimidating?"
"Intimidating," Shouto repeats. Katsuki snorts. He doesn't have anything to add, it seems, and continues stoking the small fire he's started up so he can cook their dinner. He insists he's the best cook out of all of them, despite there not being that much to make a meal out of, generally speaking.
"Yeah!" Izuku says. "It's just, with the sword and your scar and the hair, and stuff…" Izuku says, gesturing his hands vaguely all around at Shouto. When Shouto continues to stare blankly, he stammers, "K-Kacchan was intimidated by you at first, too!"
"What?" Katsuki snaps. The bacon in the pan sizzles threateningly. "Intimidated? By this wussy pretty boy?"
Shouto stares at him, but Katsuki doesn't even seem to register calling him pretty. He's more focused on arguing with Izuku.
"Yes! I know that's why you were so rude to him when we first met," Izuku says. "You get all suspicious of people when you aren't sure if you can kick their ass, otherwise you just ignore them."
"I can kick his ass!" Katsuki rages in a whisper, barely remembering to lower his voice. They're camped out on the train tracks in an abandoned station, which they've swept twice to ensure is actually abandoned. Still, this means they're on the ground floor tonight, and that means the dead can reach them with relative ease. They'll have to sleep in shifts.
They have no proof that Katsuki can kick Shouto's ass, yet, which is probably a good thing.
Shouto deliberately does not acknowledge Katsuki. "Do I still intimidate you?" he asks Izuku.
Izuku's mouth wobbles, but what comes out is a smile as he shakes his head. "I think your hair is pretty."
There's that word again. Shouto has never considered himself pretty—he's been called pretty before these two ever said it, but it's never really stuck out to him before. People would giggle and whisper it behind their hands when he tied it back as he sparred at his father's dojo, when they thought he wasn't listening. Never directly to his face. Never by two other men who look like they could crush skulls with their bare hands, and in fact, have both done so before.
"Thanks," Shouto says, because… because he thinks it's a compliment, and what else is there to say?
Izuku scratches at his cheek and nods, staring down at his feet.
"Come get it," Katsuki grouses, as he finishes up with the beans and bacon. He stares at Shouto while Shouto loads up on dinner.
"What?" Shouto asks him.
Katsuki scowls like he wasn't the one looking. "It doesn't bother you?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Your stupid hair."
"Well," Shouto says, "I don't think it's stupid. So—no."
"Not because it's stupid," Katsuki huffs. He has the nerve to sound exasperated, as if Shouto is the one not making sense. Shouto doesn't like making things easy for him, so he just waits quietly for an explanation. "Because it's—we're neck deep in fucking zombies and shit, don't you ever feel like it's—like you should cut it?"
"Why would I?" Shouto asks.
"It's dangerous!" Katsuki finally bursts out.
Shouto snorts. He can't help it. "What are you talking about?"
"Nevermind," Katsuki spits. "You wanna laugh about it, fucker, fine, but if you get in trouble because of that bullshit don't expect any help from me—"
"Because of my hair," Shouto repeats dryly. "If you think it looks that bad, you can just say so."
"He's not joking."
Izuku's quiet voice catches Shouto's attention, nonetheless. He's staring into the fire, not at the antics of the other two, which he usually loves; the two of them arguing over something stupid makes his whole freckled face light up like he hasn't laughed in far too long.
"Long hair," Izuku says, voice faded, "it's easier to grab."
He's quiet the rest of the night.
That night was nearly two months ago, and the opportunity for Shouto to cut his hair never arises, or at least, he pretends it doesn't—because his long hair reminds him of some of the few memories in his life he had before the apocalypse that he would prefer to hang on to, bittersweet though they may be.
The planned run to the store goes off without a hitch. Katsuki wins the race to the building, just like they all knew he would. He's the one who taught them freerunning in the first place, and he's better than Izuku or Shouto at knowing the limits; jumping gaps between rooftops that look too far with ease, scaling walls almost like he can walk against gravity, like it just doesn't matter to him. Still, he insists kicking their ass in these races every time is good practice for them, and in truth, it probably is. It's not like Shouto goes easy on them when he's training them in melee fighting, either. They all need to keep their skills sharp to outlast the horde.
The store is towards the outskirts of the city, where the buildings are less congested. They've been traveling towards that part of town for days in the hopes that there will be more to loot. Their guess turns out to be right on the mark. It's still early morning by the time they've finished filling their packs with much needed supplies.
It's unexpected, when things go wrong. It's always unexpected, in an inevitable way, because nobody wants to get caught unawares by a horde—but shit happens.
Shouto is still the worst at parkour out of the three of them. Izuku's gymnastics training makes the flexibility and coordination needed second nature, and Katsuki taught actual classes to people before the outbreak, but Shouto's kendo training doesn't exactly give him the necessary skill set. He's fit, but he can't spider-monkey around like they can.
So, when Katsuki hops up from low hanging ledge, to windowsill, and Izuku runs along a narrow wall like a balance beam before leaping up to a higher rooftop, Shouto makes the ill-advised decision to go for a rusty old extendable ladder to get back to higher ground. It's got a rope attached to it, and he jumps up to grab it, yanking on it to free the ladder.
The first mistake is that the damn thing is loud. It pulls down with an earsplitting metal shriek that makes Katsuki and Izuku both whirl around to see what happened. The ladder doesn't quite come down all the way. Shit.
"What the fuck are you doing?!" Katsuki hisses.
"Just go, I'm—" Shouto starts to say, when the growling starts.
It's not an animal sound. Those are human voices, twisted into something unrecognizable and wrong. Pained, guttural—sometimes, horribly, there are almost words, but never quite. The reminder that these things were once people, still look like people, but are nothing even close anymore.
The first head peeks around the corner, almost comical in its suddenness. Suddenly, it's just there, watching him. He can hear the weird whines coming from it; they all do that, like they're still trying to breathe out of habit. Shouto knows it sees him, even though he's not sure how exactly they still see. It looks right at him. Slowly, it shuffles around the corner, tilted at a wrong angle.
And then another body follows, and another; their shadows grow on the walls, their mass filling the space, pouring into it like pus from a draining wound. The smell is similar.
"Climb," Izuku urges, "climb!"
Shouto yanks on the rope to no avail; the bottom rung is still too high off the ground and the ladder's not coming down any further. He can hear the shuffling of many feet, the groaning of many voices—he imagines he can feel the putrid breath on his neck, feel the arms reaching out for him.
"Bitch, didn't I teach you to climb?!" Katsuki yells, and then he's above, stomping down on the top of the ladder with the full force of his body. It shoves down and Shouto leaps, grabs the bottom rung and starts pulling himself up—
His head is yanked back, as a bloody, mangled hand grabs his hair, seizing around the long tail. It pulls, with a superhuman strength. He falls.
Just before the horde closes in around him, he sees Katsuki and Izuku staring down at him as he gets dragged down, their expressions terrified. The odd thought occurs to him that he wasn't expecting that. He's only ever seen them look that scared when something happens to the other.
Then Shouto is surrounded, and all he has room to think about is how to survive.
He hits the ground and immediately drops to a crouch, as low as he can get. The grip of his katana is familiar, comforting in a time like this. He keeps it razor sharp. When he unsheathes it in a wide radius, arm flung out as he pivots nearly a full rotation, it slices clean through rotting flesh and fragile bone, hacking off the legs on the bodies closest to him in a wide circle.
They fall, and their weight pushes the rest of the mob back, clearing an area for Shouto to stand and fight, giving him a moment to breathe. He raises the sword before him, hyper awareness making his skin prickle. From which way will they strike? They aren't like an opponent he would face in a match—one on one they're no threat to him, but in a mob like this, they'll surround him, crush him, rip him apart.
The first dead manages to figure out a path around the bodies he felled, stumbling towards him. Like a herd, they all move along with it, and the circle around him tightens, closes in, like a hand around his throat. They reach for him, their mouths gaping open.
Shouto's gaze snaps up, right as— SLAM. Izuku's stocky, solid body lands directly on top of the zombie closest to him, feet first, literally crushing its head down to its feet. Brain and guts smear out beneath it, and Shouto closes his eyes briefly against the carnage.
Izuku doesn't even notice. He springs up, lithe and easy, and whips his body around into a powerful spinning kick that knocks three more zombies away from Shouto. Even before he lands, he's grabbing the bat he always keeps strapped to his back, heavy and thick and full of bent, bloodied nails.
"Midoriya," Shouto says, "you shouldn't have—"
"Don't tell me what I should do!" Izuku shouts at him. "MOVE!"
Shouto doesn't have time to be scared, or frustrated—that Izuku could get hurt thanks to him, that he's down there because of Shouto, to save him. He'll have time to beat himself up about it later.
The blade of his katana flashes in the now risen sun, blinding silver as he slices through the arms reaching for them, clearing a path.
"HEAT INCOMING!" he hears Katsuki yell.
"Wait, WAIT, KACCHAN—"
He hears the tinkling shatter of glass breaking, and then the roar of fire catching, spreading quickly behind them. Molotov cocktail—Katsuki's favorite throwable. Dry, dead skin burns with startling speed, especially when its doused in liquor. Shouto can smell rancid meat cooking, gags, his eyes watering, but doesn't stop.
This time he makes it onto the ladder before anything can grab him. Izuku makes sure of that, before using the wall as a springboard to leap back up after him effortlessly.
"S-sorry," Shouto pants.
Before Izuku can answer, Katsuki grabs Shouto by the front of his shirt and slams him back against the railing so hard the whole thing rattles. The adrenaline must be addling Shouto's mind, because in that moment, he just thinks, Katsuki is pretty, too. Even without long hair. He wonders if Katsuki realizes. His face is so close that Shouto can see the individual droplets of sweat, the separation of his golden eyelashes, the different hues in his angry, amber-red eyes.
Shouto doesn't say a word, he just waits. He waits for Katsuki to tell him he's not worth it, to get the fuck away from them. He could've gotten Izuku killed.
"You fucking idiot," Katsuki hisses.
Izuku closes his fingers over Katsuki's, where they're twisted into Shouto's shirt. Both their hands lay right on top of Shouto's pounding heart.
"Kacchan," he says softly, "he's okay."
Katsuki drops his hold on Shouto. He looks tired, suddenly, even though the whole event had only taken at most two minutes. "We're going back."
He turns, and Shouto is left staring at his back. "But we still need to find gasoline—"
"I said we're going back."
None of them talk the rest of the way back to their temporary thirteenth floor camp. By the time they get there, Shouto's head is spinning with too many things, amplifying the silence—the nausea and creeping horror that sinks into the bones after a close encounter, guilt and shame over the other two having to save him, anger at himself for putting them all in danger.
What if something had happened to Izuku, and Katsuki had been up there, forced to watch? What if Katsuki had come down to help, and then, what if both of them had… just to help Shouto, what if they'd been bitten—
He pulls himself up through the window and stalks towards the bathroom.
"Todoroki!" Izuku calls.
He doesn't listen, letting the door slam behind him. One of them immediately starts pounding on it, but he ignores them.
"Oy, get outta there, Half-and-Half! You really think you deserve to be the one sulking after the shit you just put us through?"
Shouto doesn't. He doesn't want to put them through it ever again. He pulls his katana from its sheath.
"Don't do anything drastic, please!" Izuku says. "There's just—something we need to talk about, that we should have done a long time ago!"
He doesn't think he can face them telling him to leave.
Katsuki and Izuku both go silent as he swings the door open again. Their mouths fall open when they see him.
"Y… your hair…" Izuku says weakly.
Shouto drops the thick handful of long, sheared hair on the floor of the bathroom. He looks up at the two of them, still feeling winded, maybe more scared than he was when he was surrounded by flesh-eating dead people.
"I know you said I should cut it," he says.
Please don't make me leave.
"You…" Katsuki says slowly, "look… fucking hilarious."
Shouto blinks at him. "Excuse me?"
Izuku and Katsuki look at each other, then back at him, and then burst out laughing.
"Holy shit," Katsuki wheezes. He's laughing so hard he has to lean on Izuku for support. "Isn't there a mirror in that bathroom? Did you turn off the lights or somethin'?"
"What—what?" Shouto sputters, blankly. "Stop laugh— hey, we just almost died."
"No," Katsuki says, "you almost died, you moron. Deku was fine, because he knows how to climb ladders, fucking hell… next time you need help, just ask instead of scaring the shit out of us."
"I'm—I know how to climb a ladder, I just—" Shouto shakes his head. "I just—I should have cut it."
"What did you cut it with?" Izuku asks, wiping tears away. "I mean, no offense, Todoroki, but, um…"
"I used this," Shouto says, holding his katana up. This brings on a fresh wave of laughter.
"Okay, Mulan," Katsuki sneers. "Because you are useless, and I'm awesome, I'm gonna do you a big favor. Deku, find someplace for him to sit."
As Katsuki goes to his pack and starts rifling around in it, Izuku steers Shouto over to a chair.
"Is—wait, so everything's just—alright?" Shouto asks him.
"Yeah?" Izuku says. "It was fine before, besides the whole near-death thing. Why wouldn't it be?"
"You said you had something you wanted to talk about..."
"Yes," Izuku says solemnly, "your hair. Which you've now taken care of, even if it's kind of a disaster."
"That's it?" Shouto asks, shocked. "I just thought—I mean, I thought you both would—"
"Aha!" Katsuki says triumphantly. He turns sharply, and begins walking towards Shouto, who becomes suddenly very aware of Izuku's strong hands holding him firmly down in his seat. His eyes widen when Katsuki raises his machete.
"W-wait," Shouto says, "hang on—what are you doing—"
"Boom," Katsuki says, and suddenly swaps hands, putting the machete behind his back and bringing out… a pair of scissors?
Shouto stares at it, as Katsuki starts cracking up again.
"Your face," he cackles. "Seriously—did you really think I was gonna cut your hair with my machete? It's got zombie guts on it."
"Cut… my hair?" Shouto asks. What?
"Kacchan is great at it!" Izuku pipes up. "He cuts my hair, too!"
"Your hair right now looks like you got struck by lightning," Katsuki says. "I can't deal with looking at that, I'll go nuts." He snips the scissors and moves to stand behind Shouto.
"Wait!" Shouto says again.
Katsuki huffs. "Just hold still and you'll be fine. Didn't Deku say I'm good at this?"
"No, not that," Shouto says. "I just—you both aren't… mad?"
In front of him, Izuku looks confused. "About what?"
"About what happened!" Shouto says. "I put… you in danger, Midoriya. I could have gotten Bakugou caught up in it, too. You both should have just left me—"
Shouto falls silent, as Katsuki's hand lands heavily on the back of his neck. Katsuki has steady hands, Shouto has noticed, no matter what's going on. They're rough, too, from years of scraping along concrete, brick, every kind of hard surface the city has to offer.
"I am mad at you," Katsuki says. "But if you ever open your mouth to say that stupid shit again I'm gonna be fucking furious, and that's what you don't want."
Izuku crouches down, so he can look into Shouto's face. "We've left people behind before."
"They weren't worth dying for," Katsuki grunts. "Now hold still."
Shouto curls his hands into fists on his knees. His vision seems blurrier than usual. Damn.
It doesn't take long for Katsuki to finish, after Shouto chopped most of it off anyway. Soon he's blowing on the back of Shouto's neck to get the soft little strays off, cool puffs of air making Shouto shiver.
"That's better," Izuku says with a grin. Katsuki crosses his arms and nods in agreement.
Katsuki has trimmed Shouto's bangs, too, and he shakes his head. It's weird, his vision being so unobstructed, not feeling hair swish against his forehead.
"Not as pretty, though, right?" he murmurs.
This makes Katsuki snort, and Izuku smile.
"It's the apocalypse," Katsuki says, waving his hand. "Being hot is overrated."