Sometimes you find each other in the thought bubbles. John is almost always dead. On occasion, one of them will tell you about the Karkats he's come across. You think that imagining dead Karkats bothers you less than it probably should.
This time, John's eyes are a hollowed out white that you can't look at straight-on, and you feel dead, so you decide you're even.
The two of you are in a place you've learned to recognize after repeated exposure. The white walls are splashed with posters and a faint scent of baking pervades the room. You're sitting on his bed and John gets up from his computer chair to plunk himself down beside you—he's never understood personal space at any age, in any iteration of himself.
“Hey!” he says.
“For once in your life, John, could you be anything but cheerful,” you say.
His eyebrows waggle as if he is considering this very seriously. Then: “Nope.”
You roll your eyes and turn away from him, looking at the Sburb poster on his door. You know that you could walk out of here if you wanted to; the setting would probably dissolve the moment you opened the door or looked for too long out of the windows. But John would still be with you, so what's the difference?
Besides, the smell of lightly-burned sugar is delicious. If you were awake, your stomach would be growling.
“How did you die,” you ask. You always do. It's a bad habit.
John scratches at the back of his neck. “I don't remember,” he says. “It's not that important, is it?”
You look at him: his stupid buck teeth, the way death has leached some of the color from his teal suit. “No,” you say. “I guess not.”
He grins, brushing a hand against your shoulder as he gets to his feet. You flinch at the touch. “Hey, do you want to—”
“We're not going to watch a movie,” you say.
“What? Oh, come on—”
“No, Egbert. I've watched Con Air with you so many times that I could recite the lines in my sleep. In fact, since I'm asleep right now, here goes!” John laughs and the sound rings hollow, your stomach twists, but you barrel on anyway: “Sorry boss, but there's only two men I trust. One of them's me. The other's not you. There! Happy now? We're not going to watch any of your shitty earth movies, John! Not today!”
Your voice is trembling now, and you grit your teeth against it. Every dead John has reactions that are nearly, but not exactly, identical at the same points throughout the movie. The slight off-ness was unnerving at first, but now you just find it exhausting and sad in a stupid, fucked-up way. You don't want to deal with it right now, or ever.
John looks at you with the crunched-eyebrow expression that means he's trying to figure you out. You look away and frown at the lines of pesterchum text on his desktop monitor.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
“I'm great!” you say. “I'm fantastic. It's the first time I've slept in days, I spend all my time surrounded by assholes who use up all the oxygen in our fucking recycled air and then I fall asleep and find you.”
It's been two years, but you've barely grown at all. Dead John is perpetually thirteen, sans growth spurts, and still he looms over you while you're sitting on his bed. The corners of his mouth tug into a thoughtful frown.
“If you want to sleep,” he says, “my bed's pretty comfy.”
“I'm already asleep, you idiot,” you say.
You get the impression that John is rolling his eyes. He pushes you backwards without warning, and you tip over with a strangled little yelp. Before you can right yourself, he's already wrapping you in his blanket like a troll burrito. “So double-sleep. Maybe it'll be twice as effective!”
“Let me up, you moronic—” Your voice dies when you catch sight of his face, his grin offset by blank eye sockets. Paper-thin skin stretches across his cheeks and you’re suddenly afraid you could see through it if you stared for too long.
John shoves you onto his bed lengthwise and you just go with it, sucking in a deep breath. Dead dreambubble John isn't the worst thing you've seen, you tell yourself. It's just another horrifying fact that's burned into your thinkpan, one more thing you can't undo.
“I think I know how you died,” you say.
John's hands still, and then he shrugs. “It's not a big deal.”
“Yeah, it is,” you say, and you start fighting your way out of the blanket, your movements jerky and frustrated. John just watches until you manage to completely kick the blanket off and sit up, staring at him. Your shoes are on his bed, and you know from previous encounters that this is something that bothers him, but he doesn't say a word.
“It was Terezi, wasn't it,” you say.
The expression drains from his face. “I—don't remember,” he says carefully.
John tilts his head. “No, I really don't remember. I don't know if I want to, actually? Being a ghost isn't that bad.”
“You're not a ghost.”
“Whatever,” he agrees cheerfully. He bends down to retrieve the blanket from the floor and drapes it over your lap with a flourish. “You look terrible!” John says. “Go to sleep, dude.”
You glare at him, but his smile never fades, and you really are tired, so tired. Reluctantly you lie back and let him draw the blanket up to your chin, fixing your gaze on a spot on the ceiling above his head.
“I'm sorry you died,” you say. “I should have—”
“Oh, shut up,” John says kindly. He fluffs the pillow behind your head and inadvertently brushes his fingers against your scalp; you close your eyes. “I'll be quiet, okay? Count sheep or something.”
“Don't turn the lights off,” you murmur.
“What? Uh, okay.”
You listen for the sound of him moving away, but the room is silent. Eventually, you crack an eye open and see him hovering at the edge of the bed, staring at you. You stare back; there's nothing to be afraid of. He's only a dream.
“You know, I think we could have been friends,” John tells you, with a smile that doesn't—can't—reach his eyes.
You swallow. “I doubt it,” you say. Then, “Maybe.”