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Carey is trying to stand out of the way, backstage; she feels like the wide-eyed ingenue she knows the haircut makes her look like. The rehearsal yesterday was impressive, yeah, but the force of a full Kodak Theater is pretty overwhelming. She's used to the dimensions of the Walter Kerr or the Royal Court Theaters — this is something else entirely.

This is Los Angeles.

It's like another world, another planet.

And she is surrounded by aliens. Some of the aliens can't move their faces, some of them are so beautiful she can't look at them for more than a few seconds; she's pretty sure none of them are real. Nobody real smiles with as many teeth as Julia Roberts, nobody real pays money to look like Ryan Seacrest. She hopes.

She hopes she doesn't throw up in the next twenty minutes, and oh god oh god, bad thought bad thought, don't think about vomiting don't think about vomiting!

She thinks about elephants instead, thinks as hard as she can about pink elephants, and blinks when Zoe walks up to her; they missed each other outside, so this is the first time she's seen Zoe since yesterday at rehearsal, and what the hell is she wearing, a purple elephant-hide?

"Hi!" Zoe says, looking determinedly cheerful against the slings and arrows of fashion criticism. "You look great, sweetie."

"...You too," Carey manages from the midst of Zoe's embrace.

"Oh, don't even lie," Zoe tells her, stepping back and smoothing her hands down her sparkly bodice. "I am going to make every worst-dressed list in the country. Fuck 'em, I knew that going in." She looks smug. "Chris is going to owe me a backrub every time I want one on the next Trek shoot, and I have it in writing."

"You're a devious woman," Carey says, grinning helplessly. She only met Zoe a day or two ago, and now they're holding hands backstage at the Oscars, giggling like schoolgirls. This is the life.

Afterwards, high on the thrill of not fucking up live on American telly, Carey knocks back a glass of champagne far faster than it deserves. Zoe takes a small sip of hers and smiles at her fondly. "Having fun yet?" she asks, and if it were anyone else, Carey would instantly be on her guard, but Zoe seems incapable of anything other than happiness exuding from her, and so she answers honestly.

"Getting there."

"Good," Zoe says, and waves to someone across the room. "Wanna go sit on the balcony with the ugly little people and throw spitballs?"

Ow, ow, ow, bubbles up the nose, ow. "Don't let the face fool you," someone says from behind her while she's still coughing. "Zoe's a troublemaker of the first water." She turns to see Chris Pine, face a little flushed and eyes glittering above his bowtie. Zoe clicks her tongue and fusses with it, flicking invisible dust off his collar as she finishes. "Some might even go so far as to call her evil," he continues, seemingly not noticing that she is staring at him, or that Zoe is practically groping him, albeit in a very big-sisterly kind of way. "I mean, when John Cho is impressed with your troublemaking..." he trails off meaningfully and Zoe swats his shoulder.

"Don't take the name of the Choverlord in vain," she scolds, and Carey is still trying to figure out how serious she is when she says, "I have earned the right to have a little fun. Yes, I know, everyone here has paid their dues, but I worked with Britney Spears."

"Crossroads is a cinematic masterpiece the like of which you'll look back upon with awe," Chris says, grinning. He offers them each an arm. "Shall we, then? To the spitballs!"

They don't actually throw spitballs, of course — none of them have paper on them, just Blackberries and iPhones, and Zoe has to keep her face intact for sitting with her Avatar colleagues later in the evening, when the Best Director award comes up. Chris spends almost four whole minutes telling her how abandoned he feels, and she spends the same four minutes rolling her eyes. "Christopher, do you want to compare box office totals, foreign and domestic, for our respective starring vehicles?" she asks sweetly, cutting him off.

"You cheat," he says, and Carey can't help giggling when Zoe raises an eyebrow and says, "With reality."

He sticks out his tongue at her, and turns to Carey. "Ignore the bitter old lady over there," he says, and it's amazing how he can turn on the charm so fast. She's actually a little smitten, even though she can see the pancake makeup on his face from earlier when he intro'd whatever technical thing they gave him. "I was really impressed with An Education," he says, and she blinks. "The interior shots, when you and Pete Sarsgaard were talking —"

"The schoolroom scenes?" she offers.

"Yeah. Just — the intimacy of it, the lighting and everything, and you guys made it seem like there wasn't a crew of fifty people watching you."

"Well, there wasn't," she's honor-bound to point out. "We had, like, fifty thousand pounds for the whole movie, we could barely afford catering. But thank you."

"Take the compliment, sweetie," Zoe says. "Young Master Pine is too pretty to be in anything but blockbusters."

"Hey!"

"Farragut North notwithstanding," Zoe adds hastily. "Lindsay Lohan. The Princess Diaries, Chris."

"Rent," he mutters, and Carey pats his arm. "She likes me," he says, lifting his head. "Carey is my new friend, you backstabbing backstabber." Zoe grins, and suddenly Carey is wondering how much Chris was exaggerating about her trouble-making capabilities.

There isn't much Carey can do but watch in wide-eyed horror and amusement as Zoe and Chris drag her along after them for the rest of the night; she's torn between wondering if she's their alibi or their audience. Chris gets Brad Pitt to tell him how to grey gracefully from blond; Zoe trips over Katy Perry's train (as if; Zoe's always the most graceful person in the room, no matter what the room is) and tumbles into Harvey Weinstein's lap; Chris kisses Neil Gaiman on the mouth (he explains over his shoulder, after, that he was planning on getting a doctorate in children's literature if the acting thing didn't work out); and Zoe twirls, showing her legs from ankle to mid-thigh, and Jack Nicholson falls into some bushes outside the Vanity Fair party. "Okay, you win," Chris gasps, wiping his eyes. "There's no way I can top that."

"Damn skippy," Zoe says. "Let's go get drunk."

...There is no way this can end well.

But it turns out that what she means is, "Let's collect Siggy Weaver and Anne Hathaway and go to my apartment, where I will share my comfy batik-patterned yoga pants and a case of hard cider and brightly coloured cushions scattered everywhere." Zoe's boyfriend is out, using her invitations to attend parties she has no interest in — "bless his heart," she says, rolling her eyes, "boy believes in the power of networking," — and Chris pumps his fist and proclaims, "I am the envy of every heterosexual man in the world right now."

Anne pummels him with pillows until he's crouching on the floor, arms shielding his head. "Hey, hey, it was a compliment!"

"Next time," she says, flinging a cushion with tassels into his face, "don't make your compliment sound like an invitation to a orgy. Whore."

"Love you too," he says, getting up. "Ow, fuck, my knees, action movies can kiss my lily-white ass."

The cider is golden and sweet, and they polish off most of it by midnight; Anne and Zoe spend a while dabbing eyeshadows on Chris, who looks amazingly ethereal when they're done, a creature made out of sky with flesh wrapped raggedly around it. Carey lies on the couch and watches the traffic below, humming along to the jazz CD Siggy put on a while ago; everyone drives here. It's natural, she supposes, in a country so spread out; you couldn't really get from one place to another conveniently with anything but a car, but it still surprises her.

The world should be full of surprises, though, full of startlement and unexpected moments and joy bubbling up like water through moss. That's what makes it fun. She never thought she'd ditch the afterparties to hang out with a half-handful of new friends, but she is having a great time. She should call her parents in the morning; they promised to watch the DVR'd ceremony over breakfast so they could see her moment on stage. But for now, she will lie here, a little tipsy, warm through, and wiggle her toes.