"God, I hate the Colonies," drifts across the miles of London.

London is never what anyone expects from the seat of Empire. Those who have not seen it dream of golden spires, the great and good of the world talking and laughing in the streets and lazing in the parks, their fine houses shimmering in the sun that never set on the British Empire.

But London's a city, first and foremost, not a glittering capital, not a romanticized ideal of the flagship city of the Empire. Oh, there are the beautiful neighbourhoods of Mayfair and Belgravia, the immense bulk of Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, the Museums and the art galleries in Kensington that tourists coo over, all the monuments to Imperial might and the imposing Parliament building, but the real London is the humming Docklands where all the world's wealth pays homage to Lady Britannia, the artistic warren of a district where the creative genii of the world live and work and expound amid cafes and restaurants in Soho, others.

And this is a little café, not large, secreted somewhat away from the sombre majesty of Parliament but nowhere near the buzzing hum of the Docks. There are few patrons; Big Ben has just tolled two and the end of the statutory lunch break for most of the office workers, and those that remain are of the leisured classes.

There are two, seated at the best table, a plethora of coffee cups – the fine bone-china, not fired pottery like the other patrons receive – before them. One looks rather surprised, his aristocratic features tilted ever so slightly in shock.

"You hate the Colonies?"

The other glares. His eyes are an icy blue, cold and calculating, and his stare has the full power of a thermic lance behind it. "Yes. I. Hate. The. Colonies. Is it so difficult to understand?" His companion was apparently used to these outbursts, and his eyes twinkled with amusement.

"They call you Viscount America, you know," he said amiably.

"They called my father that," he snapped.

"Yes, and by extension, you. They love you to pieces over there. What is it they call your Capitol building? Oh, I'm sorry, they don't call it that, do they…no, they all refer to it as Viscount America's little house, don't they?"

"Shut up. The entire country's the sticks, for God's sake! There isn't a decent opera to be found anywhere!"

"And of course the vast reserves of coal and oil and gas and all those billions of tons of wheat, not to mention an absolutely huge population that gives you a voice that's almost equal to our Prime Minister himself is entirely irrelevant."

"Absolutely. I'd rather be a sodding little insignificant country's ruler – like Austria, for example – and have a wonderful civilized country with some really good artworks and people who can sing and don't have an accent you could use to cut wood with!"

"I'm given to understand that the school of Modern Art from America has gained something of a following in art circles."

"Now look here, Canada, that Modern Art as you put it, is hardly Art! If I wanted to look at a black canvas I'd slosh ship paint at it, not pay ten million pounds for…oh, what was it…ah yes, 'Black Cat In Coal Cellar.'"

Canada tapped his coffee cup against his teeth. "You have a point, actually. Perhaps I shouldn't have bought it for you…there was a nice Cezanne on offer at Sotheby's auctions today, too…"


"I think he called it Lake at Annecy. Ring a bell?" Viscount America had gone an odd, pale colour.

"They were selling that?" he whispered. "Please, tell me this is a dream. Tell me that you didn't buy a canvas sloshed with ship paint for ten million pounds instead of…of a Cezanne!"

Canada looked a little mischievous. America caught sight of a black canvas poking out of his bag, and started to hit his head on the table.

"Please tell me," he said, punctuating every word by hitting the table "that you did not forgo the Cezanne for a piece of junk I could make in half an hour. Tell me that every bit of art I have tried to cram in your head has not gone in one ear and out the other."

He smiled. "Actually, now that you mention it, I got you both."


"Yes – so you can burn the Black Cat and drool over the Cezanne."

"I wouldn't drool over the Cezanne!" he protested. Canada just raised one eyebrow and got swatted for his pains. "It plays merry hell with the pigments, saliva."

Canada's laugh raised echoes from the Thames. "Only you, America. Only you."

"Haven't I told you not to call me that?"

Canada bestowed a blazing smile on America, laughing heartily at his irate visage and the glacial glare. "Yes."

They both stood up, bickering good-naturedly between each other and tossed notes down carelessly, before leaving.

The barista turned to one of his colleagues. "How long have they been married?"

"They've been coming here for years, my boy. You'll get used to 'em – Viscount America and Lord Canada are our best customers. They tip well, too."

"And bicker like there's no tomorrow," added a passing waiter, bearing the detritus of three hours' steady coffee consumption, plus the sugar bowl – the commodity was becoming more and more expensive as the Hawaiian sugar plantations were collapsing, one after the other, under the inept current provisional government.

"And demand the fine china."

"And order the most ridiculous combinations."

"And America glares at you if you're not fast enough. I don't know how Lord Canada can get away with what he does."

There were murmurs of agreement. "His stare's like a thermic lance – it goes right through you!"

"But we love them anyway!"

The barista blinked. "…why?"

"They liven up the day. Just you wait until next time…"


"It's a beautiful day," observed Canada, strolling along the path, the blinding white gravel crunching under his shiny half-boots. Around them, the greenery waved forlornly in the lassitude of the breeze; hot, muggy and lacking any sort of energy. America shot him a grey look.

"If you go for sickly-sweet days with a sun that is," he squinted up at it, "if we are going to attach a personality to a flaming ball of gas millions of miles away, merciless, children who are almost impossibly twee and a lake that has boiled off to little more than a pond with some rather forlorn-looking ducks in it," he grumbled. They were walking through St. James's Park under the terrible gaze of the blazing sun, and America was not overly-amused. He did not do well in heat.

"I prefer thunderstorms."

"You would."

"And that is supposed to mean what, exactly, my good Canada?"

The man just smiled infuriatingly. "Oh, absolutely nothing, America." A small laugh escaped his lips.

"Nothing at all." America turned the full power of his glare on Canada.

The infuriating man just feigned a yawn. "America, dear, you're forgetting to blink. Again."

He looked up from his walk through the streets of London town. "Well, here we are, my good America. Your little humble abode in the glorious Imperial capital."

The 'humble little abode' was in fact a large mansion of finest Italian marble that glowed almost blindingly white under the unusual sunlight, set well back from the road amid its own beautifully-manicured gardens.

A small figure was determinedly riding a mower across the vast front lawn, while others were bent over flowerbeds, tending huge sprays of roses that twined about one another in a riotous profusion of colour and scent. One or two were lounging in the cooling spray of a marble fountain in the forecourt.

Looking hot and bothered in the distance, immaculate in silver and black, neckties foaming argentine, buttons winking like burning eyes, footmen lined the curving staircases up to the façade of the house.

Canada eyed them thoughtfully. "How come you always get the cute staff?" he demanded. "All mine are old and wrinkly!"

America sighed exasperatedly. "Stop eyeing up my staff, Canada. I've told you about that before."

"And since when have I ever listened to you?" he retorted, smiling. "That blonde one over there-"

"Is married, Canada! Look, are you coming in for lemonade and cake or going back to your own overgrown house?"

Canada pursed his lips. "Ooh, tricky…option one, go with Viscount America into his house, have very nice lemonade and cakes and get a tour of his famous art collection, while eyeing up his staff, or two, go home, have lemonade and cake alone, forgo the art and fuck someone fuckable. Difficult choice. I'll be going, America. See you for coffee, when?"

America sighed. "When will you ever learn?" he said, but they both knew it was just a formality. Canada wanted to fuck, and America wanted to gaze at his new artwork and have a small bonfire.

"Hmm…when you learn to like being called Viscount America."

"When Hell freezes over, you mean!"

"That's what I said. Good day, America."

America flipped him a lazy two-fingered salute. The afternoon was like syrup, heavy and sweet and thick and golden, and he longed for the cooling interior of the mansion and a long bath.

The two parted, laughing, Canada back to the bustle of the city and America to his sanctuary amid the cooling oaks.

The blonde gardener turned to a colleague. "How long have they been married?"

All he got was a laugh in reply.


There was a crush at Countess Hartford's Summer Ball – organized on a whim by her ladyship to celebrate the unseasonal weather. Countess Hartford had a knack, and the city could not, said many prominent aristocrats, prevent a crush at her affairs if they placed her house under quarantine.

There was a profusion of sleek motor cars – Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Ferrari, others, cluttering up her beautiful forecourt, and the glitterati were in full flood throughout every room of her house. Debutantes presented themselves in one of the ballrooms, smiling and twinkling happily, old matrons kept stern eyes on the dancing, ready to rise and intervene at the very first sign of impropriety, in the smoking-room old bores whined and puffed on noxious cigars and around the bars arch, braying young men and their vapid female conquests swarmed and writhed.

Viscount America was not amused. He had been trying for fifteen minutes, fifteen minutes, to get a glass of tequila from the barman and each time had been jostled out of the way by some young idiot out to impress his airheaded date by ordering some viciously strong alcohol cocktail or just plain ignored. It was like the man didn't even know the meaning of the word tequila!

And to top it all off that annoying Canada just had to pop up. Like mould or dry rot, he had the knack of appearing where and when he was most not wanted.

"Why, hello there, America. Didn't see you in all that crush! Not like you to attend this sort of do, is it? Can I get you anything?"

America growled at him, a decidedly unpatrician noise. "If you can make that idiotic barman understand – if, mind you – then I'll have a tequila."

"Tequila with what?"

"With nothing. I like my tequila neat."

Canada shook his head in wonder. "You can actually stomach the stuff on its own? You're a strange man, America."

"No more so than you," he retorted sharply. "May I say that you look positively ridiculous? What on earth is that huge pin at your cravat?"

He smiled. "It's a sapphire."

"I can see that, you idiot. I was wondering if it served any practical purpose."

"They're all the rage at the moment. Most of the happening barmen won't even see you unless you have one."

America raised an eyebrow and his gaze coalesced into the familiar glacial glare. "Oh really? Well, get me my drink, because I do not have one of those ridiculous ornaments, and then inform the barman that the Viscount of Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Alabama…"

He was cut off by Lord Canada. "I'll tell him that Viscount America wants a word."

With a blazing smile, the dashing young Canada vanished into the crush before the irate viscount could say anything. He was left to fume at one of the Countess' dainty little tables and wait impatiently for Canada and the barman to return.

"Took you long enough, Canada," he griped as he felt a shadow fall over him.

A tinkling laugh sounded. "My dear Viscount America, I hardly think anyone would mistake me for your dear friend, no matter how he dresses or however much makeup he puts on."

The viscount shot to his feet. He bowed and took the rather portly lady's hand. "Countess! Such a pleasure to see you again. It's been too long since we last met up."

The matronly lady smiled at the dashing viscount. "Dear Verius, you're such a charmer."

"You flatter me, my lady. Your husband is where, exactly?"

She frowned slightly. "Raynaud has retired to his bed – something about not feeling well, apparently." She sighed, though tolerantly. "You know, Verius, when we first got married, he promised he'd attend my little social occasions. Ah well, he does try. He's just-"

"An antisocial animal," interjected a new voice. Canada handed me my tequila with a bright smile. "That, and the fact he has no patience with modern fashion."

America and the Countess blinked at him. "What are you talking about?"

Canada looked surprised. "Why, you, of course! Isn't that what the charming Countess was talking to you about? The fact that you're sitting there with a face like a thundercloud and not socializing with any other guests."

"I talk to you," the viscount protested.

"If you can call issuing orders talking," he said amiably. "And you make practically no attempt to converse with anyone else."

"I do! If they have a functioning brain cell then I'll talk quite happily to people." He gave a black frown to all of those near the table. "Unfortunately, that includes none of these dolts." He took a sip of his tequila.

The Countess laughed. "America, you really must stop insulting everyone," she chided, though without much rancour. "Some of them are the sons of very important men."

"I weep for the future of the Empire, then," snapped America. Canada coughed discreetly. "America, did you want to tear strips off the barman or not? I've got him waiting here for you."

Countess Hartford looked interested, her brown eyes glittering almost as much as the small tiara that nestled in her auburn curls or the diamonds strung in elegant line across her neck. "Why do you want to," she coughed delicately "tear strips off the barman? Such activities are frowned upon by Almack's, you know, nowadays."

"He wouldn't serve me because I wasn't wearing one of those stupid cravat pins Canada's wearing."

She raised an eyebrow. "You, the great and powerful Viscount America, couldn't get served a drink because you weren't wearing a few ounces of jewels and metal? Oh, how are the mighty fallen." She eyed him speculatively. "You could do with being a bit more interested in current fashion trends, viscount. Current thinking favours tight trousers, and they'd show off your legs to great effect," she said encouragingly. "The girls would just flock to you if you just flaunted yourself a little more." She paused, and then added "Or made a little bit more of an effort with your appearance, really."

He scowled at her. "I did. But just because this was your party."

She paled. "I hate to think of what you usually look like, then." She turned to Canada, who was grinning openly at his friend's discomfiture. "What's he normally look like?"

"Well, normally he doesn't do anything with his hair, doesn't moisturize or wear any sort of makeup, wears these nondescript clothes and goes about in an old Rolls when he has to drive somewhere and walks when he doesn't."

"Oh dear. We'll have to work on that a little bit, America darling. Still, it's only to be expected, isn't it, coming from the sticks like you do…" She was smiling wickedly, but the viscount rose to the bait anyway before remembering exactly who he was addressing and contented himself with a mumbled "Everyone else looks worse than I do."

Canada patted him consolingly. "There there, at least your accent doesn't cut wood. Well, hardwoods at any rate."

"Canada," America warned. "I'm not in the mood. I have to go back to America in a few weeks."

"Aww, poor baby," he said sympathetically. We'll think of you every day, won't we, countess, while we talk with our friends, watch good operas and appreciate all the fine artwork on display at the Tate."

America buried his head in his hands. "Please don't, Canada," he pleaded. "I hate the bloody country as it is! Don't remind me what I'm missing here!"

"But you're so fun to wind up," the young lord protested. "And it's so easy. You hate the title everyone gives you, and you're as prickly as a…as a…"

"Pineapple?" suggested the viscount ruefully.

"Yes, a pineapple! What a good suggestion!" America put his head in his hands once more.

The countess hid a smile and drew the hovering barman away with her.

"My good man, it is never a good idea not to serve Viscount America. He's filthy rich, incredibly powerful and terribly bad-tempered, and those are his good points. He has scant regard for the law in matters of personal revenge and takes offence at very small things. You would be a wise man to always serve him what he wants as soon as you can…and do tell your comrades about that. We wouldn't want any of them floating face-down in the Thames, now would we?"

"No, my lady," he murmured.

"Good. Glad that's all sorted out. Now, go back to your bar. The larvae are getting restless."

He cast her a peculiar glance, but the mannerisms of the gentry were not his concern. "Very good, milady. May I…ask a question?"

"Of course."

"How long have they," he jerked his head at America and Canada now locked in deep conversation, "been married?"

She laughed.