A Sort of Vacation
The portal to another world, Hinata decided, looked somewhat like a dinner plate.
While the monstrous mechanical apparatus that generated it crackled with artificial lightning and hummed with bright visible chakra, the portal itself was placid and softly colored. The machine was elongated like the barrel of a cannon, rife with cabling and gunmetal panels, but the portal was flat, faintly green, and apparently unruffled by the commotion happening all around it as shinobi bustled about preparing for its use. Hinata half expected that if she were to flick it she would generate a series of perfect ripples, like those in a calm lake, but she knew better than to do something so impulsive.
The machine and the portal it generated were hardly dangerous, but they still had to be treated with care.
Kiba Inuzuka sniffed at the air, taking in the suddenly spiking scent of ozone and oil . He frowned, clearly unsettled by the smell. Shino Aburame, as always, gave nothing away, completely unreadable behind the metal visor he wore over his eyes. The only hint of his discomfort was the soft buzzing emanating from his chest, a sound so faint only a shinobi would recognize it.
Hinata couldn't remember the last time Team Eight had assembled for a mission as one. The thought came out of the blue as she shifted on the soles of her feet, looking around at her companions. The metal floor under her was hard and flat. The rest of the room was equally harsh and spartan. It existed solely to house this massive machine.
How long had it been, she wondered. Five, perhaps even six years? It was amazing to think that what had once been routine for her had vanished out of her life almost without her noticing it. This was also the first time she'd been fully kitted out in more than a year, even wearing a flak jacket. But then, so much had changed just in the last decade that it had probably passed unnoticed under the general commotion of life.
Eight years ago ago, Hinata hadn't even been a mother. Compared to that, not going on missions with her old team wasn't much to take notice of. The thought sent her mind spiralling back to her children, and from there to her husband.
"Don't worry," Naruto had said with a rapacious grin; even after more than a decade of marriage it disarmed Hinata without fail. "Nothing is going to fall apart if you take a month or two off. Trust me: you could use the vacation."
He'd winked, a mischievous look. "I've been meaning to find an excuse to spend more time with Himawari anyway: I'm afraid I might have been spoiling Boruto." Warm hands, clasped over hers. Hinata's heart had begun beating faster. "It'll be a little vacation for both of us. You get some time in some exotic other world, and I get the kids to myself!"
When he'd put it like that, Hinata hadn't been able to resist any longer. When Kiba had come to her with the offer of traveling with him and Shino into another dimension on a mission of importance for the Aburame, Hinata had been unsure about leaving behind her parenting duties for more than a month. But with her husband's assurance, the notion of a 'vacation' became more and more tempting. A break was welcome: the notion of visiting another world was intriguing.
Those reasons, among others, had brought her on a lovely Thursday evening to stand together with her team for the first time in perhaps a decade in the depths of one of Konoha's most secure buildings. They were arrayed before a marvel of engineering, an unbelievable fusion of chakra theorycrafting and technology. The room was filled with shinobi besides them, mostly engineers and observers.
Naruto was there, though her children were not: Hinata had said goodbye to them early, Boruto as he headed off to the Academy and Himawari as she lay down for her midday nap. Kiba's wife Tamaki was present, along with Akamaru. Shino's father was in deep conversation with his son, but none of the other Aburame had arrived.
Most notably, Kakashi Hatake was there, looking wrinkled but otherwise the same as ever.
Hinata looked to Naruto at her side, and he caught her gaze with a wide smile. "It's a heck of a thing, isn't it?" he said with genuine appreciation, and his enthusiasm buoyed Hinata up. The portal was somewhat like the one that had carried the both of them to the moon, many years ago; the familiarity sparked a warm memory for Hinata, a vision of drifting through an endless field of liquid gold and green with Naruto beside her.
"It is," she agreed. "I've never seen the Engine before." Her husband shrugged.
"It's safe; Kakashi-sensei mostly handles it, and he says so, after all," Naruto said, eyeing the machine. It had begun to make a deep whining noise as condensed chakra within it came to a boil. "It gets used pretty often for trade and stuff, so I don't see any reason to worry."
Hinata knew he was talking to himself just as much as he was her. It made her smile. "I'll be fine, Naruto," she said softly, and was delighted to see her words brought him as much calm as his smile had her.
"Yeah, of course," he said, taking a deep breath. "Yo, Kakashi!" he said, raising his voice. "Is it almost done?"
The former Hokage shrugged. "Looks about." He gestured languidly to Hinata, before turning his attention to Kiba and Shino. "Gather round for a moment, you three. Let's go over the details one more time."
Kiba rolled his eyes, while Shino clapped his hand on his father's shoulder before joining his teammates in ambling over to former Copy Ninja. They set themselves in a rough triangle in front of the older man, with Kiba in the back. Hinata already knew what the mission was roughly about, but she was still glad that Kakashi had decided to give them one last briefing before they were on there way. It was always strange to receive one from her husband; he had only been Hokage for ten months now, and in many ways the position and its responsibilities was still new to the both of them.
"Now, a couple of the most critical things," Kakashi said lazily, his right eye barely open. Every time Hinata met with Kakashi, it amused her that even though he'd had his Sharingan replaced for many years, he usually kept his left eye closed. Old habits died hard, she supposed.
"You'll be entering into foreign territory, and into another dimension besides, so it goes without saying you all should stay on your best behavior," Kakashi chided. Kiba coughed, stifling a chuckle. Hinata could tell Kakashi was grinning under his mask: it always gave the former Hokage some childish pleasure to give his subordinates common sense commands. "The nation you'll be entering is called…" He paused, careful to articulate the pronunciation. "The Republic of West Gorteau. Customs there are rather different than in the Five Nations, but you won't be spending too long there at first, so I wouldn't worry too much about getting familiar with the local culture. Once you're in the Republic, you should be immediately met by our Representative there. Her name is Mari Kansai."
Hinata wondered if it was lonely living in another world for an extended period of time. She was sure she would be, but others would probably have a different reaction. She hoped Mari was able to treat her isolation as an adventure, or at least more than a duty.
Kakashi kept talking as Kiba scratched behind one of his ears. "Mari will guide you to the mission area, which is outside of West Gorteau. She'll be able to give you more precise details about the objective and the local situation than myself." Kakashi wrinkled his nose. "What you don't already know, at least." Hinata nodded. Shino had already informed her of the impetus behind the mission, and it had interested her almost as much as it had clearly impassioned him. At the moment, he was clearly impatient to get through the portal and begin his work.
"Now, remember," Kakashi said, wrapping up the impromptu briefing. "The Engine is a little less forgiving to the passage of those with command of chakra. For someone of your calibre, the portal will likely need to recharge for at least two weeks; that's for each of you. So once you three have stepped through, it won't be ready for use until the end of next month. Hopefully by then the mission will be long completed." He smiled. "Feel free to relax once your objective is completed. West Gorteau is a lovely nation, or so I'm told. Enjoy yourself."
Shino nodded. "Naturally," he said, like a man who'd never enjoyed a day in his life. "Will we be on our way then?"
Kakashi gave the Aburame a thumbs up. "Good luck," he said with faux solemnity. Kiba snorted.
"Cool," he said, giving his wife a peck on the cheek as he wandered back towards the portal. Tamaki giggled, and Kiba grinned as he bent down to give Akamaru an enthusiastic rub. The old dog panted, rolling over on his side and whining. Kiba laughed. "Oh, don't be such a baby. It's only a month and some. Besides, we're not gonna be fighting anything," he said, growing a little more stern. "You need to relax a little, Akamaru. It's not good to be so stubborn in your old age."
Akamaru let out a short, loud bark, which Hinata's experience with the Inuzuka translated into something like "Fat chance." She didn't blame him. The nin-dog probably felt miffed at not getting a chance to travel with Kiba, but the unfortunate reality was that Akamaru was too slow for field operations nowadays. It pained Hinata to see the arthritic tremors that plagued her friend's canine partner, but there was no way around it.
"Fine, be that way," Kiba grunted. He winced, giving Akamaru another pat. His wife stroked his shoulder, her lip twisting.
As Hinata drew closer to the Engine, Naruto sidled up to her. Unlike Kiba, he didn't settle for a peck on the cheek. Instead, the Seventh Hokage ambushed his wife with a full enthusiastic kiss. Hinata's cheeks lit up red, but she couldn't bring herself to push him anyway: it was the last bit of intimacy they'd have for more than a month, after all. Instead, she just enjoyed it, shoving down her embarrassment.
"Hey, be safe," her husband said as he drew away, his cheeks almost as red as hers. Hinata smiled.
"Of course," she said. "Have fun with the children."
Naruto laughed. "Believe me, I will. I've already set aside some work for Shikamaru; it'll be fine."
It wasn't much of a goodbye, but it was enough for both of them. Hinata moved towards the portal with a full heart.
"So, what?" Kiba asked. "We just step through?"
One of the younger shinobi near the Engine, dressed in the distinctive green of the engineer corp, gave a casual salute, stepping around a protruding cable that was humming with grey light. "Anytime, sir." The deference afforded the generation that had fought in the Fourth War always made Hinata feel strange, but over time she'd learned to ignore it. Kiba scoffed at the title, but nonetheless gave the man a friendly nod.
"Well, here goes nothing," he said, and without another word strode forward into the portal. He passed through it without a sound or a sign: there was no ripple like Hinata had half-expected. Her teammate was swallowed by the light green light, with no sign of his passing.
One of the engineers, monitoring a panel swimming with symbols Hinata didn't understand, gave a thumbs up. "Signal's good," she said. "You two next: it'll shut down for recharge in a couple minutes."
Shino gave his wordless affirmation by walking through the portal without ceremony. He too vanished, and the same engineer nodded in satisfaction.
"You last, Hyuuga-sama," she said, and Hinata looked back to her husband.
He tilted his head. "What're you waiting for?" he said with a grin. "Go! Have fun!"
She smiled back. There were a million things on the tip of her tongue. "Make sure to remember Himawari's bedtime stories," she said. "She's inconsolable without them."
In the end, she'd given voice to the most mundane thing she could.
Naruto laughed, scratching the back of his head. "I will. I love you!"
"I love you too." The words followed Hinata as she went to the portal. Out of curiosity, she stuck a hand in before committing her whole body. It was warm and almost damp inside, to her surprise. Without another second of hesitation, she stepped through.
The transition between one world and the next almost hurt. For less than a second it felt like Hinata's entire body was swelling, as though her blood has been replaced with cooling metal. She blinked, and the sensation vanished. Aside from the bizarre feeling, there was no dramatic sense of transition. One moment, she was in the Engine Room, below the Hokage's Tower, and the next she was somewhere she didn't recognize.
Kiba and Shino were already there. Hinata didn't stiffen or ready herself for combat, though she did find herself running just a bit of chakra to the tips of her fingers. An unconscious reaction by her body to sudden travel, and not one she bemoaned; it was good to stay on her guard even in comfortable situations. The new room they'd traveled to was bigger, and much more richly decorated than the Engine Room. For one, it had a lush red carpet, upon which were decorative shapes created by a pattern of yellow, blue, and orange threads. They formed spirals, flowers, and animals that looked like tigers, among others. It was a bit of unexpected luxury, and so it immediately caught Hinata's eye.
Besides the carpet, there was also a chandelier hanging from the ceiling, bright crystals reflecting cheerful yellow lights. There were also some vases set upon wooden stands at either end of the room. In all, it seemed more like a reception area for a fine hotel, or an embassy, than the workmanlike room the Engine was set in. Hinata glanced back over her shoulder, and was surprised to find the portal was already steadily fading. In this room, it wasn't connected to a massive machine, but instead stood alone as a thin ring of metal, with some cables running down into obscurity under the carpet. She wondered how it worked.
Hinata turned her attention back to the rest of the room. She wasn't alone with her team. There were two men standing before them, one on either side of the only door leading into the room. The door itself was a thick mahogany affair; the men beside it were dressed in clean black suits, with wired headsets running up to their ears from under their collars. Hinata could tell from the way they were standing that they had some kind of weapon concealed in their jackets, though she couldn't tell what they were exactly. Hinata thought they looked rather generic, but that was likely the point. These were men who could pass as respectable in a social function and pull guard duty for an important device like the portal with equal skill.
She took a step forward, glancing at her teammates. When neither of them looked to make a move, Hinata decided to introduce herself.
"Hello?" she asked, before realizing that Kakashi had failed to tell them an extremely piece of both basic and critical information. Did the Republic of West Gorteau even speak the same language as the Nations? They were in an entirely different dimension, after all; what were the chances that the language was the same?
"Hello," the man on the left said, and Hinata almost started. He had a thick blond mustache that twitched a little when he spoke, and the word was bizarrely accented: it sounded more like 'halo' coming from him, with undue emphasis placed on the the first syllable, but it was still easily recognizable. "Welcome to the Republic of West Gorteau."
'Bizarre. Did these two learn our language?' That would be sensible. They were at the portal, after all.
Hinata bowed shallowly, along with Kiba. Shino settled for inclining his head. "We are pleased to have arrived safely," she said slowly, sure that she sounded as strange to the man as he did to her. Old etiquette lessons from her father bubbled up. "We were told to expect a Representative of ours; Mari Kansai?"
The man who hadn't addressed her bent his head a little, pressing his cheek into his shoulder. Hinata heard a soft click, probably from a radio hidden under his suit.
"She will be here momentarily," he pronounced a moment later. "Thank you for your patience."
Hinata nodded again, not smiling but being careful to show appreciation nonetheless.
"Nice place," Kiba muttered, looking around. He didn't sound sarcastic. "Why don't we have a carpet?" Hinata giggled.
It was a decent question though. Why didn't they have a carpet in the Engine Room? Hinata resolved to ask Naruto about it once they got back.
The mahogany door soundlessly swung open, and a short women dressed in a black suit much like the men guarding it wore bounded through, bleeding enthusiasm. She had light brown hair, worn short, and teal eyes. Following behind her was a tall older man with a shining bald head, gleaming under the warm light of the chandelier like an egg. He reminded Hinata of a stoic tortoise, upright and distinguished.
"Welcome!" the woman said, reaching out to take Shino's hand in a vigorous handshake. The Aburame refused to be caught off guard, returning the gesture with calm courtesy. "Ah, such a pleasure to have you three here!" She made eye contact with Hinata. "Oh, Hyuuga-sama!" She inclined her head a little, and repeated her earlier greeting. "Welcome!"
"Mari, I assume?" Kiba asked, crossing his arms, and the woman nodded rapidly. Hinata was worried the representative's head would come off.
"Yup!" she said. "I'm the Shinobi Union's representative here in West Gorteau, but I'm sure the Lord Hokage has already told you that," she beamed. "And this," she continued, gesturing to the man who had followed her in, "is the Chief Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Sun Hanya."
"A pleasure to meet you all," Sun said, dropping into a shallow bow with his arm pressed against his chest in an unusual salute. "It it always a joy to meet our shinobi allies face to face."
As Hinata and her companions returned the salutation and sign of respect, the Hyuuga analyzed the situation... and the man's accent. She knew the Union had interdimensional relations, of course, but the specifics mostly escaped her; most of what she'd picked up came by proxy through Naruto, and while her husband had thrown himself into the role of Hokage with his usual vigor he wasn't the best at explaining the specifics of what came across his desk every day.
What she did know was that Sasuke Uchiha was usually the one to make first contact (a fact she was reasonably sure was highly classified), and that he passed on what knowledge he deemed appropriate about the Five Nations to gauge interest in other worlds to do business with the Shinobi Union. Most such contacts ended in trade deals, with very few going as far as military assistance: sending soldiers into another world on a mission of war was a complicated subject, not to be approached lightly, and as far as Hinata knew it had only happened two or three times since the Engine had been developed.
West Gorteau was one of those nations with which the Union traded technology and knowledge. They were incidental associates, not nearly close enough to be called 'allies.' Of course, the man was using such friendly language on purpose. He was their chief of Foreign Affairs, after all. It was only natural he would be overly friendly to strange visitors like themselves.
Hinata snapped herself back to reality. Mari had started talking again.
"As I said, I'm happy to see you all. Especially you, Shino Aburame," she said warmly. "I'm sure you've been briefed on the situation?"
"Yes," Shino said curtly. "I am here on behalf of my clan; we decided I was the best to send, to track and hopefully capture samples of these 'Chimera Ants.'"
It was a strange name, Hinata thought, and a little clumsy to say, but at least it was straightforward. As Shino had told her, the Chimera Ants were a rare species native to unexplored lands in this world that sometimes ended up in civilized areas by misfortune or circumstance. They weren't especially dangerous to humans, but they tended to wreak ecological disaster, out-competing and devouring the local ecosystem thanks to their bizarre combination of partho and phagogenesis. Their ability to reproduce rapidly, with each successive generation integrating more traits from local species they had eaten, made them a uniquely thorny problem for the local environmentalists.
Of course, such a species could potentially be a gold mine of potential for the Aburame. If there was even a ghost of a chance something as unique and potentially powerful as that phagogenesis could be bred into Shino's kikaichu, for example, the results would be astounding. Shino had told her all this after Kiba had initially approached her, but Hinata had been quick to see the potential for herself.
"With any luck," Sun agreed. "When my government learned that the Hunter Association had taken interest in this breed of ants, we immediately decided that such information could be of use to our allies."
Ah. Hinata understood the man's behavior now. West Gorteau wanted to grow closer to the Shinobi Union, and had used this information as a gesture of good faith. Perhaps they had regional competitors? The ultimate reason didn't matter. She filed away the analysis for later.
"Hunter Association?" Kiba asked, the same question that Hinata's mind had moved on to. Sun started to open his mouth, looking a little confused, but Mari cut him off.
"Don't worry about that!" she interjected, waving her hands and smiling. "I can brief you all on that sort of thing on the way to the NGL. There's no need to get bogged down with it now."
"Ah, quite right," Sun said. "We've prepared some transport for you, just down in the auto pool-"
"Oh, Hanya, I thought I told you," Mari said kindly, and the man glanced at her. "We won't be needing a truck or anything. We'll make it there just fine on foot."
"Truck?" Shino asked. Mari waved him off.
"A vehicle most of the nations around here use," she said with a grin. "It will be faster for us to run."
"Are… are you sure, Ms. Mari?" Sun asked, clearly taken aback. "The NGL is over four-hundred miles from here: it will be quite the journey."
"We'll be just fine," Mari promised. "I've been wanting to stretch my legs anyway."
The Chief Secretary blinked. "Very well," he said. Kiba chuckled. "If that is your wish. Will you require any provisions? I took the liberty of having them already loaded into the transport, but if you don't wish to use it…"
"Oh." Mari blinked. "That's a good point." She turned to Hinata. "I'm sorry, I should have asked you three before making assumptions. How would you prefer to travel? By foot or truck?"
Hinata looked around at her teammates: Shino shrugged, while Kiba raised an eyebrow. She was curious what exactly a "truck" was, but was also eager to get started. They'd packed light, after all: Kiba had been the only one among them to bring any extra ninja tools beyond those that naturally went with the flak vests, which he kept secure in a series of packs around his waist. Hinata had considered asking him why he'd bothered, but decided it wasn't really her business. If Kiba wanted to travel armed, that was his business.
"By foot would be just fine," Hinata decided. She wanted to see what this new world was like, and it was possible that wouldn't be possible from a truck. "We'll carry whatever we need."
"Oh, wonderful!" Mari said. "It can get quite stuffy in here." She stiffened, turning to the Chief Secretary. "Not that I mean any disrespect, of course, sir. I was just raised outdoors, that's all."
Sun Hanya smiled. "Of course, Ms. Mari. I understand what you mean. It can become positively stifling, especially at this time of year. I'm sure some exercise will do you well."
Mari beamed. "Thank you for understanding," she said, before turning back to the newly arrived shinobi. "Alright, let's walk and talk then. We'll go grab what we need and then head out: I have a lot to tell you guys."
The shinobi nodded and as one set off, forward into the strange new world.
'This will be nice,' Hinata thought. It was nostalgic to travel with her team again; like it was the old days. 'NGL.' The name sounded cute to Hinata, like a themed restaurant or a park. She laughed a little as she felt a week of stress slide off her back, an immediate future with far less responsibilities opening up in front of her.
'Thank you, Naruto.' Silently, Hinata appreciated her husband, as she often did. 'I needed a vacation.'
This is a bit of an impulse project I've had cooking for a couple months. My apologies for this chapter being so exposition heavy; have to set the board before knocking over all the pieces, as it were. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoyed it.