Steven had a play date with Connie and for the Crystal Gems it was the perfect time for them to hone their skills, away from the Temple and Beach City in the tranquillity of their training ground they had used since Rose was with them.

Garnet was dully punching pillars into pebbles with her gauntlets, and Pearl and Amethyst were sparring (or lack there-of) nearby.

"Amethyst, pay attention!" Pearl barked. "My sword almost speared through you!"

"Yeah?" Amethyst drawled. "And what's your point? I'd just regenerate and come back anyway!"

"That's not the issue here!" Pearl snapped. "This is supposed to be a training session! Would you be this distracted if you were fighting a real enemy? Focus!"

"Yeah but you're not a real enemy," Amethyst rolled her eyes. "Except maybe to my ears."

Pearl growled. "Amethyst, we might be fighting Homeworld for real soon. We have to be prepared for it! As warriors, we have to always be at our ideal! If we just sit around we'll get rusty! Right Garnet?"

The leader, who had been unenthusiastically beating at walls and rocks barely cast Pearl a glance. "Hm? Oh, sure. I don't know about you two, but..." She grunted as her gauntlets smashed through three rocks at a time, sending debris exploding. "I never get rusty!"

Amethyst kicked the dirt with a scowl. "Me neither. And I'm hungry."

"You're not hungry," Pearl scoffed. "We don't get hungry." She shuddered at the mere thought of digestion.

"Well I want food! Can't we find a way to make this a little more...I don't know, fun?" She threw her whip in the air lazily and bounced it back like a yo-yo.

Garnet rested against one of the large rocks and crossed her arms. "I agree..."

"This isn't supposed to be fun!" Pearl growled. "It's supposed to be a work out! Now come on, attack me!"

The purple gem's eyes narrowed in annoyance...and then suddenly lit with mischief. She grinned. "Okay, if you say so." She dodged Pearl's sword as it slashed at her, and ducked under the woman's legs. Before Pearl had a chance to turn to her fingers dug into her sides. She squeaked.

"Amethyst!" the gem barked, eyes wary. "Don't you think about it!" She backed up.

"You said we were attacking, right?" Amethyst giggled. "But you never said what type of attack!" Her fingers wiggled evilly and she gave chase to the horrified gem. "Come here Peeeeearl! I thought you wanted a work out, Peeeearl!"

"This isn't what I meant!"

Garnet turned her head at their squabbles, watching her comrades as they darted back and forth in a chase, Amethyst giggling and Pearl yelling all the while. She stared as the smaller gem finally caught up and tackled Pearl into the dirt.

"Amethyst!" Pearl barked through a stream of repressed giggles. "This is completely unacceptable!" She thrashed under the other's attack, trying to throw the gem off and struggling to keep her laughter at bay. She would not give Amethyst the satisfaction!

Thankfully, a pair of hands came to her rescue as they pushed Amethyst off of her form and hoisted her up by the underarms. Pearl relaxed in her savior's arms.

Garnet scowled down at the stout purple gem. "Pearl is right, Amethyst," she said firmly. "This is completely unacceptable. You should know better then this."

Pearl lifted her chin pridefully. "Thank you Garnet!"

"It's been years; you should know by now that it's the ribs that really gets her squealing." Pearl felt her heart stop in horror as she tried to whip her head around to stare back at the taller.

"WHAT? Oh no!" She started to panic and flail, but it was too late to get away from the slender fingers that ruthlessly dug into her ribs. Pearl gave a high pitched squeal and Garnet's fingers moved to her belly That was it. The gem would have collapsed if it weren't for Garnet holding her, knees buckling as she desperately tried to curl forward to protect her stomach.

"What are you doing? We're supposed to be—HEHE-training!" She wriggled around like a frantic fish.

Garnet couldn't help the grin that crossed her face. "This is training, a different type that I think this team needs: Learning to laugh again."

"I laugh just fine without being assaulted into doing it!" She screeched as Garnet switched her aim back to her belly, tickling where her belly button would be if she had one. "G-Garnet! Pleeease!" The fingers jumped from her stomach to her ribs and Pearl lost it.

"GARNET!" she shrieked, before dissolving into unintelligible laughter. She struggled, her arms and legs twitching as much as they could in the restraining hold, but it wasn't enough to free her or even deter Garnet. Garnet's arms wrapped around the other's waist to restrain her, and her fingers dug into Pearl's soft stomach as she did.

The smaller gem bucked desperately and screeched like a frantic pterodactyl, laughing until tears came to her eyes. "NOT THERE!"

"Oho, Garnet is on the bandwagon!" Amethyst cackled evilly. "Square woman takes my side!"

Garnet merely looked over at Amethyst. "Who said anything about taking sides?" She reached out a foot and nudged it against Amethyst's belly. The contact of the foot against her sensitive skin made her squeal and she fell on her back. Garnet continued jiggling her stomach with her foot as Amethyst laughed and rolled around.

"We're all the same team, remember?" The taller gem smirked down at her as her foot kept poking at Amethyst's belly.

"Oh you're asking for it, Garnetator!" Amethyst leaped to her feet and pulled out her whip again. She threw it gently towards the duo and it ensnared them both. Keeping her grip, Amethyst tugged back so both Garnet and Pearl fell into a heap on the ground. Pearl struggled desperately in her captor's hold, but Garnet's attack rendered that useless, and her into a ball of laughing hysterics.

Garnet held onto her prisoner, the small grin on her face having gotten progressively wider. She squirmed against the ground as Amethyst slowly, evilly stalked towards them both on all fours like a wild cat hell-bent on quite an attack.

Still holding Pearl, Garnet rolled against the ground and summoned one gauntlet, busting through the rope binding her and climbing to her feet. She ducked as Amethyst literally jumped at her head, trying to bring her down in some way, and rose with Pearl again.

Pearl was tense and giggling, fearfully anticipating those fingers to dig into her skin again. The forced on smile on her face had noticeably become more genuine. She struggled and Garnet tightened her hold with a smirk. That smirk was gone fast when Amethyst summoned a new whip and hooked one of Garnet's feet.

Her captor down, Pearl scrambled to her feet. Her skin tingled and she panted, standing next to Amethyst. A devious smirk spread across her lips. "Truce for now, while we get Garnet?" Amethyst nodded eagerly, but the leader did not look worried.

The taller gem wrestled with the rope around her ankle as her comrades closed in, posed and eager to pounce. When they did Garnet wrenched her foot free and struck it out, kicking the two back a few feet as she scrambled up.

They sprung up immediately and attempted to lunge once more. This time Garnet leaped over their heads, several feet into the air, and landed in a somersault a few feet away.

"Come on!" Pearl laughed. "Take it like a gem!" Garnet flashed them both a playful smirk. "I'm not going down without a fight!" She caught Pearl as she lunged this time, her hold tight. Pearl gasped and panicked through a nervous grin.

"No—no!" she shrieked. Before the ruthless leader could attack she was suddenly slammed into the ground as Amethyst barrel rolled into her. This effectively knocked Pearl from her grasp as well. Garnet moved to get up, but found her feet straddled by Amethyst. Panic finally started to set in when she realized she couldn't move.

"Nice try!" Pearl gave a maniacal cackle as she approached Garnet from behind. "But I know for a fact that Sapphire is ticklish here!" Pearl emphasized as she dug her fingers into the gem's armpits. The shriek that Garnet emitted was among one of the most girly things either gem had heard. "And Ruby is ticklish here!" She skittered her fingers along the backs of Garnet's knees and this time Garnet let out a loud bark of laughter.

"Stop! STOP!" the leader shrieked. She twisted away from the fingers assaulting under her arms and arched away from the ones tickling her knees. A mixture of Sapphire and Ruby both spilled out in loud girly giggles, and then harsh laughter. Garnet fell face first, although her legs stayed pinned down. She struggled against Pearl, desperately reaching for some sort of leverage. In all honesty she could easily get out of this with her strength, but using magic would ruin the mood and she...rather enjoyed it.

"And Amethyst..." Pearl said sneakily. "is ticklish just about everywhere!" She poked her rapidly from behind, at her back, her shoulder blades, her sides. Amethyst fell to the ground like a sack of giggling purple potatoes.

What gives P? I thought we had a truce!"

"That was just until we managed to catch Garnet!" Pearl cackled as she poked and poked anywhere she could on the small gem.

"Fine then!" Amethyst roared through her giggles. "I guess it's a full frontal WAR now! No restraints!" She full on attacked Pearl, shoving her against the ground. She pinned the struggling gem, the most devilish look coming to her eyes. And when Pearl felt Amethyst fold back her shirt slightly she knew exactly what she had planned.

"Oh no!" Pearl shrieked. Her eyes lit with fire and fear all at once as she tried harder then ever to get away. "DON'T. YOU. DARE." she hissed slowly, trying in vain to intimidate and scare off the other gem. Amethyst grinned viciously and brought her lips closer to Pearl's stomach.

"DON'T EVEN THINK-" Pearl's enraged yell was cut off as Amethyst planted her lips against Pearl's belly and blew a long, harsh raspberry. Pearl didn't even have the time to be revolted that Amethyst's disgusting slobber was all over her clean skin, because she lost it instantly. The stream of laughs and screams muddled together into one and it was impossible to form any words. Her face turned a bright teal from laughter, tears spilling from her eyes.

Amethyst moved to tickling Pearl's ribs again and the gem squealed and scrambled behind Garnet for protection. Garnet was faster however and had her held against her, trapped in a death hold. Before she could do anything Amethyst tried to jump on them. Garnet held up one hand to try and hold the purple gem off but it failed as she buckled under the weight.

The trio crashed down at once into a tangled, goofy pile of laughter. They didn't have the strength to tickle anymore and just laid there sprawled in a ridiculous heap, laughing and laughing. It was longer then any of them could remember since they had all laughed this long and hard together. It was even longer then they could recall that their tears were from laughter and not sadness, and already it felt like a weight had been lifted from their souls.

They all remained that way sprawled out on top of each other breathless with giggles as the warp pad glowed and Steven finally showed up. "Hey guys! I'm back-and I brought some yummy fry bits for Amethyst!" The first thing he saw was his guardians in a pile and he grinned and ran over. "What are you guys doing?"

The three gems looked at each other and then back at the child. Their eyes narrowed devilishly at him, more mischievous then he had ever seen them. "Uhhh..." He giggled nervously and stepped back a bit. "What...what are you guys looking at?"

"Nothing Steven," Pearl said simply. Her tone should have been warning enough. "We're simply recovering after fighting a monster."

The boy gasped. "What monster?" Immediately all three gems grinned.

"A tickle monster!" Garnet declared and Steven's eyes bugged out.

"GET THE STEVEN!" Amethyst roared and the three gems gave battle cries as they reached out and grabbed the squealing child. Steven screamed with laughter as Garnet pulled him into his lap and multiple hands scribbled at his skin from all sides.

"Stop, I'm gonna pee!" he laughed, worming around in their hold. "Bubble, bubble!" he pleaded at his gem, but the pink orb didn't appear. "You all asked for it! COLLECTIVE STEVEN BOMB!" the boy roared and belly flopped onto his family, laying sprawled out over their chests. The small gem family wrestled and laughed as the gem on Steven's belly began to glow. And just for a moment, it felt like Rose was laughing along with them...