Disclaimer: All characters belong to their respective owners. I'm making no money off of this story.

Author's note: This scene takes place before the first confrontation between Clifford, Ricky, Moody, and his newly hired bodyguard Mike. A huge thank you to Little Albatross for hosting such a wonderful Adam Baldwin page! I found a promo photo on her site that inspired me to write this fic but apparently I can't post links here to show said photo :-\

"Building the Bridge"

Carson took his lunch tray after paying for it (today was a decent day, considering he hadn't been extorted by Moody) and went over to his usual table. A few of his buddies were there and had already began shoveling food into their mouths. It was like they were given the chance to eat real food for the first time since returning from starvation camps. Then again, they must have avoided been harassed by bullies.

As Carson sat down, he felt the weight on the bench shift next to him. Looking over, he saw that it was just Clifford and…

"Hey Carson, you mind if he sits with us today?"

It was hard not to notice Ricky Linderman's significant, frightening form as he helped himself to a spot next to Clifford. Carson shot up like a weed and turned as white as a ghost. The others kids at the table instantly abandoned their lunches and jumped ship, leaving the three boys.

"Hey," Carson hissed at Clifford as his eyes were frozen onto Linderman's stoic face. "What did I ever do to you to deserve his?"

Clifford laughed a little and gently smacked Carson's upper arm. "Relax, will you? It's okay. He's a good guy."

"I'd like to form my own opinion," Carson commented dryly as he ever so carefully sank back down.

Clifford turned to Linderman and asked, "How about we start things over? Wouldn't it be nice to have some more friends? Maybe we can build more bikes with more man-power."

Linderman's eyes shifted from Clifford to Carson, back to Clifford, until finally settling onto Carson once again. Lifting an arm, he stretched it across Clifford and held it just a few inches from the blonde boy. Carson's body was frozen, unwilling to make a single move. He was shocked he didn't flinch like the way he did whenever Moody was ready to shake him down for his belongings. He was absolutely frightened beyond belief; in his head, he begged whatever higher being was out there to take him now before he could feel any pain.

"I ain't gonna hurt you," Linderman stated, speaking in a surprisingly friendly and teasing tone. His face lost its frightening aura. It looked relaxed and… dare he say… friendly?

Unsteadily, Carson lifted his own hand from his lap and took Linderman's huge, extended hand. The two shook a steady handshake. At that moment, the smaller boy felt a sense of relief wash over him.

I'm alive, he thought as he continued to study Linderman's hard face. Wow, I'm actually still breathing. Jesus, Allah, Budda-whatever's out there, thank you for letting me live for another day.

All the while, Clifford was grinning ear to ear at the scene."Now that wasn't so bad, was it, guys?"

Carson took his hand back and wiped his nervous sweat back and forth on his pants. He managed to keep a straight face as he snuck a bite of his neglected food. After a sip from his milk, he spoke directly to Linderman.

"I guess I should thank you because it's not every day I get the chance to flip off Moody and live to tell the tale. So… thanks a lot."

Linderman chortled but said nothing as he settled with picking at the lunch he often referred to as garbage. Carson was relieved and he had a feeling that things just might turn out okay after all.