Author's Note: This is the second story in the Guardian 'verse, and as such immediately follows (and somewhat intertwines with) The Guardian which is available here and in the 2010 sgagenficathon community on Livejournal. I tried very hard to balance this story in such a way that if you don't read The Guardian first you won't be completely lost, and if you did, it won't feel like a complete retread.

I'd like to apologize to those who have been waiting so patiently for this sequel that was supposed to hit the internets earlier this year. I confess that I was (and really still am) unsure of how well I did in trying to make this story stand alone. I've finally settled on what you see here.

This story was beta'd by the lovely Sharpeshussy on LJ. All mistakes are mine. Comments and criticism appreciated.

~*~ GUARDIANS ~*~

Rodney was determined to keep his eyes open. It didn't matter that this was only his second flight on the back of a ginormous black eagle or that the freakishly large creature didn't come with seatbelts. He had bigger problems, like not losing sight of John Sheppard - or at least the part of Sheppard that he could make out, which amounted to a pair of booted feet if his distance vision wasn't failing him. How exactly he was able to distinguish a pair of black military issue combat boots against the even blacker feathers of the bird that had taken the semi-conscious Sheppard, he couldn't say, but it was better than looking down.

Down was bad. Very bad. And the damn bird was still climbing, gaining more altitude and speed with each flap of its oversized wings.

Dark motion in his peripheral vision drew Rodney's attention, and he spared a glance to his right. Teyla and Ronon sat high atop their own birds looking like regal warriors, while he was leaned in close, spasmodically clutching at the thick, furry feathers. Well, form wasn't everything.

Squinting against the rushing wind, he tried to determine whether they had gained any ground on Sheppard's bird, which was still going like a giant bat out of hell.

The day had started so normal – or at least what passed for normal in Pegasus. This world should have been a rich repository of a new Ancient-developed mineral. Instead, it was populated by natives who were opposed to flight and didn't have any qualms about attacking anyone who set foot on their sacred mountain – the sacred mountain which happened to be the richest source of said mineral. Of course, two members of the science team sent to survey the planet had managed to get themselves lost.

Cue the search and rescue mission in a cloaked jumper - which pretty immediately became a crashed jumper, leaving the team stuck up in a mountain where properly functioning scanning and communication equipment were sadly non-existent.

Things had really taken a nose dive when Sheppard, already kind of pale and sickly looking, became the clutch toy of the big bird ahead of them. Both Sheppard and his new friend had then vanished into the creepy waters of the Pegasus version of Camp Crystal Lake.

Cue team panic thinking that Sheppard was dead. That was of course until three of big birds equally big friends showed up and somehow convinced Teyla that they knew where to find Sheppard and their missing scientists. Rodney still wasn't sure exactly how the Teyla/bird communication thing was working because he and Ronon certainly hadn't heard a thing. But he wasn't one to argue with success.

The scientists were stuck in a deactivated room of an Ancient facility. Sheppard was another story altogether. He was a lot worse for wear – soaking wet, breathing erratically and looking for all the world like he couldn't get up off the floor under his own steam if they paid him. But he had looked around, noted that their missing scientists were back among them, and dug up the strength to get back on his feet. At least until even the John Sheppard stubbornness gene couldn't keep him going. Already pale, he had gone sheet white and collapsed on the side of the mountain.

That was when Giant Cloaking Bird had put in another appearance, apparently taking it upon itself to mount a rescue mission of its own. Which was how he and the rest of the team ended up on the backs of the other three birds for the second time in one day. When Sheppard got better, because it was unthinkable that he wouldn't, Rodney was going to make sure he knew what Rodney had gone through for him.

Rodney was dragged from his thoughts when Sheppard's feet bobbed as his bird dipped suddenly, diving down closer to tree level. The colonel's medical problems were going to be moot if the damned bird dropped him. He breathed easier as the animal leveled off then skirted the edge of the forest where it curved around the Omari village. Once past the village proper, it set out over the open fields that would lead to the gate.

Rodney might have yelped a little when his animal mimicked the movement. He clenched his fingers tighter in the thick pile of furry feathers as they lost altitude. At that height, it was hard to ignore the speed at which the ground was flying past.

His head started spinning, and he thought he was going to be sick. Focus. No time for panic. Don't think about dying. Just focus. His mind latched onto the landing site, taking in the general layout of the area. He began mentally working though the logistics of dialing Atlantis and getting Sheppard though. Ronon had dislocated his shoulder and wouldn't be able to help carry Sheppard very far. Rodney figured he could save them some time by calling in the emergency and having everything lined up. When your friend was tap dancing at death's door, every second counted.

Ignoring how unstable it made him feel, he forced one hand from the death grip he had on the feathers and reached for his IDC. A flash caught his eye. For a second he thought it was the angle of the sun, but then he saw the gate was already lit up. The blue rush of energy exploded outward and collapsed in the familiar pattern.

"Oh no!" This was not good. So not good. The last thing they needed was an incoming wormhole. And then his IDC flashed a caution signal. Atlantis was on the other side of that blue puddle awaiting an authorized identification code before lowering the shield . . . and the bird carrying Sheppard wasn't slowing down.

He didn't take the time to think how any of this could be possible; he input his code and tapped his radio. "Atlantis! This is McKay! We have a medical emergency! Clear the area in front of the gate, and whatever you do, don't shoot!"

Moments later, the big bird out ahead of them pressed his wings back against the sides of his body – oddly reminiscent of the way a jumper stowed its drive pods – and disappeared into the event horizon.

"Doctor McKay, please state the nature of your medical emergency." Woolsey's tinny voice seemed surreal as it registered through his ear piece. And then the bird that was carrying him arched its body and reared back. Massive black wings spread upward and out as it created resistance against the rush of passing wind.

"Can't talk now, afraid of flying!" For several very long, very horrifying seconds, Rodney was sure he was going to die. There was no way they would be able to decrease their inertia enough to land safely. And even that thought left his mind as the ground slammed toward them. He might have cried out and squeezed his eyes shut. Somehow he didn't die when animal's feet absorbed ridiculous amounts of energy, landing with little more than a rough bump.

He didn't get a moment to catch his breath; he barely managed to clamber off the thing's back what with his legs having turned to jell-o. He was still trying to find his balance when he caught Teyla and Ronon already running for the event horizon. He set off unsteadily after them, wondering if he'd really heard Teyla tell the birds thank you just before they passed through the gate.

The other side was just as he feared. Security was squared off against the bird, guns raised in the usual shoot first, ask questions later manner. Meanwhile, Sheppard was in the middle, looking mostly dead while every one else was trying to figure out what to do next.

"What part of the words 'don't shoot' don't you understand?" Rodney demanded as he ran toward his friend. Then, realizing what his initial thought had been on seeing the bird, "We'll explain everything later! Sheppard needs help! Can't you see he can't breathe?"

He wasn't sure what the marines did then. He only knew that he, Ronon, and Teyla were at the Colonel's side, encouraging him to hold on. Sheppard was a tough guy, but all Rodney could see in the other man's dazed irises was his own fear and panic reflected back at himself.

"Where the –?" He turned to yell over his shoulder hoping to move the medical part of the rescue along, and heard Jennifer's voice as the small crowd of uniforms parted.

"Coming through!" She pushed her way in, displacing Rodney, Ronon, and Teyla with her medical team. Even the big bird, already behind them in a corner, seemed to move closer in on itself.

Rodney watched as Jennifer did the usual medical voo doo that he'd seen Carson do too many times before. He could make out the low murmur as she spoke softly to Sheppard, but he couldn't make out the actual words over the pounding of his own heart. Whatever they were, he was sure they were probably meant to be encouraging, but he couldn't see that they were doing anything to help with the more immediate problem of lack of breathable air reaching his friend's lungs. He clenched his fists, wanting to demand that she do something and do it faster.

Then she was yelling to one of the members of her medical team about shock, and an oxygen mask appeared. It was strapped quickly around Sheppard's head just as someone else was pulling a gurney alongside. It was lowered close the floor and a board was removed from it and was slipped beneath his friend. Then the board, with Sheppard on top, was placed on the bed. Rodney didn't wait for an invitation, but followed it as it rolled out of the gate room.

Richard Woolsey was left standing at the railing as the gurney carrying Colonel Sheppard disappeared into the corridors leading to sickbay. What had started as a search and rescue mission for Doctors Kremer and Bowen had taken an unexpected turn and he had no one to ask what the devil was going on.

He turned a wary eye on the giant black bird still standing in the corner of the gate room, and then tracked across to the gathered security officers, their weapons half-pointed toward the floor. A couple of them looked up toward him for guidance. He hoped that the fact that he was utterly dumbfounded wasn't obvious. In either case, he didn't know what to tell them and he didn't know what his next move should be.

Perhaps a thank you was in order for the bird?

The sound of the gate activating interrupted his thoughts. He frowned, recognizing that it was an outgoing wormhole. "What are you doing?" he spun toward Chuck.

"I'm not doing anything." Chuck threw up his hands, proclaiming his innocence. "It just lit up, then started dialing itself." He gestured toward the console that was going about the business of activating symbols one by one.

"Shut it down!" Richard ordered, hearing the whoosh as the blue energy burst outward then collapsed back in on itself.

"I'm trying." Chuck dove back at the ancient control keys, pushing first one then the other. When that had no effect, he started typing commands into the lap top. "I'll try to – He looked up at Richard, but then his gaze froze on something beyond him.

"Mr. Woolsey, sir. Look!" Chuck pointed down toward the still-active gate.

Richard turned in time to see the bird's tail feathers clear the event horizon. The gate shut down behind him. Richard looked toward the security forces, still holding their weapons, then at the rest of the control room staff. There were no words he could think to say. He was very sure that he didn't want to ask out loud if a bird had just dialed the gate.

Perhaps it was time he had a word with Sheppard's team. Before he could move farther than the edge of the console, another alarm sounded.

"Unscheduled off world activation." Chuck's familiar words followed the alert.

Richard sighed inwardly and took a hesitant step back toward the balcony. Considering the last few minutes, sure a bit of trepidation was in order. "Do we have an identification?" he asked.

"It's Major Lorne's IDC," Chuck informed him.

Richard's brow furrowed. He wasn't sure whether to relax or worry. Lorne had been heading up the ground search and rescue mission for the missing doctors while Sheppard and his team had conducted a search by cloaked jumper. Speaking of jumpers, Sheppard and his team had arrived without the jumper they'd left with.

"Should I lower the shield, sir?" Chuck's question interrupted his thoughts, and now every eye in the control area was on him.

"Yes, yes. Do lower the shield," he answered hastily, hoping, but somehow doubting, that Major Lorne would be returning with the missing vessel.

The shield blinked out and Major Lorne and seven other individuals stepped through the gate into the city. Lorne's core team and the other four members who had joined them for the search headed out of the gate room, carrying their equipment with them. The missing doctors, Kremer and Bowen, were not among the arrivals. He counted twice to be sure.

"Did you give up the search?" Richard asked sharply once he reached the bottom of the steps. Two scientists and a jumper were still missing – all valuable assets. Even if the doctors had been killed, their bodies would have been brought back to the city.

Major Lorne gave him a dry look. "No need to search any farther – we know where they are."

"So you've found them?" The gate was no longer active, and unless the major had discovered a clever new way of hiding personnel, they weren't in the city.

"Actually, Sheppard's team found them. We ran into them a little after that. Sort of."

"Well? Where are they?"

"That's where things start to get a little sticky. There's been a bit of a problem."

(to be continued)