Okay guys, this is my newest oneshot, called As Long As It Beats. It's pre-MR3 and AU in the sense that Max and Ari are not related and Ari is not dead. They're all about fifteen years older than this, and live in a big city, it doesn't matter which. It's a bit dark towards the end, but I think you guys will like this. I cut a bit off the beginning, you'll find that on my ficjournal tomorrow. Thanks to all my betas for looking this over for me! And this is dedicated to BlackTippedRose, for being a very cool person and a great writer. Remember to review!

Disclaimer: I do not own Maximum Ride.

Max straightened, tugging her skirt down and smoothing it out. "No." Sliding her feet back into her heels, she strode briskly across the kitchen, picking up her briefcase. Ari trailed after her, saying in a pleading voice, "Please, love? You were so close…"

"I said no, Ari. You'll just have to wait until I get home from work." As she spoke, Ari grabbed her jacket off the coat rack and helped her into it. Max continued, "Now, Ari, tomorrow I have to go to a dinner with our biggest client, and they want me to bring you along too. So I need you to get one of my dresses and your suit dry-cleaned, alright?" She leaned up, kissing him. "Love you, Ari. I'll see you after work."

He murmured, "Love you too, Max." Closing his eyes, he leaned in for another kiss, and…

The door slammed shut as Max left. Ari sighed. Life as usual. Anyway, he'd better get started with the laundry. If she came home and everything wasn't done, Max would get mad.

As she stepped into the elevator, Max saw another happy couple was already occupying it. A very pregnant, apparently very tired Nudge was leaning against Fang, her head resting on his shoulder as she dozed. Max waved a silent hello to Fang, going to stand on his other side.

He turned to look at her, his still-shaggy hair hanging in his eyes as he whispered in a barely perceptible voice, "We're going to the obstetrician's. Prenatal visit."

Max whispered back, "I think they require her to be conscious."

Fang shrugged slightly. "We'll stop at a coffee shop on the way there."

They were both silent for a moment. Nudge snored softly, and Max asked, "When are Gazzy and Angel getting their report cards?"

"Next week."

"Well, tell me when they get them, and we'll come over for dinner."

Fang nodded. "How're you and the jerk doing, anyway?"

Ignoring Fang's less-than-complimentary name for Ari, she replied, "We're good. You guys?"

"We're fine. You know, we could hear you, last night. Gazzy could from his room, and he had to come sleep in the living room. Your bedrooms share a wall, I think." Max flushed ever so slightly, but she didn't get a chance to respond. The elevator dinged as it reached the ground floor, and Fang shook Nudge gently. "C'mon, Nudge, time to wake up. We're there."

Nudge gently smacked Fang on the head, and mumbled. "Five more minutes…"

Fang groaned. "Fine." With that, he bent slightly, sliding an arm under Nudge's knees and another around her shoulders. When he straightened, he was carrying her. "See you later, Max." The doors opened, and he stepped out into the lobby.

"Bye, Fang. Say hi to the others for me."

"Will do."

Max smiled at his retreating form. Right now, life was pretty good.

Ari was staring into Max's closet, trying to remember what shoes she would want to wear with her freshly dry-cleaned dress. The dress was simple, black, and gorgeous, but for some reason, whatever shoes she wore with it were of the utmost importance. There were black high heels, red heels, blue heels, boots, and flat shoes of all different colors and varieties. He grabbed his favorite pair of her shoes-red high heels, shiny and sexy-and set them at the foot of the dress.

All of a sudden, an enraged howl fill the apartment, followed by a slamming door. He sighed. Max was home. He hurried into the kitchen, and immediately ducked, dodging the briefcase that came flying at his head.

"Ari, I'm so pissed, I'm going to kill someone, I need to kill someone-"

He pulled her into a hug, hoping to restrain her long enough to find out what was going on. She struggled for a moment, half-heartedly twisting and punching his chest, before calming down. That was the key to Max's fits; she could only go for so long, and if you kept her still, you could ride it out. "What's wrong, love?"

Her shrieks began anew and she resumed her pounding on his chest. "My boss, that sonofabitch, that fucking sonofaBITCH!"

His hold on her tightened; what had he done to make her so angry? "What did he do, Max?"

All of a sudden, she went very still, and hissed, "He came on to me. And he told me that if I didn't sleep with him, I'd lose my job."

For the first time in years, the urge to morph swept over him, and it took all of his strength to keep from changing right then and there, and ripping her boss limb from limb. His fangs elongated ever so slightly, and it was enough for them to cut into his lower lip. The pain was enough to bring him back from the brink of morphing, but a growl reverberated through his chest nonetheless. Ari couldn't remember the last time he had ever felt this pissed off and angry and possessive, possessive of Max, someone who hated what she called his 'stupid male protective instincts'.

His voice was hard and cold as he asked, "Did he hurt you?"

Max pulled away slightly to look up at him. "Not physically, if that's what you-"

"I asked if he hurt you, it's a yes or a no question. I just have to know if I need to commit a murder tonight."

She sighed. "Of course not, Ari. When I got up to leave after he said that, he made the mistake of trying to grab my wrist to keep me from leaving. So I broke his nose, and got fired. End of story. And stop squeezing me so hard, I can hardly breathe."

It was only then he realized how tightly he was holding her to his body. He relaxed his grip, and said apologetically. "I'm sorry, Max. I just…I got really mad. Please don't be mad at me."

She shrugged, seeming to have calmed down quite a bit. "I'm not mad at you, just him." Stepping away from him, she plopped down onto the kitchen floor, leaning her head against the countertop. "So anyway, what do you want to do tonight?"

He sat down next to her, picking up her left hand and cradling it in his own. "Well, the way I see it, we have two options…" Ari raised her hand to his lips, kissing her fingertips as he spoke. "We can go out and have dinner, or we can stay home, and I'll make you forget all about your bad day at work."

She smirked at him. "I have a better idea."

He raised his eyebrows. "Oh?"

"Let's combine the two."

Ari laughed. "I love the way you think."

Max stood up, pulling Ari to his feet and winking at him. "Is that all you love about me?"

"Not by a long shot."

They had a system for eating out. Obviously, it was impossible for them-Max especially-to eat one restaurant portion and be satisfied. However, it was even more difficult to explain to a waiter why they were ordering enough food for half a football team. So they'd go to one restaurant, eat a massive meal there, then go to another and do the same thing there. On an average night, they would eat at four or five restaurants before Max was full then go out for dessert anyway. It worked well enough, aside from a highly observant waitress who worked three shifts at different restaurants.

Tonight hadn't been any different; they'd hit a gourmet French restaurant, then a pizza parlor, then a Thai place, and finished the evening by more or less cleaning out a pastry shop. Now, walking home together, they were both stuffed with food and giddy, their entwined hands swinging like those of little kids on a play date. Max clutched a bag of sweets in her free arm, which also contained a bottle of chocolate sauce, which would be put to good use later on in the night.

At that moment, Ari was incredibly, indescribably happy. Max was with him, she was euphoric, he was full of delicious food, and there was almost no doubt in his mind that was going to get lucky that night.

Of course, it couldn't stay that perfect. Nothing could, especially not in their lives.

This time, the thing that spoiled it all were a pair of deadbeats, standing outside of their apartment building. Probably drunk, maybe high, judging from their behavior. Shouting various politically incorrect comments at female passerby, they were making a spectacle of themselves, but not physically harming anyone. Just being obnoxious drunks, really.

And then, they saw Max.

Max had always been pretty, there was no doubt about that. But now, after having filled out and attaining regular access to a shower, she was absolutely gorgeous. Six feet of a willowy blonde Max normally made Ari think he was the happiest man alive, but when it attracted the attention of other men…well, the results weren't pretty.

The taller of the drunks shouted to Max, "Hey bitch, I wanna lick your pussy!"

Ari growled, pulling Max closer to him. The urge to morph filled him once again, this time much more strong and harder to control. He wished more than anything that he could throw himself at those two men and show them the real meaning of pain. Max didn't respond to the drunk, though her entire body tensed up, like she was preparing for a fight.

The two men laughed very loudly, and the same one who had spoken before shouted again, "Slut, don't ignore me when I talk to you! Look at me!"

Max spun around to face them, and hissed, "Fine, I'll look at you, you pathetic little sonofabitch. If you ever speak to me again, I'll rip off your tiny little balls and shove them down your throat. Then I'll take your pathetic excuse for a dick and shove it up your ass. Fuck off, or I'll do it right now."

They laughed again, and the short man called out, "Ooooh, big words from a pretty little girl. But no matter what you say this dick is goin' up your pretty little ass." With that, he unfastened his jeans. They fell down around his ankles, his underwear following in a matter of seconds.

It hit Ari all at once. Two men, insulting his Max, threatening to violate her, to hurt her, and now one of them was exposing himself in front of her? It would have been too much for any man, but at that moment, Ari snapped.

How long had it been since he had last tasted human flesh? At least two years, if not longer. He hadn't realized how much he had missed it until he had been able to bury his muzzle in some again…

After a moment, Ari sat up, morphing back into human form. He was gorged from his kill, so full he thought he might never be able to eat again. He glanced down at the short man's corpse, sprawled across the tile floor of their bathroom, looking at it in a moment outside of the heat of passion for the first time.

He'd torn the man's filthy dick off and shoved it down his throat, but only after removed his balls. He had then plucked out the man's eyeballs, throwing them to the side-Ari didn't like the texture of them, they were too slippery-and shoved the mutilated balls into his eye socket. Those touches combined with the bloody cavity where his liver and kidneys had once been made him almost unrecognizable.

He stood up, looking over at the other man. He was groaning softly, his eyes shut. Blood was pouring from the stubs where his hands had formerly been attached, and his chest had been shredded into ribbons by Ari's claws. Ari walked over to him, crouching down next to him. The dying man looked up at him, his eyelids fluttering open weakly.

When he finally spoke, his voice was raspy and had a strange gurgling quality to it from the blood that flowed freely there. "Why…why are you doing this to me?"

Ari shrugged, completely nonchalant. "I thought it was pretty obvious. You insulted Max, you made her into a sex object, your little friend flashed his pathetic excuse for a dick at her. In short, you pissed me off, and you're suffering the consequences."

The man coughed, blood splattering onto his face. "Are you going to kill me?"

He gave a short, sardonic laugh. "What do you think? But since all you did was say filthy things to her, I'm going to be nice. I'll kill you quickly, if you'd like." Another laugh. "Actually, you don't have much of a choice, do you?"

The dying drunk sucked in a rattling breath that Ari recognized as the death rattle, something he knew happened shortly before someone died. He started to struggle more urgently, shaking and kicking feebly at the air. Ari placed his large, muscular hands on the man's head, and in a single quick movement, snapped his neck. The loud crack reverberated off the bathroom walls, and then, it was totally silent.

He knelt down by the body, trying to remember where, exactly, the heart was. He knew it was on the left side, he just couldn't quite remember where…

From behind him, Ari heard the door open, then click shut. He whirled around, half-expecting to see cops standing there, guns pointed at him.

Instead, it was Max, wearing only a blood-red robe that was tied loosely around her waist. For some reason, that really stuck in Ari's mind…Max had two robes, this one, and a blue one she much preferred. Why was she wearing this robe that made her itch?

Max reached up to push her hair back, the robe falling back and baring her body to him unintentionally. Ignoring Ari's sudden intake of breath, she walked across the room, faster than he had ever seen her move before. Her arms wrapped around his neck as she pulled him down into a kiss.

The kiss was different from most of theirs; it wasn't demanding or forceful, yet still passionate. There was a strange franticness to it, like Max was trying to convince herself that he was still there.

Slowly, she pulled away, still breathing heavily. Ari brushed his bloodstained nose against hers, and murmured, "What was that for?"

"I wanted…I wanted to make sure you're still human. Still mine."

He kissed the tip of her nose, leaving a small red stain there from the blood from his mouth, like the blood that smeared both of their lips. "My heart is yours, Maximum. As long as it still beats, it belongs to you." He lifted her hands and placed them onto his chest, letting her feel his heartbeat for a long moment.

Then he abruptly broke away from her, moving over to the un-mutilated of the two bodies. Dropping to his knees, he bent over the corpse, and a horrible tearing sound filled the room.

When he turned back towards her, in his hand he clutched the most morbid thing he had ever seen.

The man's heart.

Parts of it were pale, pinkish, while others were dark red. Blood dripped from the seemingly small organ onto the floor as he approached her.

Ari's eyes were strangely soft as he took her hands into his, placing the heart gently in the palms of her hands, closing her fingers around it. He pushed her hands back towards her, then took a step away from her. His voice shook slightly as he spoke, "I would rip out my own heart and give it to you, if I could. But since I can't, this is the closest I'll get." His hands were shaking as he continued, "I've been wanting to ask you this for a long time, Max, so I might as well do it now. Will you…will you marry me?"

For a moment, all Max could do was stare at the heart, lying there in her hands, staining her fingers red. Then she looked up at him, her eyes for once soft, and she nodded.

Ari gave a wild gasp as joy coursed through him, and pulled her in for another kiss. He almost couldn't believe it. Max had said she loved him before, it was true, but this…this was proof. She loved him. She really loved him.

And that thought made him more happy than anything else in the world ever could have.

She slowly pulled away, sliding her fingers from where they had been tangled in his hair, and gave him a small smile.

He was giddy, completely euphoric, and nothing, absolutely nothing, could bring him down right now. This was, without a doubt, one of the best days of his life. Something occurred to him, and without thinking, he blurted it out, "I'm-I'm sorry I don't have a ring, I hadn't thought to get one yet."

Max shrugged, "I don't mind. We can go pick one out together, if you'd like."

Ari nodded eagerly. "We will whenever you want to, Max, I promise you. It'll be the most beautiful ring you've ever seen." Unable to keep the goofy smile off his face, he continued, "Do you want to take a bath or something? I kind of got you dirty…"

"Sure, that'd be nice."

A few minutes later, Ari was bending over the bathtub, sticking his hand in to make sure the water was warm enough for Max's tastes. She loved bathing in incredibly hot water, a passion that Ari did not share, but he managed.

Suddenly, he felt her slender arms snake around his waist, her hands resting on his belly. She leaned her head against the spot between his shoulder blades, and said softly, "I love you so much, Ari, you know that?" She gently kissed his back, and he groaned almost inaudibly. Suddenly, her tone changed into something much harsher, and much more dangerous. "You showed me what it was like to love someone whose love for me was unconditional, someone who would never so much as think of cheating on me. If the School came back, or anyone else tried to hurt you, I'd protect you with my life. You're the love of my life, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. But if you ever lay a hand on me, my Flock, or anyone else I care about, I will kill you. I promise you that, Ari. Everything I just told you, I promise is true."

She slid around him so her knees brushed the back of the old-fashioned bathtub.

"Now," She whispered, her voice low and seductive as she lowered herself into the hot water, bringing Ari with her. "Show me how much you love me."