"Just this one time, I let you go. For the little girl. You and me, we're even then. No more owed. Understand?"
So Bob owes Alice big time. Maybe she saved his friend, or did something selfless for him, or risked her life for his, it doesn't matter. The thing is, Bob and Alice aren't friends. They might even be enemies. Where this trope comes in to play is when Bob inexplicably helps out Alice, usually followed by a "Now we're even
" from Bob. The key to this trope is that it's a one-shot deal; if Alice gets herself in trouble later it's her problem, not Bob's. Bob may even be the cause of her troubles.
Contrast I Owe You My Life
, a more long term, friendly, and annoying variation of this. Unrelated to Work Off the Debt
. Occasionally overlaps with Because You Were Nice to Me
, albeit rarely.
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Anime and Manga
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: Kaiba claims that Tea helping Mokuba escape from the Rare Hunters is the only reason he's helping Yugi find his friends. Then he uses it as his reason for saving Tea's life. Considering all the times he makes a point of explaining how he's only "helping" the gang out of selfish reasons, it's pretty easy to say it's only a shield for his Hidden Heart of Gold.
- In Arakawa Under the Bridge, the protagonist has always lived by this principle, paying all debts as quickly as possible, but he finds himself in a quandary when a crazy woman who lives under a bridge saves his life.
- Shang in Mulan spared the titular's character's life after she dishonored the Chinese army in return for her saving his life during the Huns' attack.
- In Constantine, Satan appears to be one as he did not like owing Constantine a favor for getting him to save the world from Satan's son. The debtor does find a price Constantine is willing to accept, then regrets it.
- One Discworld book (Carpe Jugulum I think) says that this is a key part of witch psychology and that if you really want to hurt a witch then you need to do her a favour she has no way of repaying. The unfulfilled debt will always nag at her.
- The faeries in The Dresden Files, although it's not so much that they dislike being in debt as that if someone helps them, they're compelled by their nature to render aid in return, so they're irritated by open ended obligations.
- In Harry Potter, James Potter saved Snape's life and it's implied that Snape protects Harry because he regrets not being able to save James' life in return. Or at least that's the story in the first few books, until it's revealed that he also loved Lily.
- Uncle Hoole of Galaxy of Fear is usually fine with owing people... but he hates to owe Jabba the Hutt, because Jabba always calls in favors. As a shapeshifter Hoole would make an excellent spy or assassin, but he's adamantly against doing that. Which doesn't mean he's not forced to ask for Jabba's help.
- Raistlin from Dragonlance is not altruistic (except in certain very specific circumstances) but he hates the idea of being dependent on another person and as such if he feels he's in your debt he will repay you, with a good turn he feels is exactly equivalent in value to what you did for him- indeed, the last few chapters of Dragons of Spring Dawning is basically an extended sequence of him paying off all his debts to the other protagonists so he feels can go his own way in peace. Later on, he trains his apprentice Dalamar to believe this as well.
- Peter from Divergent. After bullying Tris mercilessly and molesting her, he saves her life in Insurgent because she saved his. Tris absolutely does not understand his perspective. Not at ALL.
Live Action TV
- In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Q. In one of the early Q episodes Picard shelters Q after Q has been made mortal temporarily. Q hates that he owes Picard a favour and tries to get Picard to name a favour so he can resolve the obligation.
- Of course, Picard knows that Q is The Trickster and a Literal Genie and refuses to accept repayment. Q's response is to make up a need of Picard's and 'solve' it for him in an incredibly roundabout and dangerous way.
- In an episode of the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century TV series, Buck saves the life of Tigerman (Princess Ardala bodyguard); later, Buck is about to be executed and Tigerman threatens the Princess until she releases Buck. As Buck starts to leave, he asks Tigerman if he will be coming along (implied that they are now friends). Tigerman simply replies, "I owed you a life. We are now even," as he then warily looks at the Princess.
- Part of how Todd the Wraith managed to survive so long on Stargate Atlantis; he and Sheppard kept saving each other's lives.
- Averted in Stargate SG-1, where SG-1 lets Nirrti go after she saves Cassandra's life. Nirrti is surprised, and mentions that, if the situation was reversed, she would not be so generous. Later on, Nirrti captures SG-1 and, when reminded of the incident, reminds them her words. Additionally, when Carter saves Cronus's life (he was attacked by Nirrti using an Invisibility Cloak), they offer him the identity of his attacker in return for letting Earth keep both of its stargates. As Cronus and Yu lead Nirrti away, Cronus lets the Tau'ri know that his debt is now paid and that they should not expect mercy if he catches them again. And no, he doesn't show them any when he catches them (or those he thinks are them).
- Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory takes this to ridiculous levels. He absolutely despises being given a gift because he over thinks everything and spends too much time trying to exactly match the financial and emotional reciprocity. He also generally dislikes being in debt to his "friends" because he considers them beneath him, part of his Jerk with a Heart of Gold persona.
- Entry 68 of the Evil Overlord List states — "I will spare someone who saved my life sometime in the past. This is only reasonable as it encourages others to do so. However, the offer is good one time only. If they want me to spare them again, they'd better save my life again."