Arnold: Grandpa, I have a problem.One day, Bob is strolling down the lane minding his own business. Then BANG! One Diving Save later, he has some guy pledging his loyalty to repay him for saving his life. The concept of owing one's life to another is simple. Someone saves your life and you must repay them, especially if you live by a strict honor code. Often it is the case that the person who saved you doesn't want someone tagging along or that the person you saved didn't want to be saved and therefore indebted to you. Most times the person you saved becomes part of your traveling party or group of friends, and he'll stay around even after repaying you for saving him. The easiest way to repay this debt is saving your savior's life, but sometimes you can instead do something like help them get home, defeat the villain, or serve them for a period of time. If the rescued was formerly a villain in a series with a somewhat serious tone, expect them to cash in the debt in the most literal way possible, because Redemption Equals Death. A rescued animal might pay its debt back too, in fiction. When two characters owe each other their lives like this, they often become Blood Brothers. Often source of Ho Yay. Sometimes the saved person's attempts to make it up to the saver can be so annoying to them that they desperately try to find some way to get rid of them. This often overlaps with Disproportionate Reward, as they can see True Heroism in the smallest kindness. Alternatively, the rescuer will take advantage of the debt that is owed by the rescued, milking the situation well past the point where a fair and reasonable person would consider the debt repaid. If this happens, look for the saved person to try and put the rescuer in danger specifically so he can cancel the debt by rescuing him. Another variant has the "slave" coming to discover that he actually didn't save the "slave-holder". This never ends well. A standard plotline for single episodes would look like this:
Grandpa: Let me guess — you saved some guy's life, and he's trying to make it up to you by being your slave.
Grandpa: Let me guess — you saved some guy's life, and he's trying to make it up to you by being your slave.
- Character A saves the life of character B.
- While character A does not expect any huge return, character B insists that their strict moral code dictates that they return the favor by becoming A's servant and fulfilling their every wish.
- Character B's well intended but incompetent "help" soon becomes bothersome for character A, but they are unable to make it stop.
- Character A and friends decide to stage a scene where B will be able to (seemingly) save A's life, thus returning the debt.
- For arbitrary reasons the faux danger becomes truly life threatening, and B is able to save A's life for real.
- Optionally, Character B will now make Character A the slave, even though they are both even.
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Anime & Manga
- Nothing would've happened in Haou Airen, had Kurumi not decided to treat Hakuron's wounds.
- Pretty much how the Sket Dance trio were formed, by way of Magnetic Hero Bossun.
- Himeko and Switch will do just about anything for Bossun as their way of showing gratitude for his guidance, although he's largely unaware of it.
- And we now have Katou Kiri (who is a ninja) pledging his loyalty to Tsubaki and insisting to help him in absolutely everything. Needless to say, Tsubaki finds this extremely irritating.
- Space Pirate Ryoko Balouta from Tenchi Muyo! GXP, blackmailed into trying to assassinate the protagonist Seina, swears to serve him after he saves her life (and her crew's families, who were held hostage, are freed unharmed). The crush on him doesn't hurt, of course...
- In Claymore, Jean was on the verge of Awakening (losing control of her power and mutating into a monster), but Claire helped her revert back to humanity. As becoming an Awakened One is considered by Claymores to be a Fate Worse Than Death, she vows to protect Claire until the debt is repaid.
- Black Butler:
- Ciel owes his butler Sebastian his life - literally. At ten years old, Ciel was tortured and used as a sacrifice to summon a demon. Said demon offered Ciel his services until Ciel exacts revenge on the people responsible for destroying his life and his family... in exchange for Ciel's soul.
- Agni owes Prince Soma his life. He had him spared when he was about to be executed. In reverse of the above, Agni become's Soma's servant, and the two become fast friends.
- During the Soul Society arc in the Bleach anime, Ichigo says that the reason he's trying to rescue Rukia is because she saved his life from the Hollow in the first episode.
- Also, Shuihei Hisagi's main motivation to become a Soul Reaper was to show his gratitude to then-captain, now Visored Kensei Muguruma, who saved his life when he was a young boy.
- Tsujido, Makabe and Niihari from Speed Grapher decided to become Suitengu's henchmen after he rescued them from the corrupt rich people who tortured them almost to death.
- Played very darkly in Monster:
- Johan feels he owes a life-debt to Temna, which he repays in various interesting fashions, the likes of which only Johan can do. The primary means is by 'fixing' Tenma's promotional woes — by killing everyone who was keeping him down. The good doctor is not particularly pleased.
- Worse was the fate of General Wolf, who also saved Johan's life. After finding him on the Czech/German border, he asked Johan how the boy was feeling. Johan said, "You'll see." And proceeded to kill everyone who knew General Wolf, so Wolf could properly understand Johan's sense of isolation from humanity.
- A young military officer is about to be executed for theft by a bunch of Evil Chancellors that oppress his country. However, the child Empress orders to spare the man's life and free him. He's so genuinely touched by the young girl's kindness that he swears to repay the favor by taking her out to see the world and giving her the power to properly rule China... This is the story of Li Xingke (the officer) and Tianzi (the empress) in Code Geass.
- Wizardmon's Undying Loyalty to Gatomon started after she saved him from the brink of death.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Quatre Raberba Winner had a Freak Out! and went in a Roaring Rampage of Revenge after his father and his older sister's deaths. However, his friends Heero Yuy and Trowa Barton fought him, and Trowa pulled an Heroic Sacrifice to make the guy snap out of it (He got better, though). Then, Quatre spends the rest of the series as The Atoner, lampshades the present trope often by telling that Trowa was his savior, and finally repays the favor by snapping Trowa out of his own Freak Out! and Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Cue to lots of happy slash fangirls (and having some non-slash fan considering the couple to be quite plausible, heh)
- Upon saving the life of Hayato Gokudera, (who had been trying to kill him), Tsuna gains his first (and most enthusiastic) member of the Vongola Family in Katekyō Hitman Reborn!.
- To a lesser degree, also happened to Yamamoto in the manga, who attempts to kill himself after an injury stops him from playing baseball. They both fall and Tsuna ends up saving both, after which, Yamamoto becomes Tsuna's second follower and Gokudera's competition for Right hand man.
- A variant shows up in The Cat Returns. Haru saves the life of a cat that turns out to be Prince Lune, son of the Cat King, but it's the rest of the cat court that showers Haru with unwanted gifts... including nearly forcing her to marry Prince Lune. As it turns out, Lune had nothing to do with the wedding, had actually been preparing to propose to a girl cat from his homeland, and ends up helping Haru escape back to the human world.
- This is effectively the entire setup for Hayate the Combat Butler, and an interesting example as both Nagi and Hayate are indebted to each other. Hayate saved Nagi from kidnappers, and Nagi paid off the Yakuza so they'd stop trying to sell Hayate into slavery or sell his organs.
- Sorata's entourage in Mouse. That's what you get for curing one's mental illness, rescuing one from an abusive guardian, and helping one get over Arrheophobia.
- Terry Sanders Jr. in Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is fiercely loyal to his commander Shiro for not only saving his life the last time his "curse" kicked in, but also for helping him break said curse when it should have fallen on him again.
- Naruto: Zabuza saves Haku's life as a child, and in repayment Haku happily spends the rest of his life as the ninja equivalent of a slave. In the end, he even dies for him, causing Zabuza to realize just how much he owed Haku, and not the other way around.
- In Captain Harlock, Miime is "the woman who gave her life to Harlock" ever since he saved her life from a giant carnivorous plant.
- Mahou Sensei Negima!: This is the reason Fate's group of female subordinates are so fiercely loyal to him. They are all war orphans whom he took in and cared for following the last war. He offered them the chance for a normal life, with enough money to put them through good schooling, and they refused, preferring to aid him directly in his own plans.
- An episode of Pokémon has the Girl of the Week enthusiastically declare this word-for-word to Ash after he saves her and her Vulpix during an attack by Team Rocket, while suggesting the possibility of something more. One of the rare times in which Ash isn't portrayed as completely Oblivious to Love, instead coming across as somewhat Allergic to Love.
- This is the thing that starts off the plot of Hana the Fox Girl. Hana, an inari fox, was rescued by high schooler Fu prior to the story. Now she assumes human form and seeks out Fu so she can repay that kindness.
- One Piece: Trafalgar Law owes everything to Corazon, aka Donquixote Rocinante, the younger brother of his former boss Donquixote Doflamingo. On top of being the first person to show him compassion for his dark past, Corazon saved his life by stealing the Op-Op Fruit for him to eat — the act of which eventually cost Corazon his life. Law is so indebted to him for this that he admits that the only reason he survived to this day is to fulfill Corazon's wishes and avenge his murder by killing Doflamingo. It is his love and devotion that is the ultimate driving force of the Pirate Alliance saga.
- Lyrical Nanoha:
- Unlike most familiars, Arf's loyalty to Fate isn't because of any magical contract but rather because Fate turned her into a familiar to save her life and left the terms of their contract open-ended (familiars in Nanoha die or lose their sentience when their contract has been fulfilled).
- After Zest saved Agito from being a test subject at a laboratory, she swore to follow him. She continued to do so until the day he died, even respecting his last wish for her to go with Signum (who was responsible for his Suicide by Cop).
- Izetta from Izetta: The Last Witch acknowledges multiple times that her life was saved by her Only Friend Princess Finé from an angry mob that attempted to lynch her. This drives Izetta's decision to use her powers to save Princess Finé's country.
- Tohru's relationship with Kobayashi is part this and part Rescue Romance in Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid. When they first met, Kobayashi saved her life by removing a holy sword from her back and she has been serving as Kobayashi's maid ever since.
- Elfen Lied: One of the only positive traits shown by Bandou, who is otherwise a misogynistic, amoral Psycho for Hire, is a belief that he should fully repay any debts that he owes. When 13-year-old Mayu (accidentally) distracts Lucy at a critical moment and saves his life, he gives her his phone number and tells her to call him if she's ever in danger. He makes good on this promise later in the manga, and saves Mayu from the "Unknown Man".
- In LightningOnTheWave's 'Saving Connor' AU Harry Potter cycle, the centaurs wind up kidnapping Draco Malfoy during the first year and threatening to kill him unless Harry can break a rock with his mind. He succeeds, and then when Draco insists he owes a life debt for this, Harry says he should pay it off however he likes. Draco uses this to force Harry to come to his house for Christmas.
- Proving Harry is a terrible Slytherin and AU!Draco is a pretty good one.
- In Sinnatious' 'The Fifth Act' this trope is used more subtly than usual but has an incredible impact on the plot. Accidentally-time-traveling Cloud Strife reflexively gives Genesis Rhapsodos some of the magic water from Advent Children and cures his...genetic deterioration, thereby throwing off the plot of Crisis Core entirely, since the Commander then has his life back and doesn't mount a rebellion against Shinra or leave Sephiroth even more emotionally isolated and prone to going nuts. For the rest of the story, Genesis is guided by his awareness that he owes Cloud his life.
- And they all save the world with the Power of Friendship. And some strategically placed bullets and Firagas and Vincent's political pull with the Turks. But mostly friendship.
- Ace Combat: The Equestrian War: Cloud Kicker to Fluttershy. It helps they are both members of a team comprising the main heroines. The favor is returned in chapter 17.
- In The Kirita Chronicles, Kirita, the genderbent version of Kirito, has saved Akio, the genderbent version of Asuna, on several occasions. Akio has stated on a few occasions that he does feel indebted to Kirita.
- In The Saga of Avatar Korra, Korra saves Asami's life when they encountered each other as children by giving Asami shelter and using firebending to keep her warm after she was lost. When they encounter each other again as teenagers in Republic City, Asami allows Korra to live with her when Korra does not have anywhere else to live and does everything she can to help her.
- In the Harry Potter fanfic Pride Of Time, Sanguini feels this way towards Hermione after she saves him from a Death Eater.
- In Zero no Tsukaima: Saito the Onmyoji, Saito saves Princess Henrietta from an assassination attempt. Because of this, he is entitled to any reward bar a Grant of Nobility (which would have been on the table had he risked his life in the process). After some time to think, he asks for a house.
- The Bridge: Destroyah serves as Xenilla's Dragon because he found and healed her after her battle with Godzilla Senior.
- In crawlersout, Grindelwald's attempt to murder Fem!Harry ends with him owing a life debt to the woman he just tried to kill. Unusually for Grindelwald, he seems to be unaware of this (Harry is the one who realized this and asked Hermione just to be sure), but that's probably because he's become obsessed with Harry and how she survived the attempt to take notice.
- In The Crystal Court, Ruby first falls for Sapphire when she accidentally bumps into her and Sapphire waved it off. As simple as this sounds, fae are not usually clumsy and Sapphire was high enough in the hierarchy to have her executed for the "insult." Because of this, Ruby feels she owes a life debt to her.
Films - Animation
- In Mulan, Mulan/Ping saves Captain Li Shang when s/he causes an avalanche on the mountain pass to decimate the Hun army. A few minutes later on in the movie after it is revealed that she is a woman, and any woman pretending to be a member of the Imperial Army must be killed. Captain Li refuses to kill her, however, saying that by sparing her life, his debt is repaid. He still kicks her out of the Army, though.
- This is how Puss in Boots joins the gang in Shrek 2. But if you think about it too hard, it seems a little strange: Puss feels in debt because Shrek had him at his mercy and didn't kill him, when a few seconds earlier Puss had had Shrek at his mercy and paused to gloat and carve his initial into a tree. He didn't really look like he was about to kill anyone. If that isn't enough to discount the incident, Shrek and Donkey were contemplating doing something to him until he talked his way out of the situation, and then (much to Donkey's disgust) Shrek got distracted by the cute, so it wasn't really a straight out sparing of his life. But it all gets resolved by the end.
Shrek: Aww, look, he's purring!Donkey: Oh so now it's cute!
- This is how Captain Gutt rallied his army of pirates in Ice Age: Continental Drift.
- Gupta: He rescued us!Squint: He saved our butt!Shira: From that, we owe our lives to Gutt!
- Toy Story:
- Toy Story 2: Three alien toys that Mr. Potato Head saved spend the rest of the movie endlessly expressing their gratitude to him.
- In How to Train Your Dragon 2, after Drago orders Eret's execution for failing to deliver more dragons, Astrid's dragon Stormfly shields him from dragon attack. Later, when Eret joins the Dragon Riders against Draco, he finds where Draco has imprisoned Stormfly.
"Thank you for saving me. Allow me to return the favor."
Films - Live Action
- In 3:10 to Yuma (1957), Dan Evans is trying to get bandit leader Ben Wade on the eponymous train to Yuma, where he will stand trial. Wade's bandit gang corners Evans at the train tracks, and all Wade has to do is duck and Wade's men will shoot Evans down. Instead, Wade yanks Evans onto the train. When an astonished Wade asks why, Evans says that it's because Wade saved his life when Ben Moons tried to lynch him back in town.
- In The Beast of War, a Jerk Ass soldier knocks out an Afghan rebel as he's pointing his musket at the protagonist and says, "You owe me." The protagonist doesn't bother telling him the rebel had pulled the trigger a second before.
- In The Fifth Element, Bad Guy Zorg was giving his Breaking Speech to Father Cornelius when he begins choking on a cherry. Father Cornelius takes a few seconds to give a smug Kirk Summation before saving him. Zorg throws him out, saying that Father Cornelius' saving of his life cancels out any obligation to kill him today.
- The main character of Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, who sees himself as a follower of Bushido, swears allegiance to a mobster who saved his life in the past, and currently operates as an assassin for that mobster.
- In Kingdom of Heaven, Balian spares Nasir's life in the desert and, once Nasir has guided him to Jerusalem, Balian lets him go, with a sweet horse to boot. Nasir says "I am your prisoner — your slave if you wish it" but Balian still lets him go. This comes in handy later, at the battle at Kerak, where Nasir turns out to be a general in Saladin's Army, not some guy's servant after all. He spares Balian's life.
- In Kingsman: The Secret Service, the reason Harry Hart inducts Eggsy into the Kingsman training program is his attempt to make amends for Eggsy's dad sacrificing his life to save Harry, after Harry's mistake nearly got them all killed.
- In Little Big Man, the life-saving action of the eponymous character just amplifies Younger Bear's hatred of him, though he cannot do anything till he repays the debt.
- Classic line: "I have saved your life. Now, the next time we meet, I can finally kill you without becoming an evil person. YAHOO!!"
- Azeem, the Moor in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
- Subverted in the 1994 movie The Shadow, in which the title character conscripts people he saves into his network of informants and assistants.
- Star Wars and the Star Wars Expanded Universe is rife with examples:
- Chewbacca to Han Solo and for that matter, Wookiees in general. For example, Zaalbar in Knights of the Old Republic. The Wookiees even have a term for it: a Life Debt.
- The Noghri to Darth Vader, a debt that Leia to inherits/earns by virtue of being his heir.
- Jar Jar Binks to Qui-Gon Jinn. Though unfortunately Jar Jar was not in the vicinity to save Qui-Gon's life at the one moment he would have needed the help.
- The Wolverine: Yukio informs Logan that she owes Master Yashida her life.
- How Kato and Britt met in The Green Hornet Serials — they both refer in the first episode to Britt rescuing Kato from a mob in Singapore.
Kato: You will never regret saving my life.
- In From Russia with Love, James Bond shoots a man who was about to kill a Gypsy leader. The leader declares him his honorary son. James cashes in the debt almost immediately by asking the leader to cancel a fight to the death between two young women.
- In Disney's Maleficent, the title character saves a raven from being beaten to death by turning him into a man. After he gets past his initial indignation, he introduces himself as Diaval and declares that he is her servant. He proceeds to become a poster boy for Undying Loyalty.
- In the 1951 movie People Will Talk, Cary Grant plays a doctor who explains how he came to have such a loyal assistant (played by Finlay Currie). As a young medical student he wanted his own cadaver to practice on but could not afford one. However, his affair with an executioner's daughter allowed him to obtain a hanged criminal. The "dead" man, being big and strong had actually survived and came to before any autopsy was performed.
- In The Chechahcos, Dexter pulls Pierre out of a crevasse. After this, Pierre says that Dexter saved his life, so he tells Dexter that Steele (the villain) sent Pierre there to kill him. Pierre doesn't carry out the assignment, but after that he considers the debt paid, and continues to work as Steele's Mook.
- In Hussar Ballad Shura, the protagonist, saves not one but two men, each of them repaying her big time.
- General Balmashov saves her from Field Marshal Kutuzov's anger when she really needs saving.
- Vincento Salgari commits treason for her, deceiving other French officers into believing she's one of them.
- In Jurassic World, after Blue the Velociraptor saves Rexy, the veteran T. rex, and teams up to defeat the Indominus rex, Rexy stares down at Blue and, despite her history with raptors, gives a subtle nod to her as if she's saying "thank you" before walking off.
- In White Christmas, Phil saves Bob from a falling brick wall in World War II. As Bob is already an up-and-coming entertainer at that point, Phil guilts him into agreeing to be partners, and sure enough to two are quite successful. Throughout the movie Phil makes a point of grabbing his arm (which was injured in the incident) whenever trying to talk Bob into something; to his credit, Bob knows what he's doing and is clearly tired of it, quipping at one point that he wishes Phil had let that wall hit him—after all, he might have survived.
- The Eagle: Because Marcus saved Esca, the latter feels duty-bound to serve him. This despite wanting to die.
- Friday from Robinson Crusoe is one of literature's great Trope Codifiers. Crusoe rescues him from cannibals and Friday repays him by becoming his slavishly devoted servant.
I beckoned to him again to come to me, and gave him all the signs of encouragement that I could think of; and he came nearer and nearer, kneeling down every ten or twelve steps, in token of acknowledgment for saving his life. I smiled at him, and looked pleasantly, and beckoned to him to come still nearer; at length he came close to me; and then he kneeled down again, kissed the ground, and laid his head upon the ground, and taking me by the foot, set my foot upon his head; this, it seems, was in token of swearing to be my slave for ever.
- In the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn books Simon saves the life of a Sitha. The Sitha, Jiriki, gives him a white arrow as a token of debt, which Simon later tries to return after Jiriki saved him. But by then Simon had saved Jiriki's hide a second time and gets told to still keep the arrow. In the Grand Finale the arrow burns up and afterwards they agree to forget the life owing business and just be friends.
- In the C. K. Kornbluth science-fiction story Two Dooms, a Los Alamos scientist trapped in a possible-future version of California saves a drunken peasant from drowning in a ditch. The man announces him to be the scientist's slave, later dying from a sword-stroke meant for his "master".
- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe has a form of this. When Ari saves Dante's life and ends up in the hospital, everyone keeps thanking Ari and telling him he's a hero, much to his annoyance. This especially becomes a burden for Ari when Dante takes his time in the hospital to realize he's in love with him and tells him so. Ari doesn't want Dante to apologize or thank him, much less confess because of it. Thankfully for Ari, Dante's family was moving anyway so he doesn't have to deal with the fallout for long.
- The Alien series novel Music of the Spears has an interesting subversion of this, with a Japanese hitman who feels he owes his life to the Yakuza boss who killed his parents in front of him when he was a kid, because the boss decided not to kill him and his sister. Instead, the boss raised the guy as his hitman and the sister as his concubine. And, in Japanese tradition, they hold nothing but feelings of gratitude to him for his big box of "I Didn't Kill You".
- In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, Finrod Felagund gives Barahir a ring to symbolise the fact that Barahir saved his life, and swears an oath to return the favour sometime in the future (including Barahir's descendants). Later, Finrod repays the debt by saving Beren, Barahir's son.
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: After finding out that Tumnus was arrested, Peter asked Mr. Beaver if he can do anything to rescue him since Tumnus saved Lucy. Mr. Beaver said no because only Aslan can help him.
- When Tristran saves the star Yvaine's life after she escapes from his possession in Stardust, Yvaine declares that she hates him even more for it because the rules of her species dictate that she must now follow him wherever he goes, which means that she can no longer flee from him even when given the opportunity to do so. She begins hating him less and less as the novel progresses, until her feelings become something else entirely.
- In Stephen King's The Long Walk, Peter McVries saves Ray Garraty from execution, and Garraty later returns the favor. Still later, McVries saves Garraty a second time, and Garraty is shamed by this because he has no intention of again repaying the debt.
- One of the rules of magic in the Harry Potter universe is that saving a magic-user's life creates a "life debt" which they're obliged to repay at some point in the future. According to Dumbledore, this is an unbreakable kind of magic. Not much is made of Ginny's life debt to Harry, since they end up together anyway, but Wormtail's debt becomes a major Chekhov's Gun in book seven.
- In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Gods of Mars, when John Carter is prisoner to the black pirates, Xodar is willing to aid him and make his life more bearable, because Carter had spared his life when he could easily have taken it.
- This trope is a very common theme in many old stories about kindhearted people acquiring fantastic wives by helping various animals in distress.
- For example, a farmer who ended up marrying a beautiful girl who was actually a crane whose life he saved.
- In the Parrish Plessis series, the Cabal Coomera take this very seriously. If any member of the Cabal saves your life, you owe the entire Cabal goma — blood debt. And in their eyes, goma can never be fully repaid, meaning you'll owe them favors for the rest of your life.
- Played with in (what else?) A Song of Ice and Fire: Arya Stark is given three "lives" in exchange for saving a skin-changing assassin along with two other dangerous murderers. She manages to waste the first two for petty reasons but cleverly uses the third by asking that he kill himself, and promising to revoke this request if he can free her from the castle she was imprisoned in.
- A careful reading might show that Arya wastes the third as well; plans to take over the castle were already underway.
- D'Nal Cord in the Prince Roger series becomes the eponymous prince's asi after Roger saves him from one of planet Marduk's many (many) dangerous monsters. This is standard when someone saves a Mardukan's life without some ties of clan or family obliging him to do so. He also serves the role of Old Master, aiding in Roger's Character Development. Later, he winds up getting an asi of his own in Pedi Karuse, whom he saves from pirates. They eventually get married.
- In the Dungeons & Dragons novel The Savage Caves, when newcomer Naull happens to be in the right place at the right time to rescue Lidda, Redgar, and Jozan from being killed by giant spiders, Lidda then claims she now "owes Naull one". She then begs Naull to be willing to go to anywhere but the town the trio just left, or to continue on the quest to kill all of the spiders. Unfortunately for her, Naull rather likes the whole "killing the spiders" idea. (Of course, considering she didn't seem to think she owed Jozan one for saving her from being hung for thievery in said town in the first place, and everyone else seems confused by her "debt", she may have just made it up to try to weasel out of the quest she was forced into in exchange for being saved.)
- In The Mark of the Lion, Rashid pledges his life to Hadassah when she rescues him after his master leaves him to die.
- The northern barbarian tribes in the Heralds of Valdemar novels have this as part of their code. When Darian and Keisha save Hywel's brother's life in Owlsight, Hywel incurred a life debt to them that must be cleared before he can marry or take on any other obligation. He clears it in the next novel by acting as Darian's guide.
- In Woken Furies, Takeshi Kovacs became friends with Radul Segesvar by saving his life back when they were both in a gang; Radul felt he owed Kovacs a debt and spent the next 200 years paying him back in the form of favors. When he ends up betraying Kovacs, Kovacs realizes that the two of them never actually liked each other that much, and it was only the debt that had kept their friendship together for so long.
- Parodied in Jeeves and Wooster when Bingo Little tries to play this card:
Bingo: Bertie, I saved your life once.Bertie: When?Bingo: Didn't I? It must have been some other fellow, then.
- In Pact, Blake Thorburn feels that he owes his life to his friends, as they variously saved him from a cult leader while he was homeless, helped him off the streets, or otherwise gave him help when he was badly in need of it and they had no obligation to do so. He therefore feels that he owes them a debt that he can never repay, and is hesitant to ask them for anything without ensuring that it's weighted in their favor first, which doesn't do him many favors when it comes time to break the Masquerade and tell them that magic is real, and it wants to kill him. Conversely, his friends feel that, as he's their friend, of course they'll help him with the supernatural menaces that want to kill or enslave him.
- In the Spiral Arm series, Donovan saves Billy Chins from a lynch mob on Harpaloon. Afterwards, Billy insists that by the custom of atangku, Billy's life now belongs to Donovan and he is obligated to become Donovan's servant. Billy is actually The Mole, and he engineered the situation in order to infiltrate Donovan's group.
- Discussed in The Death Gate Cycle. Under Patryn law, if one Patryn saves the life of another Patryn, any and all disputes between the two of them are settled in the rescuer's favor. Patryns in general are too proud and independent-minded to offer themselves totally in service to another except in exceptional circumstances, but when a debt is there they always acknowledge and fulfil it.
- Why Peter saves Tris' life in Insurgent. He claims to only think in term of debts, and couldn't conceive of doing anything for someone unless it was to get them to owe you a favour.
- In Children of the Night, Diana rescues several kidnapped Romani children. The clan considers themselves to have an honor debt to Diana until she finally finds something they can do to clear the debt in Burning Water.
- The Witcher world has a custom called the Law of Surprise. If someone saves another person's life, they may ask for what the rescuee has, but yet is not aware of. If it turns out to be a child, a bond of destiny is formed between the child and the rescuer. This is the witchers' favourite recruitment method. Ciri, Geralt's adoptive daughter, was promised to him in this exact way, after he saved her father's life and invoked the Law as per witcher tradition.
- In The Witchlands, the Nomatsi people have a concept of life-debt, wherein when someone saves your life, you have to either repay them in kind or spare them if fate brings you into conflict. It brings Aeduen and Iseult many headaches, as the two Nomatsi are on opposite sides, yet keep saving each other's lives.
- In The Spirit Thief, large part of the reason behind Nico's Undying Loyalty to Josef is that he saved her life when everyone else either didn't care or actively wanted her dead.
Live Action TV
- Game of Thrones:
- Ser Loras Tyrell says this word-for-word to the Hound after Sandor Clegane saves him from the Mountain, and Loras decides to repay the debt by forfeiting the final round of the joust and giving the championship title (plus the substantial award money) to the Hound.
- Jaqen H'ghar offers to kill three people for Arya in exchange for saving his life as well as Rorge and Biter.
- Ser Dontos Hollard pleads this to Sansa in "Two Swords." Subverted when he turns out to be an agent of Littlefinger, motivated by his money more than gratitude.
- Subverted with Mirri Maz Duur. Daenerys saves her from being raped and murdered by her husband's khalasar, but she turns against them anyway, pointing out that her temple had been burned, her fellow villagers murdered, and she'd been raped three times already before Daenerys made an appearance. "What is life worth when all the rest has gone?"
- Robett Glover did not join the Stark restoration army because it was the Boltons that helped them liberate their lands from the Ironborn. After the battle, he asks for forgiveness knowing full well that Jon could punish him. When Jon simply responds "There is nothing to forgive.", the look of relief on his face is immediately followed by Glover's declaration that he will fight behind Jon Snow from that point on.
- Played with in The West Wing episode "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen"-
Sam: I didn't want you to feel beholden to me. I didn't want it to be like an episode of I Dream of Jeannie where now you gotta save my life and the time-space continuum...C.J.: Sam?Sam:...with you following me around with coconut oil and hot towels.C.J.: Coconut oil?Sam:: I'm just saying....C.J.: Sam, I don't feel beholden to you.Sam: Why not? I saved your life!C.J.: Can I have my necklace back?
- The Brady Bunch: In the episode "My Brother's Keeper", Bobby "saves" Peter from a falling ladder and subsequently exploits the latter's sense of indebtedness.
- In the episode "Operation Friendship", Klinger saves Winchester from an exploding autoclave and does the same thing Bobby Brady does.
- An earlier episode, "Springtime", has a grateful patient (Alex Karras) following Hawkeye around and "helping" him as payment for operating on him.
- In The Fugitive episode "The Evil Men Do", Kimble rescues a stable owner from an out-of-control horse, and the owner – a former mob hitman – attempts to repay the debt by killing Lt. Gerard.
- Subverted when the mobster's wife points out that he's really not doing it for Kimble as much as for himself; he just plain likes killing.
- The concept is rejected by a mob boss in "A Clean and Quiet Town". His son explains that his men have been roughing up Kimble at the request of the One-Armed Man, who saved his life in a bar fight. The mob boss replies that you don't have to give a small time crook like that anything.
- An episode of of The Odd Couple has Oscar saving Felix from falling out their window. Guess what happens next.
- In a Season 3 episode of The Greatest American Hero, Ralph saves a waiter in a Japanese restaurant from kidnappers. Throughout most of the episode, the waiter becomes a servant for Ralph and Pam, even though the kidnappers weren't even going to kill him. Later in the episode, Ralph saves the man again, but whether or not he becomes Ralph's servant again goes unresolved at the end of the episode.
- A final-season episode of Gilligan's Island is a great example of this trope. Gilligan saves a drowning native girl, who becomes his slave in return for saving her life. Our asexual little buddy isn't happy with the situation, so he fakes his own death in a "duel" with Mr. Howell to be rid of her.
- In the pilot of Star Trek: Voyager Tom Paris saves Chakotay and jokes that his life belongs to Tom now. Chakotay responds "Wrong tribe!" but repays the favor by keeping the rest of the Maquis from harassing Tom.
- In season one of The O.C., Jerk Jock Luke starts being nicer to Ryan after Ryan saves his life.
- We find out on The Big Bang Theory that the main reason Leonard puts up with a lot of Sheldon's demands is at least in part because Sheldon saved Leonard from being blown up in an elevator with a canister of poorly mixed rocket fuel.
- The Andy Griffith Show: In one episode Andy saves Gomer from a fire, only to have Gomer come in and play "live-in servant", much to Andy's dismay. He gets out of it by pretending to be in danger so that Gomer can cancel the debt by "saving" him.
- In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Amok Time", Kirk says that Spock has saved his life a dozen times over when deciding to disobey orders.
- In the episode "Folsom Prison Blues" (S02, Ep19) of Supernatural, Dean risks his freedom and his brother's freedom because of a duty to Deacon who saved their father's life.
- In Shadowhunters, Clary rescues Meliorn from being held captive from the Shadowhunters in "Rise Up", creating a life debt. Meliorn repays her in "This World Inverted" by opening a portal for her so that they can be on even terms again.
- In the "Descent"/"Ascension" two-parter of NCIS: Los Angeles, Marty Deeks saves Sam Hanna from drowning and then endures a round of Cold-Blooded Torture to get him to reveal if Sam's wife is an undercover agent. After it fails to break him, however, Sam admits that he'll always owe Deeks for protecting her.
- In Traveller Aslan have an intricate web of customs regarding gratitude. In the volume Sword Worlds, an Aslan clan is too busy with a war to defend one of its client clans against aggression. A group of human political refugees provided assistance to the client. As the patron could not provide protection and the humans could, the patron had to arrange passage through Aslan space. This is more "I owe you my honor". But to a proper Aslan honor is more then life.
- This definitely seems to be a belief held by the desert dwelling Chanari of Mars in Rocket Age, since it's one of the first character hooks on offer for them.
- Zaalbar to the main character in Knights of the Old Republic.
- For the evil players, Zaalbar's life-debt is, in fact, a form of slavery, as he will do anything you tell him to if you remind him of the life-debt. This includes killing Mission if she angers you or gets in your way, even though he's extremely protective of her.
- However, he won't do it unless you use Force Persuade on him, and if you take him on the Star Forge afterwards he'll attack you.
- Hanharr in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is a subversion, or possibly Deconstruction of this trope: he despises the Wookiee tradition of life-debts but feels obliged to honor it, so he seeks to kill anyone who saves his life to relieve himself of the debt.
- But exploited like everything else by Kreia, who resurrects a mortally-wounded Hanharr and gloats "I saved your life, beast. That makes it mine." Hanharr does not make a move to kill Kreia for this, realizing she is way out of his league. Kreia was cooked up by the same author as The Nameless One (see below).
- Defied by Jakarro, a Wookiee smuggler that appears the MMO spinoff of the first two games. Players can try to invoke the life debt after they free him and his droid companion from a Manaan prison, but he'll completely refuse to do anything of the sort.
- For the evil players, Zaalbar's life-debt is, in fact, a form of slavery, as he will do anything you tell him to if you remind him of the life-debt. This includes killing Mission if she angers you or gets in your way, even though he's extremely protective of her.
- Dragon Age:
- Sten in Dragon Age: Origins, who swears himself to your service after you rescue him from a cage where he was locked up to starve or die when the Darkspawn invasion arrived.
- This is a subversion, as Sten believes that your mission is doomed to fail. But he would rather atone for his crimes by falling in battle than starving to death or serving as bait for the darkspawn.
- This specific subversion turns up a number of times in Origins and even more in Awakening, with multiple characters receiving the Joining in lieu of an execution. The logic is that the Joining has a reasonable chance of killing you immediately, will slowly kill you otherwise, and being a Grey Warden carries an obligation to fight the Darkspawn in every way possible. The Warden invokes this version of the trope with Duncan, and Loghain, Anders, Nathaniel, Sigrun, and Velanna all invoke it with the Warden, taking induction to the Grey Wardens over an execution for their past crimes. Though not all of them are particularly grateful about it.
- Played with in Dragon Age II. If Hawke is in a rivalry with Aveline and Hawke sides with the mages in the endgame, when the Templars order her to attack Hawke, she will refuse. She owes Hawke her life and thus will not kill him/her. However, by refusing to kill Hawke, she declares her debt repaid and that she wants nothing to do with him/her ever again.
- Sten in Dragon Age: Origins, who swears himself to your service after you rescue him from a cage where he was locked up to starve or die when the Darkspawn invasion arrived.
- In Planescape: Torment, a past incarnation of the protagonist deliberately indebted both Morte and Dak'kon in this way... with the added twist that he himself can't die, so there's no way to repay the debt.
- It gets worse as Dak'kon's debt also flies in the face of the tenet of both his culture and their Evil Counterpart: never be enslaved again. Oh, and The Nameless One's former self knew all this and orchestrated said life debt for his personal gain.
- Played straight in Beyond Good & Evil. After Jade rescues Double H from an alien torture chamber, he pledges his loyalty to her and becomes one of her sidekicks.
- Final Fantasy Tactics plays with this one when siblings Rapha and Marach argue over whether or not they owe anything to the nobleman who took them in after they were orphaned. Marach argues that they do, since he saved them from starving to death or living in poverty. Rapha, on the other hand, thinks that any obligation they might have is negated by the fact that he was the one who burned their village down and killed their parents in the first place. Oh, and it's heavily implied that he raped her. Marach eventually comes around, but it takes longer than you'd think.
- In Grand Theft Auto V, heist driver Taliana Martinez needs to be rescued before you can recruit her for heists. Once she is rescued, you discover that she is very skilled and only takes a cut of 5%.
- Subverted in Neverwinter Nights 2; after rescuing Neeshka from the soldiers, there is the conversation option of "I saved your life - that means I own you." However, the game doesn't allow the player to follow through with this statement. Of course, since the player (not the main character) can take full control of party members, it could be considered as no subversion at all.
- Somewhat darkly inverted in Raven's case in Tales of Vesperia. It's less "I Owe You My Life" and more "You Owe Us Your Life".
- More amusingly inverted at the end of Maximo: Ghosts to Glory. Maximo takes The Grim Reaper's "I owe you one" speech to its logical conclusion and immediately enlists him as his partner.
- Taken to hilariously ludicrous degrees in the comedy game The Space Bar. Every time Alias's partner Maksh begs Alias over his PDA to hurry up and rescue him before the Big Bad does something horrible to him, there's a flashback about how Maksh risked his life to save/help Alias or Alias' mother, as a guilt trip to motivate Alias. Which ends up easily equaling over 10 different times Maksh has saved Alias' life somehow based on all the flashbacks. And it turns out that there's actually even more times beyond that, and Alias and Maksh can't even agree on which ones actually "count".
- Mass Effect: Should Shepard choose to spare them, the rachni will send a message to Shepard that they can count on the rachni's full support if and when the Reapers invade the galaxy. They make good on this promise in Mass Effect 3, although they have to be rescued (and spared) again before they can do so.
- The drell race has this as a species-wide motivation. The hanar rescued them from the slow death of their home planet, and so they handle all the Dirty Business which the pacifistic hanar can't do themselves.
- If the genophage is cured and Wrex is still alive, this essentially becomes the krogan attitude to humanity.
- In Shin Super Robot Wars, Heero Yuy and Zechs Marquise for Neo Zeon because for Char Aznable had saved their lives. In the case of Zechs, Char claims that Zechs surviving was pure luck and Char was just at the right place at the right time.
- In the Dark Parables series, this trope is in play - but it takes four games for it to be revealed. In the first game, the detective saves Princess Briar Rose from the power of her evil godmother. The two then go their separate ways and the player doesn't expect to ever see Rose again. Flash forward to the fourth game, where the detective and the members of the Red Riding Hood Sisters are all in grave danger from the Wolf Queen. Stunningly, a beautiful sorceress emerges from the shadows, reminding the detective that she once saved her life - "...and now I've come to return the favor."
- Parodied in Cwen's Quest when passing stranger Riddly Lancer saves the main character's life and quickly declares her his life slave. When asked if the life slave concept should be part of his slave's personal code of honor/culture, he responds, "We wouldn't get any life slaves that way."
- In Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, Selim clearly thinks he owes Delilah for saving his life.
- In Collar 6, Michael Kappel rescues a young man lying bleeding and unconscious in the snow. The man, Gunther, turns out to be an escaped Sympathetic Sentient Weapon who attaches himself to Michael's side from then on and saves his life many times over. While Gunther does become his "slave," it happens much later as the result of a naturally-forming attachment.
- Family Guy subverts this when Stewie helps Brian out of a tight spot, reminds him of The Brady Bunch episode mentioned above...and then asks him to repay the debt by taping that episode for him.
- Hey Arnold!, as demonstrated by the above quote.
- Played with a little, because Arnold eventually decided to give in and just enjoy all of the work that Sid was doing for him. Sid was the one that decided they should break things off.
- There was an episode of Doug based around this.
- Enforced in the Rugrats episode "Driving Miss Angelica", where Angelica insists that Chuckie has to become her slave after saving him from being run over. It gets turned against her at the end, when Chuckie saves her from being locked in the upstairs closet and Tommy and Chuckie convince her she has to become Chuckie's slave.
- Dinobot joins the Maximals through an odd combination of this and Defeat Means Friendship in Transformers: Beast Wars.
- In The Powerpuff Girls, Big Billy of the Gangreen Gang does this when the Girls save him from being run over by a subway train during a brawl. Things do not go well.
- Phineas and Ferb "The Bully Code", Baljeet saves Buford from choking, and thus according to the Bully Code Buford has to be Baljeet's slave. The obligatory musical number even Lampshades this as "a 70's sitcom cliché." It isn't until the end that Baljeet comes to realize the potential of ordering his sometimes friend/sometime tormentor/sometimes fanon love interest around.
- Donkey Kong Country, "Get A Life, Don't Save One!": Bluster Kong becomes DK's lackey after a life-saving experience. This doesn't go unnoticed by the series Big Bad King K. Rool, who comes under the paranoid impression that DK and Bluster are collaborating in some sort of plot against him. He subsequently has Bluster kidnapped in an effort to uncover whatever their "scheme" is, and in doing so inadvertently subverts the usual "master stages a disaster for the slave to save them from" stage of the trope. When Bluster doesn't show to save DK from a malfunctioning airplane, DK is forced to save Bluster once again from K. Rool's lair. Afterward, Bluster cuts off the debt himself, declaring that looking after DK's hide is more trouble than it's worth.
- The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: Piglet accidentally saved Tigger's life while drowning in a shallow puddle which made Tigger becoming a servant for Piglet. Piglet gets tired of this and tries to set himself in danger to make Tigger save him and thus even the score.
- An episode of Recess had Vince catch the baseball that was going to land on Mikey's face. Mikey kept telling Vince he saved his life who he later admires and wanted to become like Vince.
- An episode of Jimmy Two-Shoes has Jimmy saving Lucius' life with a very casual You Owe Me. Since no Heinous has ever owed anyone anything, Lucius desperately tries to pay him back for the rest of the episode.
- The Rainbow Fish episode "Bodyguard" featured this: Rainbow saved the life of an older fish, who repaid him by becoming his bodyguard. Unfortunately, he was a Knight Templar who did things like attack Rainbow's school friends when they're roughhousing in the schoolyard. Rainbow eventually got rid of him by setting up a situation in which he could save the other fish's life.
- In a Totally Spies! episode, Sam releases Mandy's hair from a clay pot.
Mandy: Sam, you saved my life!Sam: I saved your hair.Mandy: My hair IS my life!
- An episode of The Amazing World of Gumball, titled "The Debt", revolves around this. Mr. Robinson "saves" Gumball (stops his slow-moving car when Gumball was too busy panicking to get out of its path) and Gumball decides he has to save Mr. Robinson in return, nearly killing him several times. Given Gumball had just shown to be a rather dedicated fan of Mr. Robinson, the whole thing may have just been an excuse to follow him around.
- SpongeBob SquarePants:
- Inverted in episode "Squidward the Unfriendly Ghost". SpongeBob and Patrick accidentally "kill" Squidward (actually a wax sculpture). Squidward comes out of the shower in a white bathrobe, covered in talcum powder, with a cloud of steam behind him, and is understandably angry about the mess they made of his sculpture ("Look what you did to me!") They mistake him for a ghost, and Squidward convinces them to pledge to serve him as payment for killing him.
- Another inversion occurs in the episode, "Naughty Naughtical Neighbors", where SpongeBob and Patrick stop being friends with each other due to a misunderstanding caused by Squidward. After Patrick gives Squidward CPR when he chokes on a fork and SpongeBob fixes his back when he throws it out trying to drag Patrick home, they become extremely loyal to him.
- In Garfield's Halloween Adventure, after Odie saves Garfield from drowning, Garfield thanks him by giving him his fair share of the candy. Garfield had only brought Odie along for trick-or-treating in order to get more candy for himself, but as he puts it, "Seeing as how you saved my life about eighteen zillion times tonight, I figure it's the least I could do."
- In the American Dad! episode, "You Debt Your Life," it is revealed that Roger lives with the Smith family because he has saved Stan's life.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Spike at Your Service", Applejack saves Spike from some timber wolves, and he insists on fulfilling his self-made "Noble Dragon Code" by helping her out on the farm. Unfortunately for her, he's so over-eager to help out he becomes The Klutz. Following the standard plotline, Spike does end up repaying the favor, leading to this exchange:
Applejack: I know this code thing's important to you, but if somethin' like this comes up in the future, think maybe we can go back to my code, say "that's what friends do" and leave it at that? I promise I won't think of you as any less noble.Spike: Sounds good to me. But, maybe let's just try to avoid situations where one of us actually needs the other one to save their life?Applejack: You got yourself a deal.
- The whole point of The Smurfs episode "One Good Smurf Deserves Another" is that Clumsy wants to repay Handy for saving his life, and gets his chance when a green horned monster comes out of a cave and abducts Handy.
- In the Back at the Barnyard episode, "Cow's Best Friend", Duke becomes extremely loyal to Otis after he saves his life. When Otis gets tired of Duke being nice to him, he fakes life-threatining situations to even the score, which inevitably put Duke in more danger, causing him to save him again. Eventually, Otis tells Duke the truth, but soon after is put in a real life-threatening situation requiring Duke to save him. Duke decides that since Otis' stunts almost got him killed 20 times, Otis owes him now.
- One episode Brandy & Mr. Whiskers has Whiskers pledging to serve Brandy when she once again saves his life. He even lampshades the trope. As usual she gets tired of his servitude and decides to fake a life-threatening situation so they'll be even. Unfortunately, it was at the same time that Whiskers discovered that Brandy was the one who put him in danger when she saved him.
- An episode of The Flintstones inverts this where a con man tricks Fred into stopping him from committing suicide, thus claiming that Fred owed him a living.
- The Looney Tunes Show: Yosemite Sam makes it clear that he hates owing people favors, so he decides to simply repay Bugs for changing the batteries smoke detectors by baking him a cake... which causes a fire that forces Bugs to save him from. Yosemite Sam even references this trope, which to him means stalking Bugs all day so that he'll be around to repay the favor saving Bugs's life.
- The CatDog episode "All You Need Is Lube" has Cat saving Lube from a tick, prompting Lube to quit the Greasers and dedicate his life to being Cat's slave. Cat enjoys having Lube around as his muscle while Dog is annoyed by him, up until Lube becomes too overprotective of Cat that they collaborate with the Greasers to make it so Lube can save Cat's life.
- In one episode of Jem Rio saves Minx from nearly drowning. Afterwards her view on life changes, she states that she owes Rio her life, and she opts to make ammends with all of Jem and the Holograms, Rio, and the Starlight Girls. Her bandmates are annoyed by how uncharacteristically sweet she is acting and they kick her out. This causes her to become suicidal but Rio stops her from jumping. Minx starts hanging around Rio as she considers him the only person she has left. She ends up annoying Rio and the others by being overly nice and getting in the way. In the end she goes back to her old, mean personality and returns to her band after she gets mad at everyone for treating her badly.
- Dexter's Laboratory: "That Wacky Robot" has Dee Dee accidentally reactivate a robot of Dexter's, who becomes her friend/servant in gratitude; she likes him until he starts getting violently protective of her...
- Averted in the Ben 10 original series episode "Grudge Match". Ben and Kevin are teleported to a fighting arena aboard a spaceship and must battle the toughest gladiator, Technorg. Kevin then tries to kill him only to be stopped by Ben. Technorg humbely thanks Ben for sparing his life and declares him as his master, even quipping "my life belongs to you". Ben, of course, refuses and urges Technorg to escape along with everyone else.
- A rather minor one in Phineas and Ferb Star Wars. Candace repays Phineas for saving her from a Literal Cliffhanger by helping him defeat Darth Ferb.
- The Harvey Beaks episode "Life Debt", which centers on Rooter trying to repay Foo after Foo saves him. Hilarity Ensues as Foo tries to lift the burden from Rooter, only to put Rooter in another debt, this time with Harvey. Fortunately, it all works out in the end.
- In Season 5 of Samurai Jack, Ashi makes a Heel–Face Turn by pledging her life to assist Jack in his quest after he saves her from the belly of a beast.
- In Dragons: Riders of Berk the two-headed dragon Barf and Belch became faithful to Hiccup after he saves them from an avalanche in episode "The Zippleback Experience", thus Hilarity Ensues. According to Gobber this is a normal behavior in their race of dragons and can only change if they pay their debt to Hiccup as it happens at the end of the episode.