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This trope describes the situation where 1) Alice has a reason to kill Bob, 2) Bob knows this, and 3) Bob decides that the best way to handle Alice is to get both of them alone together and give her exactly what she wants — a chance to take his life.
Why would Bob embark on such a suicidal course of action? Because he believes that Alice is not a murderer, and he wants to force her to realize that too. When Alice discovers that she can't actually take another person's life, not even in a situation where no one would know she did it, she will have to acknowledge that she is a better person than she thought she was. She will also have to acknowledge that Bob is a better person than she thought he was, since an evil man would never have risked so much on The Power Of Trust.
When this trope is played straight, Bob's gambit works and both of them leave the room alive. Though the exact degree of loyalty this inspires in Alice can vary widely, the result is generally a moral improvement all the way up to a full Heel-Face Turn. Other times, Bob is wrong, wrong, wrong, and the best we can hope for Alice is that she will eventually regret killing the man who believed in her. Still other times Bob's gambit works, but only because Alice has a reason to keep him alive.
This could be considered a Secret Test of Character, though what is being tested is more Bob's estimate of Alice's character.
See Get It Over With and Sword over Head for things that may happen in the resulting scene. If Bob genuinely expects Alice to kill him, and thinks that he deserves it, see Please Kill Me If It Satisfies You.
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Toward the end of Witch Hunter Robin, the eponymous pyrokinetic (now on the run) pulls this on her former partner Amon after learning he was assigned to take her down.
Filia from Slayers Try does this with Jillas. When Jillas points a gun at her, she holds his hand with the gun and tells him to shoot. He's shocked and unable to do it, and eventually does a Heel-Face Turn when she saves his life.
Kujibiki Unbalance: President uses a form of this to keep her ninja-Miko subordinate in line (both from the first time they meet to the very end when she's accused of "losing her way"), and she never need lift a finger to do it.
Thorfinn from Vinland Saga joins a group of vikings for the sole purpose of killing their leader, Askeladd. However, he refuses to kill Askeladd in anything besides an honorable duel.
subverted in that Askeladd is killed by Canute before Thorfinn's thirst for vengeance can subside.
Ulquiorra from Bleach does this while he's dissolving into ash.
Sosuke Aizen has this sort of relationship with pretty much all of his minions. Especially Gin and Baraggan.
Subverted when Gin reveals that he had been trying for years to be in a position where he could kill Aizen. He takes his chance as soon as it arrives. He fails.
In Code Geass, Lelouch dared his fellow rebels, the Black Knights, to kill him when they questioned his leadership. They step back, in part because he also points out that they're completely screwed with out him acting as their strategist. One of them even comments that that must have taken an incredible amount of guts.
In Utawarerumono, After Hakouro completely defeats fellow Emperor and friend Kuya, he stands in front of her barely functional Humongous Mecha... and surrenders. If she kills him, she will have won the war she's practically lost, her country will flourish, and her people will no longer be persecuted. Kuya realizes she can't kill a friend in cold blood, and moreover, that cooperation is what she should have tried, rather than forced unification. Unfortunately, things go downhillfrom thererather quickly.
The manga versions of Vash and Wolfwood have a moment like this, where they're having a fairly friendly moment, Wolfwood stares a Vash's back and thinks, he's open, I could kill him right now; the motivation being that Vash is Knives' twin brother and if Knives by himself is a threat, and Knives' orders to him as Chapel were to protect Vash, and if the Big Bad wants him protected, well... And he doesn't. And then Vash looks around at him, one of those really sad smiles he does, and Wolfwood sort of smiles and thinks Vash knew exactly what he was thinking. They're kind of messed-up for best friends.
Joker in The Dark Knight confronts the newly emerged Two-Face and when threatened with a gun, presses his head to the muzzle. It works only because Dent resorts to his trademark coin, but Joker actually approves of that.
A nearly perfect example happens in the movie In Bruges when Harry Walters confronts his hitman Ken for not killing Ray. It's partially subverted in that Harry still shoots Ken in the leg. It's fully subverted later when Harry finds out Ray is still in Bruges; Harry then shoots Ken in order to stop Ken from stopping him so he can kill Ray.
Delivered by Mal in Serenity trying to talk down a psychotic River, only to be rapidly rescinded when she cocks the gun she's holding in reply.
In Christopher Stasheff's The Warlock In Spite Of Himself, Rod Gallowglass has his servant Big Tom lower him from a roof so he can see something. Afterward, he tells him a story from Japan about an overlord, who had a subordinate who wanted to rebel: he invited the man into a garden and gave him his own sword to carry on the grounds he was old and tired, and they talked, and the subordinate was faithful for the rest of his life. Big Tom admits to being a spy, and is faithful for the rest of his life, which is about eighty pages long.
"I told him I couldn't work with a man who made my shoulder blades itch, and this was the last chance I was going to give him for instant promotion." The man is badass.
Subverted in that Aral admits he didn't know if it would work, and the reason he did it was that he was so damned tired he didn't care if he killed him or not.
In Dan Abnett's Gaunts Ghosts novel Ghostmaker, Major Rawne and Gaunt are alone in the wintry wilderness. At one point, Rawne stands over him with a knife, ready to cut his throat; he hears Gaunt mutter in Bad Dreams (about, incidentally, the reason he wants Gaunt dead) and instead kills an ork sneaking up on them. Later, when Gaunt is about to slip into the sea of boiling hydrocarbons and drown, Rawne sacrifices his prized silver knife to afford Gaunt a hand-hold. Though he professes a desire to kill Gaunt later — even to Gaunt's own face — he never attempts it.
Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade, whose final command from the Emperor was to kill Luke, in The Thrawn Trilogy. (Mara eventually got out of this by killing a clone of Luke, which fulfilled the order via technicallity, thus releasing her from the obligation.)
Outbound Flight: Kinman Doriana, an agent of Sidious, had come along to watch a Neimoidan with a Trade Federation fleet destroy Outbound Flight. This didn't work out so well, since Thrawn's tiny picket force utterly destroyed that fleet except for one command ship and took Doriana and the Neimoidan hostage. Thrawn also eventually killed the Jedi on Outbound Flight with Doriana's help (long story), and smacked around another alien force while he was at it, and the Neimoidan wanted to then kill Thrawn so no one would know what happened to Outbound Flight. And Doriana, realizing what all of that together means, doesn't...and eventually Thrawn joins the Empire.
Command Decision, another Star Wars EU story by Timothy Zahn, has a version of this. Thrawn's captain is infuriated by the tactics he's using and could mutiny with a general who wants to - but after some agonizing he doesn't, and Thrawn knew he wouldn't. That part of the scheme was to make this captain realize that he did trust Thrawn to know what he was doing.
While Bink and Chameleon in A Spell For Chameleon do not actually want to kill Trent, they certainly regard him as "Evil Magician Trent", mistrust him, and would cause his defeat if they could. Their Strange Bedfellows situation caused them to reevaluate him, but a particularly important event was when Trent handed Bink his sword, to keep guard, and went to sleep. Chameleon explicitly states that an evil man would not have trusted them.
In the Illuminatus! trilogy, Hagbard Celine uses this as the climax of his program to convert people away from authoritarianism.
That is, he intimidates people with a loaded gun, and after awhile gives the gun to them, telling it's their turn now.
In Sandy Mitchell's The Traitor's Hand, how Ciaphas Cain got Beije to stop trying to arrest him. To be sure, he was wearing armor at the time, but he didn't know if it would save him.
We don't have any more time to waste on these ridiculous fantasies. If you're going to shoot us, you'll have to do it In the Back.
In The Last Chancers books, Lieutenant Kage has expressed a desire to kill Colonel Schaeffer, including one to his face, and in fact has had several opportunities to do so. He always decides against it, and the Colonel always smirks at him afterwards. As for the admittance to his face?
"I hate what you've done to me, and one day I'll kill you for it."
"But not today, Kage."
"No, not today."
Les Misérables, between Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert. No Heel-Face Turn here — Javert commits suicide rather than live in a world where his enemy does the right thing, and he is in the wrong.
In the Cirque Du Freak novels, Mr. Crepsley gives Darren a chance to kill him when he lets him control his spider. It turns out that he had taken most of the poison out of the spider, meaning he was never in danger.
In Kitty and the Midnight Hour, after Cormac tells Kitty that he will never shoot her by accident, she walks up to him and tells him to do it if he intends to do it on purpose.
At the end of Brotherhood of the Rose CIA-trained assassin Saul is sneaking up on the hotel where his surrogate father, Diabolical Mastermind Elliot, is staying...only to find Elliot standing out in the open waiting for him, clearly exposed to his fire. Elliot asks for an end to this conflict between him and his 'son', and to be allowed to retire peacefully. Saul nearly shoots him anyway, but realises he could have been killed while they were talking. So he agrees to a truce and follows Elliot into his hotel room where he gets jumped by Elliot's bodyguards. After all, as Elliot says, what's to stop Saul from changing his mind later on? This way he can dispose of Saul without alarming the hotel guests. Saul is able to overcome the attack and promptly submachine-guns Elliot to death. No point in making the same mistake twice.
In Dune Messiah, the second Dune book, Duncan Idaho comes back to life with the help of magical Tleilaxu scientists who brainwash him to kill Paul-Muad'Dib. Paul knows this, and deliberately gives Idaho a chance near the end of the book to kill him. Idaho snaps out of his brainwashing and lets Paul live, regaining his memories from before death in the process.
In the sequel "God Emperor of Dune", this has become the standard method used to awaken the memories of Duncan Idaho's series of clones
In a mild form, in Terry Pratchett's Making Money, Vetinari hands Moist a sword while questioning him. He observes afterward that Moist was more nervous while holding the sword than while Vetinari was.
In Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files novel Small Favor, when Nicodemus points out to Harry that his friends don't trust him, Harry demands that Michael speak to him alone, and has him draw his sword. Whereupon Harry gets the sword to point at his throat and demands his trust. He convinces him sufficiently that Michael points out the evidence that his mind's been tampered with, and when Harry reacts, carefully tends him.
In Andre Norton's The Beast Master, Hosteen has to persuade an alien that a spaceship, landing in a forbidden area, is not a human ship but that of their enemies. He concludes by giving him a knife and telling it to drive it home if he doesn't believe him.
Used in Orson Scott Card's Ender in Exile. However, while Achilles Jr. does stop short of killing Ender, he does beat the shit out of him.
In Matt Farrer's Warhammer 40,000 story "After Desh'ea" (in the Horus Heresy book Tales of Heresy), Kharn tells Angron that despite Angron's demand that he fight, he had given his word not to lift his hand to him, and if that means he dies, he dies. Angron is clearly moved by such devotion.
Blaine: I COMMAND YOU TO STOP OR I'LL KILL YOU ALL RIGHT HERE!
Roland:Kill if you will, but command me nothing! You have forgotten the faces of those that made you! Now, either kill us or be silent and listen to me, Roland of Gilead, son of Steven, gunslinger, and lord of ancient lands! I have not come across all the miles and all the years to listen to your childish prating! Do you understand? Now you will listen to ME!
In The Last Temptation of Christ, Judas has sworn that he will kill the traitorous cross-maker Jesus and follows him to a monastery to do so when he leaves. When Jesus emerges from the monastery and begins fulfilling the role of the Messiah, the two have a depthy conversation about it and Judas instead becomes his surly but most devoted follower. Of course, Jesus knows who he must turn to when the time comes for someone to give him up to the Romans so that he can die and redeem the world. This has the added benefit of allowing Judas to keep from breaking his prior oath.
And it is Judas who comes to him during the eponymous temptation and confronts him for having shirked his duty to the world in favor of a simple life with a loving family and children.
The short short "Just Lather, That's All" by Hernando Téllez, in which a barber in Colombia during La Violencia has a leader of a guerilla group come to him for a shave, apparently not realizing he's an enemy, and vacillates between just doing his job and slashing the man's throat while he has him in the chair. He recalls all the people the captain has had murdered and mutilated and listens to him talk about what they plan to do to the ones they've recently captured, but ultimately decides he can't kill him and just finishes shaving him. The captain thanks him, pays him, and pauses before leaving to say, "They told me that you'd kill me. I came to find out. But killing isn't easy. You can take my word for it."
One episode of The X-Files used this trope: Fox Mulder manages to track down the Cigarette-Smoking Man in his home and pulls a gun on him. A short conversation in the style of the trope then follows with the result that the Man and the Mulder both wind up, well, alive.
In one episode, Nathan Petrelli was going to assassinate Mr. Linderman (the season Big Bad). After pulling a gun on him, Linderman laughed and convinced Petrelli to join him. This wasn't a complete example, as Linderman made it quite clear that Petrelli would be killed immediately if he killed Linderman.
Another episode has some Secret Service agents trying to stop Peter, Claire and Nathan from getting to Sylar (who has disguised himself as Nathan). Claire steps in front of the guard with the gun and says "I can either tell you what's going on now, or I can tell you after you shoot me." Averted because thanks to her powers she wouldn't actually die if they shot her.
The Cylon who would come to be known as Athena inverts trope when, as a prisoner of the Colonials on Kobol, she is handed a chance to kill Adama and escape, but instead saves his life, proves she could have killed him right then if she wanted to, then hands her gun back to her captors.
In season 3 Adama does this with both Kara and Colonel Tigh, in order to shame them over their spreading malcontent after the events on New Caprica.
Kara Thrace tries this in season 4. It backfired spectacularly in several interesting ways, though fortunately Roslin was a poor enough shot that the obvious way didn't kill her. Particularly amusing was Starbuck's cliche 'I'm not a Cylon and you know that as much as I do' moment followed by Roslin essentially saying 'Actually I do think you're a Cylon' and trying to shoot her.
In Touching Evil, Kreegan tries this with Keller, after allowing him to beat him up. It doesn't work. It possibly backfires, depending on how much import you attribute to Keller's repeated "remember what you said."
A Torchwood episode uses this where Owen actually winds up shooting Jack, though obviously it doesn't kill him and in fact the whole thing turns into a moving moment in the end.
Garth Marenghis Darkplace. Garth bares his chest to a trio of supernatural claymore-armed Scotsmen seeking revenge for Garth's discriminatory comments against the Scots. Deciding that he's shown "the courage of a highlander (Scottish person)" they present Garth with a kilt and bagpipes and let him live.
In the "Kill Straker!" episode of UFO, Colonel Foster has been given a subliminal command to kill his superior Commander Straker. Straker needs to be absolutely sure the command has been erased, so he orders the guards to lock them in the Shooting Gallery, then proceeds to take pot shots at Foster in order to provoke him, screaming "Kill! Kill!" when Foster finally picks up a gun to defend himself. Needless to say he doesn't. Afterwards when Foster protests that Straker was trying to kill him, Straker shoots out a row of tiny targets from the hip and says "I could have killed you at any time."
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy and Angel do this with each other after The Reveal about Angel's vampire nature in Season One. Angel gives Buffy a chance to shoot him with her crossbow; Buffy lays down the crossbow and bares her neck for him.
In Angel, Angel gives Charles Gunn a stake, after he faces Conflicting Loyalties between his old vampire-hunting gang and his new friends at Angel Investigations.
Angel: Here, Charles — let me make it simple for you. (morphs into Game Face) Take a look. This is what I am. Deal with it or don't. But make a damn choice.
In the season 2 finale of Warehouse 13, Myka uses this tactic to talk H. G. Wells down from her world-destroying plan.
Les Misérables, between Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert. No Heel-Face Turn here — Javert commits suicide rather than live in a world where his enemy does the right thing, and he is in the wrong.
Richard in Richard III uses a slightly modified version of this on Lady Anne. "Take up the sword again, or take up me."
In StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, Kerrigan invokes this with Jim Raynor, placing his pistol to her head. She expects him to either kill her or to forgive her for transforming herself into a new Queen Of Blades. He takes a third option: because killing her at this point would doom the galaxy (and he knows it), he expresses his anger with her by firing the entire load of his Hand Cannon into the wall behind her, pulling the trigger a few extra times with audible 'click-click-click' sounds, then leaves in disgust, saying "we're done."note He's referring to the relationship he and Kerrigan had before she was infested/reinfested
In Final Fantasy XIII, an injured Snow hands Hope the knife that he tried to kill him with not even a couple of hours ago, while he's carrying the kid on his back. It's either this trope, or Snow is way more naive and optimistic than people think he is. It pays off either way.
In The Order of the Stick prequel book "Start of Darkness", Xykon to Redcloak at the end, is an incredibly dark and tear-jerking version that involves Xykon betting on Redcloak killing his own brother, with the twist that Xykon was never in any danger to begin with, but just wanted to make sure Redcloak would actually disintegrate his own brother for Xykon's (or "the plan's") sake.
On The Venture Bros., Sergeant Hatred uses this as a last ditch attempt to win Hank's respect and loyalty. Of course, Hank was simply being a typical rebellious teenager and had no interest in killing him, but that didn't stop Hatred from turning the scene into a full-blown, deadly serious melodramatic affair.
Alexander the Great, when bedridden with illness, is said to have done something like this to a doctor whose loyalty he suspected. When warned that the doctor might try to poison his medicine he invited the doctor to his bedside. He then downed the medicine in one gulp and told the doctor that he didn't know anything about medicine, but he did know people and he knew that he would never betray him. The medicine was not poisoned, nor was any subsequent medicine.
Napoleon: "Here I am. Kill your Emperor, if you wish."
Not only that, he pretty much proceeded to do exactly the same thing with the entirety of France. Of course, he got pulverized in the subsequent war, but still.
Before Theodore Roosevelt became president, while he was away on a hunting trip, someone hired a man named Paddock to either scare him off his land or just shoot him off it. When Teddy came back and found out that Paddock had been hired to kill him, he personally went to Paddock's house and told him "I understand you have threatened to kill me on sight. I have come over to see when you want to begin the killing.” Obviously, the threats ended then and there.