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Living on Borrowed Time

Characters who are technically "already dead" but, by one way or another, are able to put it off. Maybe they grafted machine parts onto themselves to support their new way of life. Maybe they just have to avert their death constantly because You Can't Fight Fate.

The long-term version of The Last Dance. If they're so heavily consumed by their Life Support that they're practically alive In Name Only, it's And I Must Scream. If they apply it after they die, they're The Undead (Revenant).

Compare Your Days Are Numbered and Whodunnit to Me.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Yuko Ichihara of Xxx Ho Lic technically died several hundred years ago, but a reality warp put that on "hold" for a while. She undid the warp that was keeping her alive as payment to let two clones into the cycle of reincarnation, and all was as if her death had occurred originally, except for a few people with Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory.
  • The entirety of Cowboy Bebop is part of what Spike considers borrowed time: due to an undisclosed event in his back-story he believes he's already dead and only living out a Dying Dream he has yet to wake from.
  • In Death Note, every single character has an appointed time to die. You can see it with a Shinigami's eyes, but you have to trade half your life to get those eyes.
    • In addition, you can't read the lifespan of a Shinigami or someone who owns a Death Note. And you still can't see your own. And it's not really guaranteed that people survive until their appointed time...
  • In chapter 311 of Hunter Hunter, Meryem is doomed to die in a matter of hours thanks to the Rose bomb's poison.
  • A mild example in Dragon Ball: the witch Baba is able to bring the dead back to life, but only for one day per person, after which they return to the afterlife. Given that more permanent methods are available to those who've died a violent or unnatural death and that many dead folks in DB's screwed-up cosmology are allowed to keep their bodies (merely gaining a halo) after death, this option isn't exercised very often.
  • Naruto has Itachi, who suffered from an Incurable Cough of Death but survived long enough to fight Sasuke through unknown means and sheer force of will.
  • Zest in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Strikers. He has been killed and revived as part of an experiment by the Big Bad, and now only wants to confront his old friend before his body gives up.

    Comic Books 
  • In a recent ElfQuest storyline, it is discovered Ahdri was not killed centuries ago, as an earlier storyline had suggested. Instead she was suspended in a Preserver cocoon, immobile, wounded and close to death, and partially conscious of her predicament. She got better.
  • This is the premise of 5 Days 2 Die. A mortally injured cop decides to make a final strike against crime.
  • In Punisher MAX storyline "Six Hours to Kill", someone tries to pull a Poison and Cure Gambit on Frank, leaving him with six hours to assassinate a corrupt official. It didn't end well for the blackmailers. Or any other criminal in the greater Philadelphia area.
  • The entire premise of the Challengers of the Unknown, the name of this trope serves as their catchphrase. Four men were in a terrible plane crash but walked away without a scratch. Realizing fate had given them a reprieve, they become adventurers, in order to make the most of their "borrowed time". They don't fear death since they have already "died." This proves to be a plot point in the The Luck Lords storyline, as they should have died, and thus their destinies are undefinable while still affecting reality - untrackable even by the fate-defining book of Destiny of the Endless. At the end of the storyline, their companion June is similarly blasted away from the book's pages.
  • The origin of Iron Man. He has a nuclear reactor in his chest that powers a magnet that keeps shrapnel from entering his heart and killing him. In Real Life, he'd be dead.
    • Eventually, he got an artificial heart so that he could go about without having to wear the reactor at all times.
  • The original Nick Fury is now living on borrowed time since the Infinity Formula in his body that sustained him is losing effectiveness.
  • The original Hourman Rex Tyler died saving all of time and space from Extant. At the moment right before his death, the third Hourman the android Matthew Tyler took Rex out of the timeline and put him in a time bubble to give him a chance to reconnect with his family. Rex made the most of it, knowing that he would eventually have to return to the moment of his death and fulfill his role in history to save the universe. Then things got complicated. The second Hourman, Rex's son Rick, refused to let his father die and tried to take his father's place fighting Extant. Rex of course didn't want his son to die so the two got in a brawl to see who would have to sacrifice himself. In the end, Matthew takes Rex's place using a hologram disguise.
  • Ironfist in Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers was "accidentally" shot in the head by one of his experimental cerebro-sensitive bullets. While he did not die instantly, the bullet slowly inched it way towards his brain module and could not be removed. A prose companion story ultimately revealed that "accident" was in fact sabotage and the identity of the culprit.

    Film 
  • D.O.A. is the Trope Codifier, with a protagonist who's been poisoned in a manner that has no antidote.
    Detective: Who was murdered?
    Frank Bigelow: I was.
  • This is the driving premise for action in Crank. At the very end of the first movie, Chev literally tapes a life support machine to himself.
  • Joe Versus The Volcano. Joe agrees to kill himself by jumping into a volcano because he's dying of a brain cloud. He isn't. It was a Batman Gambit to get him to jump. It worked, but Joe survived anyway.
  • In Kill Bill Vol. 2, Bill tells the story of a Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique known by Pai-Mei, which kills its victims after they take five steps. The Bride uses it on Bill in their final confrontation, revealing herself to have learned it from him. This lets him have one last chat with them before he walks away and falls over.
  • The villain in The World Is Not Enough, who is still walking around as a bullet slowly works its way through his brain.
  • In Star Wars, Darth Vader lives in a life-support suit.
  • The Final Destination films run on this; all the protagonists have somehow cheated Death, and Death is trying to restore the balance.
  • The Replicants in Bladerunner have a four year lifespan. In both the movie and the tie-in game the antagonist Replicants attack their creator who is already dead and has been replaced by a Replicant, possibly more than once so that he will extend their lifespans. Sadly, according to their creator the limited lifespan is not a design choice — it is impossible to give the Replicants more time than that. Time that they have wasted on violence and revenge.
  • In L: change the WorLd, L gives himself 23 days to live in order to beat Light, sealing his death from the moment he writes his own name down in the Death Note. The rest of the movie he spends trying to solve one last case before he dies.
  • Literal example: in In Time, lifespan has become a currency. Naturally, a number of poor people are in debt, and thus literally living on borrowed time.
  • The Da Vinci Code. Sauniere is shot in the stomach and survives long enough to set up an elaborate string of clues meant to bring Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveau together so they can find the secret he gave his life to protect.
  • Non-Stop: Jen has a heart condition and could drop dead at any moment. That's why she always sits on the window seat- she wants to see as much beautiful scenery as she can before she dies.

    Literature 
  • In Discworld, Albert is a wizard who took the opportunity to work for Death rather than die. Thanks to taking shopping trips and making visits back home, he has about 15 minutes left in the real world, but if he stays in Death's country, he's safe.
    • Coin's father in Sourcery places his soul and mind in Coin's staff to try and cheat Death that way. It is at best a qualified success.
    • Happens twice in Reaper Man.
  • A far more literal example in The Magister Trilogy. The titular mages are a brotherhood of sorcerors who have managed to become immortal, and hence can ignore the Cast from Lifespan cost of all magic in this setting, making them all but omnipotent. They are united by two things. First, their one Law: No Magister shall ever kill another. Second, the secret of their immortality. To become a Magister, you must deliberately burn up your own lifespan, then at the moment of death, latch on to someone else's life. From that moment, the Magister will use their "Consort"'s lifeforce both to keep himself (only men are capable of doing this, for some reason) alive and to cover the cost of his magic. When the Consort dies, the Magister simply latches on to someone else.

    Live-Action TV 
  • After Desmond prevents Charlie's death in LOST, he becomes perpetually suspended in Death because You Can't Fight Fate.
  • The New Avengers had an episode about an enemy agent who had a bullet working its way toward his brain, and was desperate to kill Steed before that happened.
  • Burai of Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger. His days were numbered- literally. He already died once before the events of the series when his sleep chamber collapsed while he was still inside during his suspended animation, but Clotho, the Spirit of Life, revived him to assist the Zyurangers, but only for a limited period. Burai's remaining time was represented by a flickering green candle that would gradually melt down with each passing hour and the only way Burai could preserve his limited lifespan was by staying inside a "lapseless room". Because of this, Burai would only get out of his room to assist the Zyurangers whenever they seriously needed him. The longer Burai would stay outside his room, the less time he had left to live.
  • In Babylon 5, captain John Sheridan was killed but later revived with an infusion of life energy. He is later told that he only has a maximum of twenty years left before this energy burns out.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Warhammer 40,000, The Emperor of Mankind was mortally wounded by his son/clone Horus (whom he killed just moments later; yeah, it was one Big Screwed-Up Family), then strapped onto a life-support system called Golden Throne, from which he psychically directs Terran spaceships. Other than that... see for yourself.
    • Also, from the same setting, the Ultramarine Primarch Roboute Guilliman, who was also stabbed in the throat with a poisoned sword and frozen in permanent stasis field just moments before death. An Urban Legend says that he is regenerating despite it being physically impossible in the stasis.
    • In the game itself, there's the Black Templars Chaplain Grimaldus - who has a special rule called Only in Death does Duty End, permitting him to ignore fatal wounds as long as he continues to hold his nerve and focus on the Emperor's Will, although it's specified that even if this lets him finish out the battle, he's considered to die at the end.
  • In the 3.5 Dungeons & Dragons supplement The Book of Erotic Fantasy (a 3rd-party supplement dealing expressly with sex and all its aspects in the terms of the d20 system), there is a spell called Shadow Life. It is distinctly separate from the theme of the rest of the book, as on its own it has no sexual connotations. It grants the target ( a recently-dead character) one extra day of life for every level the caster has. The flavor text is especially poignant.
    A life cut short. A quest left unfinished. One more task to be done.
    • Can count as Miles to Go Before I Sleep, and is thus on that page too.
    • In 3.5 proper, The Book of Exalted Deeds gives us the Risen Martyr Prestige Class. Someone who has died in the name of a good cause is brought back and granted special powers to fulfill that cause. When the work is finished or they have reached eleven levels after the point of resurrection (whichever comes first), the Risen Martyr is taken bodily into the Higher Planes and granted whatever reward is waiting for them. Once you have taken the first level of the class (technically Level Zero - dying and returning as a Risen Martyr), you cannot take levels in any other class - the clock is running, and you can't "stall" it by not gaining Risen Martyr levels.
  • Magic: The Gathering, always eager to have every applicable trope, gives us fading and vanishing. A character with fading X has X fade counters, and each of its controller's turns, that player removes one fade counter or sacrifices it. Vanishing is the same, only once the last time counter is removed, the card is sacrificed. Uses for this vary from "make a creature cheaper" to actually tying removing counters to its ability.
  • In Ravenloft, Gennifer Weathermay-Foxgrove is given a pocket watch literally named Borrowed Time by a Vistani, which she later returns. The watch's powers are somewhat vague in the narrative, but it's implied that using it will save the user's life at the expense of making her death inevitable at some point in the indeterminate future.
  • If a character dies in Continuum, the GM may choose to rule that the character spanned out and survived... but they still saw how they were going to die, putting it in their Yet. At some point in the future, they'll have to span back to that moment and close the Stable Time Loop.

    Theatre 
  • Titurel in Richard Wagner's Parsifal is kept just barely alive by the power of the Grail, until his son lets that run out.

    Video Games 
  • The Prince in Prince of Persia: Warrior Within has screwed with time, and should be dead, but isn't. Which wouldn't bother him all that much in and of itself, if not for the demonic guardian of the timeline out to remedy the incongruity.
  • A major theme in Metal Gear Solid 4, most prominently with Snake who is dying from accelerated aging due to being an imperfect clone. He had always believed that there would be no normal life for him, but now he still has to stop Ocelot before he can die.
    • Unexpectedly with Naomi, who had been suffering from terminal cancer for years and only kept the appearance of being healthy and staying alive with nanomachines in her body. When she thinks her part in stoping Ocelot is done, she shuts the system off and dies.
    • Also Big Boss and Zero. Big Boss is still healthy, but with everyone he knows dead because of him, he also feels it's his time to go. Zero is ancient, paralyzed, and barely aware of anything, but refuses to die until Big Boss shuts off his oxygen support.
  • Mother 3: It's implied that the Masked Man died a few years before he shows up.
  • This is implied to be what is happening to the Main Character in Persona 3 in the aftermath of the final battle— kept alive only by the strength of a promise to meet again after graduation. The worst part is that he doesn't make it - he collapses in Aigis's arms (or his closest friend's arms in the PSP version) and never awakens, minutes before the rest of his friends arrive.
  • In NetHack if you use a scroll of genocide on your normal race while polymorphed into something else, "you feel dead inside" and will die should you change back. If you quit, the death message is "quit while already on Charon's boat".
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Wynne is dead, but being kept alive by a benevolent spirit of the Fade. She doesn't know how long the spirit will choose to keep her alive.
    • The spirit is fused with her, so it doesn't have any choice in the matter any more, but its power is limited, and will fail eventually.
      • In Dragon Age: Asunder, that spirit transfers into the body of another newly dead character, similarly reviving that character, and killing Wynne for good.
    • All Grey Wardens fit this trope. To gain their darkspawn senses and taint immunity, they take in a cocktail of Darkspawn blood and partially transform. Unfortunately, the immunity isn't total. Eventually, the taint drives them mad with neverending prophetic dreams of Darkspawn as the taint takes over their minds. At that point, Senior Wardens retreat to the Deep Roads and choose to go out in a blaze of glory against the Darkspawn.
      • Dragon Age: Origins Awakening expansion reveals that mages are immune to this particular side-effect of the taint, because their awakened connection to the Fade. Mind you, they still have all the other bad side-effects of both Wardens and Mages, which makes the extended lifespan something of a double-edged sword.
  • In Fate/stay night, this happens to Shirou in the normal end of the Heaven's Feel route. Running only on pure determination to stop Angra Mainyu, he manages to project Excalibur and destroy the Grail, even after his mind has been destroyed. He even manages his final act of magecraft after his body has already died.
    • Even before that he was on borrowed time. His choice to unseal Archer's arm is equated to triggering a time bomb; it could be minutes or days before he dies, but he will die. From the moment he loosens the cloth, he's a dead man walking.
    • Kirei from the same route had his heart destroyed and yet came back after the better part of two days to try and stop Shirou from destroying Angra Mainyu. And no, he hadn't done anything to replace the heart or heal the damage.
  • This happens to Alcatraz in Crysis 2. He sustains fatal wounds from the Ceph gunship attack in the opening cutscene, but the Nanosuit keeps him alive - even if that means growing into his wounds to keep him going.
  • In City of Heroes, any creature resurrected by a Crey Geneticist is restored to full health, but gains the debuff "Degeneration". As its name suggests, this causes the afflicted to begin losing health rapidly, until they finally re-expire. Amusingly, the power the Geneticist uses takes roughly as long to recharge as it takes a Minion-level enemy to re-die, if the target is left alone to degenerate in peace.
  • Varus from League of Legends is this, according to his lore. One of his quotes in-game is "I'm on borrowed time!".
  • In the Team Fortress 2 Expanded Universe, Redmond and Blutarch Mann are both heavily dependant on life-support systems, built by the Engineer's grandfather in an attempt by each to outlive the other and gain the whole of the inheritance. Like every other ploy Redmond and Blutarch have, the result is a stalemate, and the life support has some nasty side effects, namely that it's less and less able to keep them alive as time goes by. They now both spend a considerable amount of every day dead, and the time they spend dead increases with each passing day...
    • Their lost brother, Gray, also has one of these. His entire reason for taking over Mann Co. is to get more australium for his particular machine.

    Webcomics 
  • This is Anevka Sturmvoraus's backstory in Girl Genius. She was fatally injured by one of her father's experiments and began to waste away before her brother Tarvek managed to build a casket-like machine to preserve her ailing body. Anevka's body was connected by pneumatic tubes to an external robot that enabled her to see, speak, and move as long as she stayed within reach of the casket, becoming a mix of Brain in a Jar and Man in the Machine. It is eventually revealed that Anevka's body gradually weakened to the point that she had virtually no influence on the robot, who had become self-aware with her personality. When the pneumatic tubes are accidentally cut off, everyone (Robot!Anevka included) is surprised to learn that her human body is dead and the robot has been acting independently for years.

    Western Animation 


Living a Double LifeNarrative DevicesLiving with the Villain
The Living DeadDeath TropesLoad-Bearing Hero
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