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You Owe Me
Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, consider this justice a gift on my daughter's wedding day.
Don Corleone, The Godfather

A main or regular character in a really thick mess is helped out by another character. This help can range from Super Natural Aid to a straight up Deus ex Machina, but whether the case, the help arrives in the nick of time and clears up the immediate problem.

Then Mr. (or Ms.) Helpful demands reciprocation, binding the character into a situation where they must return the favor sometime in the future. It's almost always accompanied by the phrase "You owe me," or a close variation.

This trope may be the reason Gondor Calls for Aid; it answered the call earlier. Compare Leonine Contract, where the character helping is taking advantage of a grevious circumstance. Contrast Think Nothing of It, which is often used by The Cape and good friends.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Misty from the original Pokémon series joined up with Ash's party on the grounds that, after Ash stole and accidentally destroyed her bike, he owed her a new one. "You owe me a bike!" was a short-lived Running Gag, which was ultimately forgotten until the very end of the Johto arc.
  • Toppa Gurren Lagann Guren Gakuenhen: When enemies start to gang up on Yoko in a fight, Kamina comes to support her through combat and says, "You can pay me back ten times over!" Since he doesn't die in this alternate universe, there's a lighter turn of events involving him getting a kiss from her as payment.
    Kamina: That's that paid in full.

    Film 
  • Said by Han Solo to Luke in Star Wars after Han saved Luke from becoming a Human Popsicle on Hoth: "That's two you owe me, Junior".
    • And inverted in Return of the Jedi when after being rescued, Han doesn't just claim they're even but thanks Luke as follows: "Hey, Luke, thanks for coming after me - now I owe you one."
  • In Midway, Charlton Heston asked a colleague at Naval Intelligence to help him re-investigate accusations of subversion directed at the family of his son's Japanese-American girlfriend and used this as leverage.
  • In White Christmas, Danny Kaye's character uses You Owe Me on Bing Crosby's character fairly often. Kaye saved Crosby's life during World War II, at the cost of a broken arm himself and knows that he can use it anytime he wants without ever using it up. He doesn't even have to say the words "You owe me", all he has to do is clutch at his arm.
  • The Godfather: tradition requires that Don Corleone grant any favor asked of him on his daughter's wedding day. He does so, but reminds the people for whom he does so that they now owe him a favor in return — and what he asks of them will be of at least the same degree of seriousness as what they asked of him. The mortician that Don Corleone helps in the beginning of the novel is eventually called upon to reconstruct the face of Sonny Corleone, one of the Don's sons, after he is savagely murdered.
  • Highway to Hell (1991): When Royce turns Rachel over to the Hellcop, he says that the Hellcop owes him one. Near the end of the movie, Hellcop is pursuing the protagonists when Royce tries to get in on the action. The Hellcop threatens to shoot him if he interferes, but Royce says "You Owe Me One!"
  • Subverted in The Beast Of War (1998). A Soviet soldier knocks down an Afghan rebel pointing a jezail musket at a fellow soldier and says, "You owe me." The soldier doesn't bother telling him that the Afghan had actually pulled the trigger a moment before, but the weapon had misfired.
  • Used a little differently in Pitch Black with Johns and Riddick. Johns spares Riddick's life when there was an argument over whether he should live or die and Riddick suggests that killing him is their best option.
    {Johns fires at Riddick, who flinches, and his chains drop)
    Johns: "I want you to remember this moment. The ways it could have gone, and didn't."
    (Riddick grabs Johns' gun and aims at him, ready to fire)
    Johns: "Do we have a deal?"
    Riddick: "DAMN!" (beat, and he gives Johns back his gun) "I want you to remember this moment."
    • Riddick was clearly smart enough to know that Johns thought he could use Riddick in some way. By not killing him, Riddick (in his own personal code, at least) instantly absolved himself of any favours he might owe Johns.
  • Judge Hershey does this three times in Judge Dredd.
  • In Shrek 2, the Fairy Godmother states that she helped out King Harold with his own "Happily forever after," and that he owes her for that, and that he will repay her in the form of Princess Fiona marrying Prince Charming.

    Literature 
  • In Neverwhere this is the Marquis de Carabas' preferred method of payment. This is best exemplified by him giving a minor character a potent magical charm in exchange for a minor service, so that the person will owe him a favor. And also relying on that character overusing the charm so that he'll need the Marquis' help very shortly, thus ensuring that the man will end up owing him an even bigger favor.
    Marquis: I believe the words "favor," "big," and "really," were used together. In conjunction.
  • Subverted in a Jack Higgins novel. The protagonist (a British officer) tries to play this card to get information from an IRA man whose life he saved in Korea. The IRA man calmly points out that the debt is already paid because he had him in his sights a few months ago and didn't pull the trigger.
  • Thomas Raith uses this to get Harry to take on his case in Blood Rites. Harry knew it was coming, as Thomas explicitly said he was saving up for favors in earlier books whenever he helped Harry. Subverted in that while he did use You Owe Me to get Harry to take the case, he was really helping Harry because they're brothers, and saving up favors was a convenient cover story.

    Live Action TV 
  • Vengeance Unlimited: You can owe a return favor, or you can pay one million dollars. Cash.
  • This is what the mysterious hero of the show Stingray (1985) told anybody he decided to help.
  • Averted in Oz. An inmate saves Warden Glynn from being stabbed during a Cooldown Hug by surrogate son turned murderer Clayton Hughes, who ends up being stabbed by his own blade. When the inmate tries to cash in on this by asking to become the Warden's receptionist (a privileged position) Glynn angrily sends him back to solitary as his presence would only remind him of Clayton's death.
  • During an episode in the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Mayor and his new Dragon bring in some kind of necromancer demon to remove Angel's soul and bring him over to their side. It seems to work at first, but is later revealed to have been a ruse on Angel's part to get info on the Mayor's plans. The necromancer is shown at the end talking to Giles about now his debt has been repaid by helping with the trick instead of doing what he was hired for. Apparently, Giles introduced him to his wife years ago.
    • Averted when Buffy saves a bank manager from a rampaging demon, but he still refuses to give her a loan.
  • Angel. Apparently the reason why Illyria saved Gunn from the hell dimension. As Angel had just been talking about how Illyria was only staying at Wolfram and Hart because "it reeks of influence", this act has disturbing implications.
  • A humorous example occurs in NCIS: Los Angeles while Hetty is trying to improve teamwork between Deeks and Kensi by having them waltz. While this is going on, Hetty mentions that she plans to have Callen and Hanna (who are both male) do the same thing later on that day. Then Eric shows up with a case, interrupting the dancing lessons. As the investigators get ready to head out to the crime scene, Eric tells Callen and Hanna that they owe him. They agree.
  • On Justified this seems to be the basis of the relationship between Boyd and Shelby. In season 2. Boyd saved Shelby's life when the coal mine payroll was being robbed and in turn a grateful Shelby backed Boyd's version of events (presenting Boyd as a hostage rather than a semi-willing accomplice). In season 3, Boyd needs someone respectable to run as his candidate for sheriff and Shelby is unemployed and figures that he still owes Boyd. After he is elected sheriff, Shelby informs Boyd that the feds are about arrest him for murder and that by warning him Shelby has repaid any debt he owed.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, one episode centers on how Ted, Barney and Robin all owe Marshall a "no questions asked". So does Lily to Ted.

    Video Games 
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, one of the ways you can resolve the situation between the NCR and the Kings is to call in an old favor from The King himself if you've finished a series of quests for him and haven't cashed in the favor yet.
  • In Atlantica Online, many of the mercenaries you recruit join you after doing them a favor. Leonardo joins you after you rescue his daughter Lisa, Mary Read after you defeat Davy Jones, Odysseus after you help him lead his forces into Troy and so on and so forth.Said "favors" are also tradable between players.
  • This is how Dimitri eventually joins the gang in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves. First, he helps you reunite with Murray in exchange for busting him out of jail. Next, he gives you information in return for owing him a favor, which he calls in a few months later. After you fulfill this favor, however, he sticks around to help rescue Penelope and pull off the Cooper Vault job.
  • In Valkyria Chronicles II, Anisette can say something along these lines when a character you're controlling (that isn't her) opens fire on an enemy and she is close by.

    Western Animation 
  • In Around the World With Timon & Pumbaa, Pumbaa roped Timon into doing a good deed by telling him "he owed him one" (complete with a flashback to a Big Damn Heroes moment).
  • Parodied in Jimmy Two-Shoes. After Jimmy saves Lucius' life, he casually says this trope in a tone that suggests he'll never collect on it. Lucius, however, quickly becomes paranoid that he will and despretly tries to pay him back.
  • ReBoot has Bob use this trope on Megabyte. Having saved Megabyte in a game, Bob gets Megabyte to let him, Dot and Enzo go at the end of the episode. Having read one line of the Evil Overlord List, Megabyte remarks that he and Bob are even now so this trope doesn't appear again.
  • Rainbow Dash tries to pull this on Fluttershy to get her to watch the Great Dragon Migration, citing her coming to watch the boring Butterfly Migration. Fluttershy, being terrified witless of dragons, has doesn't care in the least.
  • In an early episode of the 90's Spider Man cartoon, Peter (in his civilian identity) saved the Kingpin from an assassination attempt by the Hobgoblin. The Kingpin didn't say anything about it at the time, but later he decided that he did owe Peter something, and offered to pay for his wedding to Mary Jane.
  • Inverted, then played straight, when Baloo saves Shere Kahn's life in an episode of TaleSpin. Baloo initially balks at Kahn's insistence that he owes Baloo a debt, but later decides to take advantage of the offer. Repeatedly. Kahn eventually decides the debt is paid.
  • Kim Possible: This is basically how Kim Possible gets around: she calls in transport from people she's helped in the past. Usually this was used for a Noodle Incident joke, but sometimes this was used for a Call Back to a previous episode.
  • In the Back at the Barnyard episode, "Dog's Best Friend", Otis saves Duke's life and Duke becomes extremely loyal to him, to the point where Otis fakes life-threatening situations to even the score that inevitably put Duke in more danger. After Otis tells Duke the truth, he gets caught in a real life-threatening situation requiring Duke to rescue him. Duke decides that since Otis' stunts almost got him killed 20 times, he owes him now, and decides that him being the lead singer in Otis' band is the perfect way for Otis to repay him.
  • In the arc of Gargoyles which showed MacBeth and Demona's backstory, Demona saved MacBeth from the original Hunter. Years later, MacBeth returns the favor. When he admits that he had owed her for her earlier save, she's glad - because it means that she doesn't owe him.

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