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Living on Borrowed Time

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Over 50 years on, and he's still going.

"You know, I've got a cluster of shrapnel, trying every second to crawl its way into my heart. [points at the arc reactor in his chest] This stops it. This little circle of light. It's part of me now, not just armor. It's a... terrible privilege."
Tony Stark, The Avengers (2012)

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 Zombie). If this is simply a way to drag out a death, it might be Wring Every Last Drop out of Him.

Compare Your Days Are Numbered and Whodunnit to Me?


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Yuko Ichihara of ×××HOLiC 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.
  • Armin Artlet from Attack on Titan winds up with severe Fifth-Degree Burns across his body after Eren had defeated Bertolt, leaving Armin on the verge of death. The only way that Armin could survive would be for him to become a Titan and devour Bertolt, which would grant Armin the Titan-Shifters' natural Healing Factor. The Trope comes into play after learning about The Curse of Ymir: which causes all Titan-Shifters to only have a life expectancy of 13 years after gaining their powers.
  • In Count Cain, every one of the 'Living Death Dolls'. They require blood transfusion and organs from humans in their age-range every now and then, in order to continue living. Special mention goes to Riffuel Raffit in the penultimate chapter, who is told that whatever blood given now, will only guarantee one more day.
  • 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...
    • If a Shinigami attempts to kill someone with a Death Note in order to save another's life, they will instantly die and their remaining lifespan will be added to whoever they saved. Such is the case with Misa, whose lifespan was extended beyond normal human limitations by the sacrifice of one such Shinigami: she was literally living on time she borrowed from that Shinigami, at least until she gained Shinigami eyes from Rem.
  • 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.
  • In Hakuouki, anyone who becomes a fury is this. While they gain enhanced strength and speed and accelerated healing, the longer they use their fury abilities, the quicker their bodies deteriorate and shorten their lifespan. It happens to Okita, Heisuke, and Sannan.
  • In Inuyasha, Kikyo is killed fifty years before the beginning of the story but is revived during the events of the story by a witch. Her new form is only able to sustain itself by absorbing the souls of the dead.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • In Golden Wind, this is LITERALLY the case for Bruno Bucciarati after fighting Diavolo's King Crimson and being revived by Giorno. He isn't so much "brought back to life" as he is a Revenant Zombie... his body doesn't heal, he feels no pain and it's slowly falling apart. But the absolute worst part? Bruno was aware of this the entire time but held it back to not upset the gang. He's fully aware that he's slowly breaking down and that eventually he'll die for real... a very rare instance where the one on borrowed time is Dead All Along.
    • This is also the case for Blackmore in the later part Steel Ball Run after Lucy fatally shoots him- his powers allow him to patch up the wounds with rainwater, but since his power only works on the rain, he will die when the weather clears up.
  • In K, Hisui Nagare would have died when his heart was destroyed. He's only alive because his powers as the green king are working as a replacement.
  • 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.
  • In Made in Abyss Riko was stillborn, but a certain relic in the abyss brought her back to life. Normally beings brought back by this artifact don't live long, and Ozen even muses that one day the magic that revived Riko will burn out. Although, it's unknown if this is truth or simply something she said to crush her will. Riko asserts that either way, she's ok with any outcome so long as she reaches the bottom of the abyss before then.
  • Naruto
    • Itachi, who suffered from an Incurable Cough of Death but survived long enough to fight Sasuke through unknown means and sheer force of will.
    • Tobi/Obito, after having the Ten Tails ripped out of him (that alone would have likely killed him), being forced to cast a life-restoring jutsu that can also potentially kill a person, and losing several different life support systems that were helping him out, finally manages to get a bit of Naruto's newly-acquired Healing Hands ability to keep going. Sakura notes even with that, however, Obito's just taken too much for his body to handle and he likely won't survive long after the shinobi war. That's before he burns through even more energy traveling through dimensions before finally making a Heroic Sacrifice to save Naruto's and Kakashi's lives from an evil goddess.

    Comic Books 
  • This is the premise of 5 Days 2 Die. A mortally injured cop decides to make a final strike against crime.
  • This would have been the fate of the Barry Allen version of The Flash had people not accepted his death in Crisis on Infinite Earths as Barry would have been pulled out of one of the doors he appeared in during his bounce through time/space and continue living his life as is, though he'd know he'd have to return to his run one day as he had to be the lightning bolt that gave himself his powers that fateful day.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • S.H.I.E.L.D.: Nick Fury is now living on borrowed time since the Infinity Formula in his body that sustained him is losing effectiveness.
  • In The 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.
  • Ironfist in The 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 its 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.
  • The Twelve reveals this to be the case with Marvel Mind Excello, a telepath with superhuman intelligence. His powers come from the shrapnel of a radioactive isotope that has been lodged in his brain, and the shards burrow a little further in every time he uses his powers, meaning that it's only a matter of time before they kill him.
  • In the recent iteration of X-Force led by Cable, Cable himself is exposed to a virus that will make him explode in 24 hours. The team staves off his death by keeping him in stasis, thawing him out two minutes at a time to clone him. Unfortunately, the clones themselves also carry the virus, meaning they are also doomed to die in a day. As one clone puts it, the original dies two minutes at a time, while the clones die every day. But it's Worth It.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, Amanda Waller is revealed to be dying from something terminal, thus gathers the Suicide Squad to go after the "Get Out Of Hell Free" card so she can get out of this once she does go. The Big Bad is also suffering from this: the Reverse Flash, who used his connection to the Speed Force to survive his Boom, Headshot! at the end of Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox but is running out of juice as he uses his powers to draw out the moments just before his death at the cost of using up his time even faster if he uses his speed. If it wasn't for Bronze Tiger's last heroic act, he would have died with the card and escaped to torture Barry and the other heroes.
  • Mother Gothel in Tangled keeps herself alive with the magic of Rapunzel's hair. Initially it only kept her young, but after a certain time, Gothel couldn't remain alive without the magic.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Replicants in Blade Runner 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.
  • 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.
  • In Crank: High Voltage, Chev has his heart replaced by a machine, which technically qualifies him as a Cyborg.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Final Destination films run on this; all the protagonists have somehow cheated Death, and Death is trying to restore the balance.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Star Wars:
    • Darth Vader lives in a life-support suit. And said life-support suit renders him vulnerable to Emperor Palpatine's Force Lightning, meaning it's impossible for Vader to overthrow his master and take over the Empire. As a result, Vader lives under the constant threat of being replaced by a potential (and healthy) new apprentice, such as Luke Skywalker.
    • The Legends Expanded Universe has Palpatine get better. Much better. But The Dark Side corrupts his clone bodies, so he has to keep using new ones, and each new body is corrupted more quickly. Then his clone bodies are killed by his apprentices. There's a mild double subversion: He tries to possess Han and Leia's son but fails.
  • The villain in The World Is Not Enough, who is still walking around as a bullet slowly works its way through his brain.

  • Alcatraz Series: Grandpa Leavenworth Smedry has the Smedry talent of arriving late to things. At the climax of Alcatraz Vs The Dark Talent, he is shot through the heart... but at the last moment manages to activate his talent and arrive late to his own death. From that moment on, he is on a clock until he cannot arrive any later and the bullet claims his life.
  • The H. P. Lovecraft short story Cool Air features Dr. Muñoz, a pleasant but subtly repulsive man who never leaves his frigid apartment. When the cooling unit breaks down, it's revealed that Dr. Muñoz died 18 years previously but managed to sustain himself through unknown means, relying on refrigeration to keep himself from rotting away.
  • An odd case occurs in poem Dialysis, where the subject is being kept alive by machines and, because of this, she can't die (the machines will restart her functions the moment they stop), so she counts down to when the machines will no longer work, in which case, if the machines "die", so will she.
  • In Discworld, Albert is a wizard who took the opportunity to work for Death rather than die. As long as he remains in Death's country, the sand in his lifetimer won't flow, but he's had to run errands on the Disc and has used up a lot of the time he had left. After his lifetimer is shattered (he foolishly brought his lifetimer with him to the Disc and was accosted by a mugger) he only has a few seconds of time left (stored in an empty beer bottle) and can't leave Death's domain without immediately suffering a Critical Existence Failure, except when he's helping Death Sub For The Hogfather (as time on the Disc is suspended on Hogswatch Night so the Hogfather can deliver all the presents in one night).
  • In Fate/strange fake, True Archer is near-fatally stabbed with a dagger laced in Hydra venom. Due to his legend, this is even more catastrophically horrible than normal (since being poisoned with Hydra venom was how Alcides, better known as Heracles, originally died) though he succeeds in using his King's Order to save himself with Chiron's immortality. However, the venom is still in him, and he has only a few days before the pain drives him to insanity.
  • The Licanius Trilogy: At some point before the story started (later revealed to have been in-utero), Davian technically died. However, his powers as an Augur kicked in, allowing him to keep moving around by stealing the Essence his body needs to function from the surrounding life.
  • A far more literal example than usual in the Magister Trilogy. The titular mages are a brotherhood of sorcerers 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 except this isn't actually true) alive and to cover the cost of his magic. When the Consort dies, the Magister simply latches on to someone else.
  • Shades of Magic: Kell's desperate attempt to revive Prince Rhy with magic after his assassination, boosted by a Wild Magic Amplifier Artifact, works at the cost of binding Rhy's life to Kell's. Rhy cannot die while Kell lives and will die when he does. Rhy temporarily dies when the magic of the binding spell is briefly suppressed, but recovers when the spell does.
  • In The Witchlands, Merik mysteriously survives a bomb that went off right next to him. It eventually turns out that that's because he's still connected to his Threadbrother Kullen, who's Cleaved, making him almost invincible. Kullen warns Merik that the prince will live only as long as the Thread between them still exists.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • Clara's finale in Series 9 of Doctor Who. She dies for real in the first of the three-parter, but the Twelfth Doctor pulls her out of the timestream a second before her death in order to save her halfway through the third. However, according to the universe, she is dead, as in she died and that's the end of that. So while he didn't save her life, he did make her The Ageless for as long as she wants, until she heads back to her timestream to face her death.
  • House of the Dragon: At some point it's become clear that the infection afflicting King Viserys can't be cured, but the death of Grand Maester Mellos and the better treatments Mellos' successor Orwyle give to Viserys allow him to live at least 16 more years.
  • 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.
  • Super Sentai / Power Rangers:
    • Burai of Kyōryū 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. Witch Bandora ultimately realizes this and is able to destroy the "lapseless room" and force Burai's death, but not before he gives his younger brother Geki his gear.
    • Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue gave us another Sixth Ranger who was actually Living on Borrowed Time, cursed with a snake marking that would move higher on his body with each morph. If it reaches his neck, it's adios. Of course, given the nature of the trope...

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • In the 3.5 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. Can count as Miles to Go Before I Sleep, and is thus on that page too. The flavor text is especially poignant:
      A life cut short. A quest left unfinished. One more task to be done.
    • 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.
  • Pathfinder has the spell Temporary Resurrection, which brings a creature Back from the Dead, but only for 24 hours, at which point they die again. Fortunately, it can be made permanent by casting a "real" resurrection spell on the creature before the time runs out.
  • 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.
  • "Borrowed Time" is a negative quality for Player Characters in Shadowrun. Whenever a player with this quality starts a session, the Game Master secretly rolls three dice: If all three dice roll the same result then that character will die during the session, no ifs or buts about it. Only burning all their remaining Edge will save them. Players are required to make up a reason for why the character is living on borrowed time during creation, such as disease, having a bounty on their heads, a major spirit being displeased with them, or something similarly character-defining.
  • Vampire: The Requiem: If a vampire's body is destroyed while their spirit is possessing another creature through Animalism or Dominate, the possession isn't broken, but the vampire suffers Permadeath as soon as they fail to remain awake. And vampires struggle to remain awake during the day...
  • 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 a major break from Status Quo Is God, he's actually been brought back to full capacity, although the healing was done by Eldar.
    • 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 a way, the Dark Eldar, and it's their own fault too. Unlike the Craftworld Eldar, the Dark Eldar continue to engage in the murderous debauchery that spawned Slaanesh. As a result, Slaanesh's claim to their souls is even stronger. The Dark Eldar delay the inevitable by placating Slaanesh with the souls of others — and the toll grows higher and higher with time. Beneath all of the depraved hedonism, the Dark Eldar live with a deep existential dread knowing that they are only delaying their inevitable damnation.
    • In the first book of the Thousand Sons trilogy, Ahriman gets shot with a Silver Bullet. The resulting shrapnel can't be removed and will kill him once it reaches his hearts, forcing him to constantly harden and heal the flesh around the shrapnel in an effort to slow it down and delay the inevitable. The shrapnel reaches his hearts at the climax of Ahriman: Unchanged, but the reality-warping magic of the second Rubric purges the shrapnel from Ahriman's body before it can kill him.
    • Angron, Primarch of the World Eaters, was this due to having the Butcher's Nails implanted in his brain when he was a gladiator slave. The Nails gradually destroyed his brain and would have eventually killed him even with his superhuman physiology as a Primarch. Removing them wasn't an option since parts of Angron's own brain had been removed to make room for the Nails, and the Nails acted as a substitute for what was missing. The only reason he's still alive in the present is because he ascended to daemonhood. The Nails still cannot be removed since the transformation caused the Nails to bond even deeper into him. They won't kill him anymore, but they're even more a part of him.

  • 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 
  • Algus, one of the three protagonists of Astalon: Tears of the Earth, has a pact with God of the Dead Epimetheus: in exchange for him reversing time when he or one of his allies dies, Epimetheus will take his soul once their task is complete. In the end, it's possible for Algus to escape this fate by tricking Epimetheus into taking a homunculus made with part of his soul rather than his entire soul.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • V in Cyberpunk 2077 winds up in this situation by way of sticking the Arasaka Relic in their head and then getting shot in the head by Dexter DeShawn after the Heist for that very same biochip goes straight to hell, resulting in them sharing headspace with a long-dead rockerboy whose engram is slowly overwriting their consciousness and killing them. Even after separating themselves from Johnny, V turns out to still have only six months to live due to the Relic having altered them so far that the body they have is now essentially Johnny.
  • In Dead by Daylight, this is a perk you can unlock from Bill in the Bloodweb, allowing you to take an extra hit before being reduced to a dying state after being unhooked.
  • 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 anymore, 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 of 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.
      • Dragon Age II Legacy reveals that the truth is far worse. When Wardens succumb to the Taint, they don't die. They become Ghouls. Larius is a former Commander of the Grey who was a little too good at killing Darkspawn and survived long enough to turn.
    • Dragon Age: Inquisition brings this trope back in the Trespasser DLC: Two years after the Inquisitor has defeated Corypheus, their anchor mark has begun to destabilize, rather violently. The plot of the DLC is basically about stopping a Qunari invasion before the mark kills them. In the end, Solas removes the mark, along with the Inquisitor's forearm, to save them. But even then, he implies that the Inquisitor will eventually still succumb.
  • Killer Instinct (2013): In his backstory, Kan-Ra was cursed by the king of Babylon to rot away. He's managed to offset this by gathering magical artifacts and placing other hexes on himself, but the curse is still progressing, and he's well aware that there's only so much more he can do to slow it down.
  • Varus from League of Legends is this, according to his lore. One of his quotes in-game is "I'm on borrowed time!".
  • Mega Man Zero 3: X had used his physical body to seal the Dark Elf, and he continued to exist in a Cyber Elf form. After Elpizo destroys it at the end of Zero 2, he barely has energy to stay manifested in the physical world, and by the time of Zero 3 two months later, he's already struggling to hold on, and then he ends up spending even more energy to free everyone in the Resistance base from Omega's control and keeping them safe. He's barely able to give Zero some parting words before "expiring" for good.
  • A major theme in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, most prominently with Snake who is dying from accelerated aging not due to him being an imperfect clone but the doctors intentionally shortening his life span before he was born so that the enemy won't use him. 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.
  • 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 Dahaka, the demonic guardian of the timeline out to remedy the incongruity.
  • In the Team Fortress 2 Expanded Universe, Redmond and Blutarch Mann are both heavily dependent on australium-powered life extenders, 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 are now both wheelchair-bound 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. Though unlike his siblings, whose life extenders are large enough to have to be wheeled around with them, his is small enough implanted in his upper back and he can walk around freely..
    • And now it turns out that the Administrator has one too, this one being implanted in her arm. Though in her case, even the life extender can't keep her alive indefinitely. She doesn't care, because she still has just enough time to "settle an old debt".
  • Undertale puts a twist on the trope for Asriel. In the past, Asriel was a little boy that was murdered by humans and he was reincarnated as a flower without a soul called Flowey. In the pacifist route, Flowey absorbs 6 human souls and the soul of every monster to not only regain his true form as Asriel, but also has incredible power. After the player character defeats him with compassion and love, Asriel reverts into his child form and returns the souls he had stolen. Asriel then states that Flowey and himself are so different from each other that they should be considered as two totally different people. Since Asriel gave up the souls he stole, he tells the player character that it's only a matter of time until he reverts back into his Flowey form and the Asriel they see will be gone forever, which is why he chooses to stay behind in the underground and not see his parents. He can be found and spoken to in the Epilogue, but if the player restarts the game after the credits, Asriel is gone and only Flowey is there.
    • This also applies to Undyne the Undying in the Genocide route. She is keeping her body together though Heroic Willpower alone, allowing her to mostly restore herself after every hit she takes. However, she does note that it feels like her body is constantly trying to tear itself apart, and that she will dissipate at any moment, so it's clear that this is not a good long term solution. But it's enough to let her stand in your way.

    Visual Novels 
  • 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 Kotomine from the same route had his heart destroyed two days before he finally died, and it was only the fact his time ran out before Shirou's that Shirou was even able to win their fight and destroy the Grail. In the original story, the only justifications are vague hints, but if Fate/Zero's explanation is to be trusted, he "died" about a decade before that, and actually spent the entirety of Fate/stay/night preserved magically by the Grail's power.

    Web Comics 
  • 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.

    Web Original 
  • Gordon in Twig is a thirteen-year-old Mix-and-Match Man created from the parts of dozens of different people. He frequently experiences rejection issues as his organs give out, and there's always the looming possibility that his next surgery will be his last.

    Web Videos 
  • Critical Role: In episode 102 of the first campaign, Vax'ildan is killed, but makes a deal with his patron, the Raven Queen, to be temporarily brought back as a revenant, allowing him to continue in Vox Machina's quest to seal Vecna away. After his defeat, Vax must return to the Raven Queen's side in her domain.

    Western Animation 
  • The Owl House: Emperor Belos is a 400 year-old human, who keeps himself alive by consuming the life essence of Palismen. However, this is not a perfect solution — he has to keep consuming more Palismen, because if he ever stops, he'll transform into a horrible, rotting, skeletal beast, before his body falls apart and he eventually dies. He's eventually forced to switch to possessing and consuming various woodland animals and Hunter after he's trapped in the human realm and his Palisman-access is cut off, though this does not give him nearly enough energy to sustain himself for long. Throughout season 3 his body is visibly falling apart as his limbs keep breaking off, and by the end, he's reduced to a skull floating in a puddle of necrotic ooze, unable to fight back as Eda, Raine and King stomp him to death.
  • Wakfu: Nox has been kept alive by the Eliacube for two-hundred years. And based on the mystery of what's underneath his helmet and bandages and the inhuman, marionette-like way he moves, he might've extended his life using other artificial means we're better off not knowing about.


Video Example(s):


The Administrator

Having commissioned Radigan Conagher to build herself an Australium-Powered Life Extender back in the 1890's, Elizabeth brings in his grandson Dell to give her a leaner device that will keep her alive just a bit longer; despite the fact that there is very little Australium left. "Just enough to settle an old debt."

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / LivingOnBorrowedTime

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