Bob has stolen something from Alice. And That's Terrible. Bob then proceeds to upgrade, repair, or otherwise improve his stolen goods. But somehow — whether by Bob returning it, Alice stealing it back, or a random coincidence — Alice gets her stuff back. While she might have been unhappy about the theft, she's pleasantly surprised at Bob's improvements.
See also Honest Axe.
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Anime & Manga
- In Code Geass, after Kallen and her Guren are captured by Britannia, they strap a crapload of high-tech upgrades onto it only for her to break out and steal it right back. Rakshata, its creator, is surprisingly not happy about the Britannian's modifications, probably because they came from her principal scientific rival.
- Digimon Frontier: In episode 15, the Digidestined's D-tectors are stolen by Toucanmon. Two episodes later, they find them in the hands of a Datamon on the Autumn Leaf Fair. Tommy/Tomoki is able to win them back from the Datamon by winning a game for him, and upon doing so learns that Datamon added the Beast Spirit of Ice to his D-Tector.
- The Lupin III movie Lupin III: Operation: Return the Treasure had a past rival of Lupin named Mark. Mark left a video will for Lupin, asking him to return some of the things he had stolen. For almost everything Mark asks Lupin to return, he left a replica, probably to prevent his targets from noticing the theft before he got away. The replicas Mark left after his thefts were good enough to fool most folks, but imagine how thrilled his former targets are to get the real things back! Poor Zenigata, however, is VERY confused at first.
- This happens to pretty much all the Gundams in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing (except for Heavyarms). OZ recovers Wing and Sandrock after they self-destruct, and when they're stolen back, they're in much better condition (Wing has an explanation, Sandrock not so much). Deathscythe and Shenlong get badly damaged and captured in space, but the Gundam Engineers (who have been captured by OZ) upgrade them in secret before handing them back to the boys.
- In an early episode of Pokémon, Team Rocket steals a Ditto belonging to the professional impersonator Duplica, only to discover that it cannot mimic faces properly. They promptly whip it into shape, and when Duplica and the protagonists show up to steal it back, Duplica gives them heartfelt thanks for helping Ditto overcome its problem.
- In Batman '66: The Lost Episode (based off an unproduced script written by none other than Harlan Ellison), Two-Face steals a nearly complete set of ancient Chinese plates from a museum, only to return the set with the missing piece when his coin comes good-heads up.
- ElfQuest: In a variation on both this and Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen, Leetah and Nightfall leave their clothes on a branch while dancing in the moonlight. While they do, the seamstress Moonshade surreptitiously removes their clothes from the branch and replaces them with new ones.
- The old Marvel Comics series The New Warriors played with this a bit. The character Silhouette stole an Unstable Molecule costume from Reed Richards (she could meld into the shadows for teleportation but would always lose her clothes in the process since they can't meld with her, forcing her to find something with less Fanservice). She shed her old costume and stole the new one, feeling guilty about the situation afterwards. She tried to return it to Richards, but he was fine with the situation and ended up tweaking it slightly for her... and offering to make further costumes for her in the future.
Film — Animated
- This happens to Woody in Toy Story 2. Not only does his arm get sewn up, but the antique toy detailer makes sure he looks absolutely brand new.
- Back to the Future
- In Back to the Future, Marty McFly steals a kid's scooter, ripping off the handles so it's just the board. When he gives it back, it's the world's first skateboard.
- He does something similar in the future of Back to the Future Part II, ganking a Barbie-branded hoverboard from a little girl. When he goes to return it, she lets him keep it because she found Griff's high-end, rocket-propelled "Pit Bull" instead.
- In The Rocketeer, Cliff and Peevey don't steal the rocket from Howard Hughes, but Peevey's reverse engineering improves its acceleration. He also designs a helmet that improves flight—which greatly impresses Hughes.
- A variant where something is stolen but replaced with something at least arguably better is done in The Sandlot. One day while his stepfather is away on business, Smalls is playing baseball with his friends and they lose the ball. Desperately wanting to keep playing, Smalls goes into his stepfather's bedroom and grabs a ball kept there, which was autographed by none other than Babe Ruth. Smalls, being a Naďve Newcomer to the game of baseball, doesn't realize who Babe Ruth is or the value in the ball when it too inevitably gets lost in the yard of a neighbor with a notorious (and huge) dog. All his friends go through enormous lengths to try to retrieve the ball, but it winds up destroyed. Fortunately, the owner of the house is kind enough to give Smalls his ball signed by not only Babe Ruth but the entire Yankees team to replace it, which does a lot to placate his stepfather when the business trip is over.
- Subverted in Stand and Deliver, when teacher Escalante thinks his crappy old Beetle has been stolen by students at his school. They have actually taken it to fix it up.
- In the 1632 novels, Mike Stearns used to steal cars for joyriding, and everyone in the area knew it. But nobody ever officially filed a complaint, because he always washed the cars and refilled the gas tanks before returning them.
- In Card Force Infection, not long after Maxwell takes Fletcher's entire deck for winning their first duel, the deck is returned with several powerful new cards added, including a rare Tier X card. This turns out to be a prelude to recruiting Fletcher for the Peppermint Knights.
- Harry Dresden of The Dresden Files once said that he got a note from a prospective carjacker offering to steal him something better. This is because his Blue Beetle is The Alleged Car; Harry can't drive anything more modern because of his magic, which shorts out anything that was invented after the integrated circuit.
- In Earthquake Weather, fugitive Cody steals a car, picking one that's a few decades old because it's easier to hotwire. She does some work on it while it's in her hands, so when the owner eventually gets it back it's in better condition than it was when she stole it.
- The Emperor's Soul: This is mentioned as one of a Forger's core tactics: make a Forgery that's slightly better than the original, and people are far less likely to notice (or speak up when they notice the difference).
- In How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, this is what the Grinch claims he's doing with the Christmas tree when Cindy Lou Who catches him, saying, "I'll fix it up there, and bring it back here." By the end, it's only half true, since he returns all the Christmas items, but hasn't really improved them.
- Hercule Poirot: Hickory Dickory Dock:
- A variation in that a "kleptomaniac" has stolen a number of small objects from the students staying in a hostel. When she confesses, the thief admits that she destroyed most of what she stole, but she gives those she stole from enough money so they can buy new things. The students are pleased, both because she was generous in estimating how much their things were worth, and because most of them would rather have had the money anyway.
- And inverted when a diamond ring is stolen then found, because the diamond was replaced by a cubic zirconium.
- In the Judy Moody book Judy Moody Gets Famous, Judy steals all the broken and damaged dolls from a hospital waiting room/playroom, fixes them up using her personal collection of doll parts, and returns them cleaned up, dressed in miniature hospital gowns, and wearing casts. An article is later published in the newspaper that features the hospital thanking the "Phantom Doll Doctor" for their help.
- Feedle in The Goblins of Labyrinth makes sure to have Gurdy the Burnisher polish up the goods he steals, and returns them to their owner with a poetic little note. Even if he murdered their owner in cold blood.
- In Thief of Time, Lobsang steals a witches' broom to get to Ankh-Morpork in time to do something about the Glass Clock. At the end of the book he uses the time-altering powers of the Time Monks to make the broom newer than it was before returning it.
- In Victory of Eagles, a group of dragons leaves their breeding ground with the intent to join the regular army. Their regular food arrives more or less continuously at the breeding grounds, and so they can't put together a proper supply train to take with them...so they "requisition" cows and sheep from farmers as they go. Laurence, who is trying to track this group down, has to deal with a number of irate farmers...and then he meets a farmer who's been found by the dragons' drovers, following along with the dragons' original herd of food animals, and is quite happy with the better-fed and healthier replacement cows he's been given.
- In the Wyatt novels by Garry Disher, whenever Wyatt steals a car, he always leaves it in a parking lot with a full tank of petrol.
- Michael and the rest of his True Companions from Burn Notice often have to steal cars as part of their various plans to help their Client of the week. While those cars aren't always improved by the crew using them, it is revealed several seasons into the show that they've been having Michael's mother Madeline "find" all these missing cars and report their location to the police in order to make sure they get returned to their owners, usually no more than a day or two after taking them. She eventually wins an award.
- An episode of Castle has a variation involving a squatter: He breaks into people's apartments while they're on vacation so he can live there for a while, but always leaves the place exactly as he found it except for general repairs about the place and an appreciative bottle of wine in the fridge.
- An episode of Las Vegas has Mike borrow his boss Big Ed's convertible to take on a date. While out, the car gets stolen by Mike's date, and Mike tracks it down to a chop shop. When they tell the man in charge whose car it is, he apologizes, has it put back together, detailed, and returned, except the radio favorites which Ed yelled at Mike about.
- A variant occurs in Leverage. The team is hired by a charity who discovers that their investment broker has stolen from them and gone into hiding. When they find him, they discover he's actually a pretty decent guy and he had stolen the money because he knew he could quadruple it if he used tricks and back-channels.
- In an episode of Michael Bentine's Potty Time, a thief steals Nelson's Column, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. It turns out the thief was actually having them cleaned as a gift to the governments of the United Kingdom, France and the USA and returned them in 'as-new' condition.
- The Sopranos: Dr. Melfi is having trouble with her car, and with the mechanics who are fixing it. When Tony learns this during one of his therapy sessions, he has her car stolen, fixed, and returned that night. She's grateful, but not happy about it.
- In an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Nog "borrows" General Martok's supply of bloodwine to complete a trade for needed starship parts. Martok is understandably pissed, but is mollified when he gets back bloodwine of a much finer vintage.
- Played with in this segment from The Unpleasant World of Penn & Teller. Stephen Fry reluctantly parts with his expensive watch, which Penn & Teller proceed to improve. Specifically (and in order), the watch becomes waterproof, shock-resistant, smashed to bits, capable of holding 50 phone numbers, and fish-proof.
- In Nomine: This is the modus operandi of Kyriotates, angels who manifest by possessing human bodies. (And animals, and in some cases plants and machines.) They suffer dissonance if they leave the host in a worse condition than when they "borrowed" it, so they'd rather be safe than sorry and put in some extra effort; this only applies to living hosts, however; Kyriotates capable of possessing machines or other inanimate objects don't inherently need to worry about the state they leave these things in. Their demonic counterparts, the Shedim, couldn't care less about their host and take pleasure in corrupting it.
- Inverted in Cave Story. You get your first weapon, the Polar Star, by stealing it from the hermit gunsmith. If you return to him later in the game, he angrily takes the Polar Star back—but calms down when he notices how much wear and tear is on the gun now. Genuinely impressed that you put his weapon to such good use, he upgrades the Polar Star into the Spur and gives it back to you. If you traded it away in exchange for the Machine Gun or the Snake and talk to the gunsmith, he laments that someone stole a gun from him and it wasn't even complete yet, hinting at the possibility of being able to get it upgraded later if you keep it with you.
- In Chrono Trigger, Dalton steals the Epoch. But when the heroes steal it back, it can fly.
- In Dragon Quest V, your sword can be "stolen" by a creepy old lady who lives in one of the dungeons of the game and offers to let you and your new bride spend the night. While your wife does have doubts as to whether or not it's a good idea to take up the old hermit on her offer, doing so results in a special cutscene. You wake up in the middle of the night unable to move due to a magical spell, and you and your wife hear ominous grinding sounds from the next room. It turns out the old woman had used magic on you to ensure you have a good nights sleep and spent hours sharpening your sword.
- It is very possible to do this to NPCs in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim with enough ranks in Pickpocket, Smithing and Enchanting.
- In Fallout 2, your car may be stolen in Reno, but if you find it in the chop shop, the guys who stole it will helpfully return it to you better than before.
- In Grand Theft Auto V, one of the properties you can buy as Franklin (and only Franklin) is an auto repair shop that will let you get all your vehicle customizations free of charge. However, this deal only applies to Franklin, so if you want to upgrade the other character's vehicles without paying for them, you have to invoke this trope.
- When Michael's family leaves, Jimmy takes his car and some of his cash. Much later in the game, Jimmy returns the car with a few modifications.
- At the end of Half-Life 2, the Citadel's automated Confiscating Field takes and disintegrated all of Gordon's weapons...just to accidentally power up the Gravity Gun when it tries to destroy it, turning it into the weapon Gordon cleans up the entire Citadel with.
- A strange variation in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: if you hurl a rusty sword or shield at an inhaling octorok, then when the octorok spits the sword or shield out, it'll no longer be rusty; it'll be good as new.
- A variant appears in Professor Layton and the Unwound Future. His car isn't stolen, exactly, but Don Paolo has taken the Laytonmobile and given it some modifications. These modifications are useful to the point of being necessary for Layton to rescue his adopted daughter, who has been kidnapped by the Big Bad. Allegedly, this is the specific reason that Don Paolo did what he did.
- In Quest for Glory IV, Tanya is kidnapped and turned into a vampire... and then the vampire who turned her teaches her to read and write. After you restore Tanya to life and return her to her parents, Yuri and Bella, Bella says that while she may never forgive the woman who kidnapped Tanya, she can appreciate what Tanya learned while she was away.
- In Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure, the elusive Phantom R is infamously known for stealing from famous art galleries (usually the Louvre), but the biggest mystery rivaling his true identity is why he bothers to return an art piece he recently stole. It's later revealed that as Raphael, he came up with the Phantom R persona after finding out that his missing father had a secret vault in their apartment which is full of famous artwork. The reason for this was because Raphael's father was an expert in forgery who made perfect replications of said artwork which he would later steal and swap for sale on the black market to pay for Raphael's medical bills. As Phantom R years later, Raphael planned to steal back the forgeries and return the true articles in their place.
- In Shadows of the Servants, a dark creature snatches a voodoo doll from you, tearing its neck in the process. The same doll turns up later in another room, and removing its now-loosened head reveals a key you need.
- In the classic text-adventure game Zork, one of the treasures you find is a jeweled egg... but if you let the thief (i.e., Lucien Kaine) steal it, when you find his lair later, you find that the egg has been opened, and it contains a golden singing bird—much more valuable!
- The first victim of Case 5 of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, Archie Buff, was an Adventurer Archaeologist-cum-Phantom Thief who stole many valuable historical artifacts. However, he was motivated purely by academic interest, and would return them once his studies were complete, often having restored them in the process.
- In Freefall, Sam steals his neighbor's truck, claiming it to be "borrowing" — he did intend to return it, after all. Florence works on it for a while before returning it. It runs a bit better afterward.
- Schlock Mercenary: Captain Kaepu finds himself with a bunch of "uninvited guests" on his shipnote , and in reassuring him they just want to "borrow" some of his ship's equipment;
"Don't worry, captain. You'll have a better fabber, and we still won't want your ship."Tomorrow, though? You'll be the captain of the ship where ten thousand dead people came back to life."
- In Touhou Journal, Marisa borrows Reimu's Rubik Cube, and in a fit of irritation, breaks it. Desperate, she hands it to Nitori to fix it, who modifies the cube to make it insanely more difficult. Reimu is visibly giddy at the new addition.
- Dan Vs.: In "Dan vs. Dan", when Dan finally gets his life and apartment back from the imposter, he's thankful that the Fake Dan cleaned up the place. A quick cut to ten minutes later, and the apartment is somehow just as messy as before.
- In "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings", Fry switches hands with the Robot Devil, but is eventually forced to switch them back.
Fry: And what did you do to my nails?
Robot Devil: I cleaned them.
- Played for Laughs in Bender's Big Score: Bender swaps Leela's engagement ring with a fake, but after examining the stolen ring, he realizes that the replacement he made is actually more valuable. He shrugs it off, considering it his gift to Leela.
- In "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings", Fry switches hands with the Robot Devil, but is eventually forced to switch them back.
- In Hanna-Barbera's The Little Rascals episode "The Case of the Puzzled Pals", Darla asks Alfalfa to help her find her missing doll. It turned out that Spanky had taken Darla's doll so he could put a new dress on it.
- In A Pup Named Scooby-Doo Episode 22, "Night of the Boogey Biker" (the first episode of Season 3), Scooby and the gang try to find out who stole Red Herring's aunt's bike. They discovered that Red took it to add a sidecar to it as a gift for her.
- This is the M.O. of the 'Midnight Mender' in the Sally Bollywood episode "The Midnight Stitch-Up".
- In Teen Titans (2003), the Hive takes over the Titans' (filthy) Tower. By the time the Titans retake it, the Hive have cleaned it up and alphabetized their CDs. Beast Boy and Cyborg are appalled since now they can't find anything, and they were saving that blue mold.
- In Transformers: Animated, the Headmaster steals Sentinel Prime's body and, while he has his hands on it, upgrades it.
- There is an Urban Legend that says Fred Rogers' car was once stolen. When the thieves discovered whose car it was, they returned it with an apology note and all the damage they had done repaired. Some variations of the legend also say that the car was detailed upon return with a few coats of car wax. Snopes covered it here.
- There have been incidents of stolen lawn ornaments like gnomes, eventually returned to the owner with a book of photographs showing the gnome in distant and exotic locations, if the photographs aren't sent from the location itself.
- In the mid 1990s, a disillusioned mid-level bank employee staged a real life Bavarian Fire Drill caper which led to him walking out the front door of his former place of employment with over $1,000,000 in a duffel bag. When tracked down several years later thanks to the Improbably Cool Car he bought as his one splurge, however, he was ultimately able to gain a reduced sentence and make a settlement with the bank allowing his family to keep some of the money and much of the property he had purchased: Through otherwise conservative spending and some savvy investing, he had actually turned his bloodless $1 million caper into a $12 million diversified portfolio, allowing him to make full recompense for his single crime, plus interest.
- In this Reddit anecdote, when the user was in grade-school, a bully stole his Game Boy Color with his copy of Pokémon Red, then gave it back with a Mew added to it through a cheating device.