If an ongoing story has a cast of regular characters, it is common that new characters join it and others leave it. If the authors are not in the mood to actually kill him, he may be Put on a Bus to a distant location, alive and well, but not taking part in the story anymore. And even more, the bus may come back, or the character may be Commuting on a Bus. Or the bus may crash unexpectedly.
But in some cases, the character never actually takes the bus. He announces that he will do it, he says all his goodbyes, finishes his unfinished business (or decides to leave it unfinished), gets packed, shows up at the station, hears the speaker announce the imminent departure of his bus... and never leaves. Perhaps his true love came to beg him "Please Don't Leave Me". Perhaps he reconsidered. Or perhaps a meteorite destroyed the only bridge out of town, so the bus can not leave. In any case, he was about to take the bus, but never did so, and stayed in the show.
The trick may also be pushed a little further when the character does leave, but returns so quickly that their absence becomes a mere technicality. When we say "quickly", we mean quickly as "in the very same episode" or perhaps the next one; no more than that.
Usually, if he's a main character, this is as far as the bus will go, as an actual departure would be a very dramatic change, or even force the story to end on the spot. Did you think that he would really do it? For secondary characters, it is a way to point their importance to the story: if his leaving would change so much, that means he is important.
Unlike when The Bus Came Back, this all happens within an episode or story arc. The usual Real Life Writes the Plot causes to put a character on a bus (the actor left, the writer does not like the character, executive meddling, etc) do not apply.
Not to be confused with Missed the Bus, which is the literal case.
Of course, the examples may contain spoilers. But as the outcome is "in the end, the character does not leave", if you are watching reruns and have seen the work after this point, and the character is still around, you should have guessed it anyway.
- Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteru has Ichiko's arc end with Mizuho organizing a faux-wedding and setting the record straight in lieu of his Missing Mom. Ichiko then ascends, believed to be going to heaven for good. That is, until Mizuho returns to the dorm to find Ichiko back in the dorm with everyone else.
- In the Pokémon episode "Pikachu's Goodbye", Ash and his friends discover a colony of Pikachu living in a forest. Thinking his Pikachu would be happier living with its own kind, Ash tries to leave it behind. However, he soon discovers that Pikachu wouldn't leave him for anything.
- She-Hulk, at the end of Dan Slott's run. Iron Man had Brought Her Down to Normal, but there was a new She-Hulk in town: a Jennifer Walter from an alternate universe without superhumans, who got powers when moving to the Marvel Universe. They made a deal: "our" Jennifer would depart to that universe, and the new foreign one would stay. She said goodbye to everybody, Reed Richards sent her thought the dimensional portal, but had an idea: he took her back right after she moved to that universe, restoring her powers. So, the Marvel Universe kept the She-Hulk who had been She-Hulk since the 1970's, and the foreigner left.
- Cacofonix in Asterix and the Normans. Justforkix, a kid from Lutecia, enjoyed his music (despised by all the other Gauls of the village) and told him that it would be trendy in Lutecia. So, Cacofonix simply left the village, without telling anyone, and nobody even noticed that he was gone... until Asterix needed him to deal with the invading Normans. Cacofonix did not care, but when he heard that Justforkix was in danger, he returned to save him.
- The Avengers #183 and #184. Instead of seeking revenge, the Absorbing Man tried to take a ship to South America. There are no super heroes in there (at least, not many ones), and he could be a jerk without any interference. Bad luck: he was a jerk with Hawkeye in his civilian identity when he waited at the port. This made the Avengers come after him, and by the time he got rid of them, the ship had already left.
- Ms. Marvel, in her #10 issue, had a tragic encounter with another Ms. Marvel from a Expendable Alternate Universe. She left to the space, and thought about leaving the planet and not returning. But what the hell, doing that is another way of escaping from problems instead of dealing with them... so she turned back and returned home.
- Captain America did this in the Cap's Kooky Quartet. Power Man and the Enchantress managed to turn the Avengers into heroes with bad publicity. Captain America managed to clean their names; and then retired. He gave up his Captain America identity, and started a new life as a boxer... which lasted for just some pages. When he heared in the radio that the Avengers had been kidnapped by Kang, he took the shield again and headed to the battle without a second thought.
- Star Trek: Early Voyages: In "One of a Kind", Nano is recalled to his homeworld Liria after three of his people are killed in a fire so that his presence can allow the shared consciousness to heal. He has mixed feelings about his impending departure from the Enterprise. Considering that he was created to be an outsider, Nano tells Sita Mohindas that returning to Liria should be a dream come true. However, he does not want to leave his friends and shipmates on the Enterprise. Nano is eventually allowed to remain in Starfleet as the Unity believes that he can help the Lirin to dispel their fears of the unknown by periodically returning home and sharing his experiences aboard the Enterprise with them.
- In Back to the Future Part III, the Doc falls in love with Clara, a woman of the far west. He told her he was from the future, so she slapped him and took the train out of the city, while Doc and Marty tried to use a train to activate the time machine. She discovered that he said the truth and run to him, trying to catch the train and beg his pardon. In the end, only Marty returned to 1985: Doc was out of the time machine saving Clara's life, and it was destroyed after Marty returned. But that does not stop a scientist: Doc made a new time machine, built into a train powered by steam, and reunites with Marty in what is an instant from his perspective (but long enough for Doc and Clara to have started a family from theirs).
- Perhaps the most extreme case was in Sos Mi Vida. Esperanza actually did take the bus, she got on it and departed, never to return again... but Martín chased the bus with his car, stopped it by stopping the car in front of it, and made the successful "please don't leave me" speech on the bus itself.
- Vero Diorio from Graduados was tired of being Just Friends with Andy Goddzer, and planned to join some hippies in a trip to Antarctica. Andy convinced her to stay with a passionate kiss. The relation was not continued, and they returned to be just friends.
- Lucas Leiva from Herederos De Una Venganza tried to take a bus with his girlfriend, to leave Vidisterra, all the problems and failed loves, and even the strange curses that plagued the village. Good luck with that! Before they could leave, there was a new curse: all the paths became unusuable. The land paths flooded, the paths in the mountains had landslides, even the bad weather did not allow helicopters. Nobody gets in or out Vidisterra!
- Matías Beltrán from the Argentine series Patito Feo began a promising football career, and got a contract to play in the European league. He was torn between this and his girlfriend Patito, and considered all the possible ways to manage it. Keep the relation in the distance, break with her, take her with him, give it up, etc. Finally, they accepted to break the relation (in good terms), and Matías would go to Spain. But, in the last friendly match before leaving, the other team played dirty and severely hurted him. Thus, he stayed in the country.
- Annie Eddison from Community. She spends the entire season one finale having decided to transfer with her boyfriend for a different college. This includes a scene of her saying her goodbyes to the study group, them thinking that she'll be back next semester, with only Jeff knowing the truth, but at the last second she decides to stay.
- Bones: Zack gets talked into volunteering for the Army and going to Iraq, gets replaced at the Jeffersonian, is sure he'll be killed while away - and then shows up again an episode or two later, having washed out.
- In the season 5 opener of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Giles confides to Willow that he's going to return home to England, because Buffy no longer requires his services as a Watcher. At the end of the episode, when he's about to tell Buffy, she specifically tells him she needs him as her Watcher, and Giles changes his mind. He spends the rest of the show's run with one foot on the bus, vacillating between whether Buffy truly needs him, or if he's holding her back by staying in Sunnydale.
- There was an episode of That '70s Show where Donna was about to leave town to go to a distant college, and Eric was distraught about it and went to the station to stop her—but decided at the last minute to play it cool instead so as not to appear needy. Donna walks around to the bus, the bus leaves—and Donna is still standing there when it does, deciding she didn't want to leave Point Place and Eric after all.
- In Fraggle Rock, Gobo is worried that he hasn't received a postcard from Uncle Matt for some time and decides to leave to go find him, thinking he's in trouble. Everyone gives him a tearful send-off as Gobo steps out into the unknown. Moments later, he returns, with a postcard from Uncle Matt explaining that he was just recovering from the flu.
- At about the middle of season 3 of Burn Notice, Fiona decided didn't want to stay in Miami with Michael trying to get his old job at the CIA back. She planned to go back to Ireland, but the appearance of an old enemy from her IRA days derailed the plan and, inadvertently, Operation Un-Burn Michael.
- The Stargate SG-1 episode "Frozen" had O'Neill become infected with the plague that forced the Ancients to ascend, for which Earth, obviously, had no cure. The Tok'ra temporarily made him a temporary host for a symbiote to cure him, but a clusterf*** involving Jack's code of ethics butting heads with the symbiote's previous mission ensued. Jack disappeared for an episode then reappeared and was captured by Ba'al in "Abyss".
- Aurora Andrés from Solamente Vos was in love with Juan Cousteau, who was married, and had a pregnant wife. Trying to forget him, she spent some months with Segundo, who proposed her to leave the country and go to Spain. She accepted, she told everybody that she would leave with him; but at the last moment she did not took the taxi to the airport. Segundo left without her.
- Joan Watson in Elementary is Sherlock's sober companion and she is only supposed to make sure he doesn't do drugs for a fixed amount of time, after which she is to move on to become someone else's sober companion. She talks about leaving for a few episodes, then on the day she is supposed to leave she gets a time extension.
- Viudas E Hijos Del Rock And Roll
- Vera, tired of the manipulations at the "Z-Rock" radio, left Buenos Aires and returned to Rosario, and only told Gabriela (who has letting her stay at her home) with a goodbye note. She did return to Rosario, but got in problems immediately: a drug dealer noticed the police at the Rosario bus station, left her luggage next to Vera (who was still sleeping), and run away. Vera, without suspecting anything, left the bus with that luggage, to ask what to do with it; and the police stopped her, checked it, and detained her for having a luggage full of drugs. Conveniently an Orphan, and without anyone else to ask for help, she made the One Phone Call to Gabriela, who was conveniently at home with all the guys interested in helping her.
- Subverted by the rancher Tony, who had to spend some time in Buenos Aires. Tired of Lourdes trying to have sex with him, and Segundo trying to have a romance with him (despite having a family), Tony headed to the bus station. Segundo followed him, and pleaded him not to leave... but hey, Tony is just returning to work at the Arostegui's ranch, just that.
- Doctor Who's rebooted 8th series played heavily with this. After the Doctor's regeneration, Clara is unsure if she likes the new him. Throughout the series there is increasing pressure from her growing relationship with Danny to put her adventures with the Doctor aside. In "Kill the Moon", the Doctor leaves Clara behind to save the world herself, and she is so upset by this that she decides to leave him. The prelude trailers for "Mummy on the Orient Express" don't show Clara at all; however, she does appear in this episode and, after affirming her decision to leave the Doctor throughout, has a heart-to-heart with him at the end and makes a sudden decision to stay with him after all. All this has been complicated by internet rumours that actress Jenna-Louise Coleman is leaving the show, which may have been planted in order to help viewers think she was really dropping out mid-series.
- Played with in "The Big Bang": Amy and Rory just got married and the Doctor received a distress call. The Doctor is about to take off and tells Amy and Rory, "Well, I guess this is goodbye." Amy agrees...then rushes to the TARDIS door and shouts out to the wedding reception, "Goodbye!"
- "Time-Flight" ends with Tegan finally making it back to her home time period after several failed attempts throughout the season and leaving the TARDIS. The following serial, "Arc of Infinity", has Tegan get involved in a plot by Omega, resulting in her joining the TARDIS crew once more.
- In the episode "The Only Light in the Darkness" of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., SHIELD does not exist anymore, and anyone can be a double agent of HYDRA. Coulson tells May that she must either follow his orders, or leave. She leaves, without saying goodbye to anyone (which would be totally in her style). But, as the story goes on, it becomes clear that she had not left to return home: she left to retrieve evidence that would prove her loyalty to Coulson.
- In one episode of The Muppet Show, Gonzo plans to leave after getting a movie deal, but ends up coming back because the studio realized they had the wrong Gonzo (he was Gonzo the Great, the one they wanted was Gonzo the Mediocre).
- Fearing that María la del barrio may take Nandito with her, Gripina Pérez tried lo leave Mexico immediately, before María could tell him that she's his real mother. He called her from the train station, to say goodbye, and she headed to the station. It was useless, she got to the anden when the train was already leaving, she could not stop it or board it, and her cry "I'm your mother" got lost among the train noises. But that's not the end! If the driver goes really fast, they can still catch the train at the next station! And that's what she did: she got there before, she found nandito, told him the truth, and they all returned to Mexico.
- In the second season of Without a Trace, Jack planned to leave New York with his wife, even putting in for a transfer. At the end of the season finale, his wife told him she didn't want him to come with her, so he stayed; the third season premiere has him getting the transfer stopped.
- In an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Dr. Forrester fires TV's Frank and orders him to vacate Deep 13. Frank says his farewells, and the other characters even put together a slide show to commemorate his time working in Deep 13. Then at the very end, Frank tricks his replacement into getting fired, thus getting himself re-hired.
- At the end of Sherlock's third season, Sherlock is forced to leave England for killing the episode's villain. However, his plane is barely in the air when Moriarty announces his return, and Sherlock is quickly pardoned and the plane turns around.
- In the fifth season of Justified, Raylan is given transfer orders sending him back to Florida. As he's preparing to go, he's asked to stick around to help build a case against Boyd, and he agrees.
- On My Name Is Earl, Earl is in a coma and dreams that he's in a Dom Com. He gets a call that he's being promoted, and it means he'll be "leaving the show." (Dying in the "real" world.) When Josh comes to pick him up, he decides he's not going to take the new job, and therefore not going to leave. This corresponds to Randy doing List items, and figuring out that that's what's keeping Earl from dying.
- At the end of the Resident Mad Scientist arc in Schlock Mercenary, Kevyn says he's going to quit the Toughs because he's been turned into a nanotech-powered living weapon and feels like a threat to all his friends. He's convinced to stay, first by the Toughs coming to him with mechanical problems to fix, then by Petey removing the nanotech in his sleep.
- Noob: At some point in the story, Arthéon's player announces that he's going to be sent to boarding school, which may keep him from playing the game in which the story is set. However, he manages to install the game in the school's computer room, so he's ultimately just seen less frequently rather than outright leaving.
- Clarence: During the six-part "Clarence's Stormy Sleepover", Ms. Baker is in the middle of moving out of Aberdale to California without telling anyone because she feels like she isn't needed. She gets stopped on the way out by a flood that gets her locked in a convenience store and then a (poorly located) shelter. After organizing everyone to keep the shelter from flooding, she decides to stay.
- In Futurama's episode "Overclockwise", Leela left Planet Express and departed to a distant place. Fry, who was left alone, even tries to commits suicide (But he finds the omnipotent Bender instead). Leela returns at the end of the episode, and reads Bender's predictions about her fate with Fry.
- SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Texas": A homesick Sandy is about to step on a bus, supposedly leading her to the ocean surface, when SpongeBob and Patrick (not wanting her to leave) interrupt her and try to get her to stay. She refuses and boards the bus, but as it drives away, Patrick says "What's so great about dumb old Texas?" The bus immediately returns and an angry Sandy steps out. This gives SpongeBob the idea of calling Texas bad names. This angered Sandy enough for her to chase after them and for them to lead her to the surprise: a Texas-styled party at Krusty Krab to make her feel "at home". It doesn't really remind her much of Texas, but does make her realize that her home is just wherever her friends are, so she stays.