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You Owe Me

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"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 Supernatural 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 will one day bring up how they helped the other out of a tight spot at one time out of the goodness of their own heart, placing the character they helped into an obligatory 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 grievous circumstance. Some people who are Vicariously Ambitious have a tendency to later come back to the person they supported and expect this trope to be in effect. This trope is what the Debt Detester strongly tries to avoid, especially if they fear being taken advantaged of by whomever they owe a favor to. Contrast Think Nothing of It, which is often used by The Cape and good friends. Also contrast I Owe You My Life, when the debt is invoked by the one rescued instead of the rescuer.


If the favor is actually returned, the debt might be over as that Makes Us Even. But not always: if both favors are not comparable, the guy may consider that the other still owes him.


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    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. In fact, it actually made a lot of shippers happy to hear when Misty admitted she forgot this, as this was supposedly the main reason why she was traveling with Ash.
    • Destroying bikes is a Once a Season bit; May subtly guilts Ash into travelling together because of it, and she only brings the issue up again so that he wouldn't be walking so fast (May's a bit lazy on her feet at the start of her journey).
  • Tengen 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.

    Comic Books 
  • Superman: During the late 90s, Lex Luthor bought and shuttered the Daily Planet. In a later story, the Daily Planet was back up and running under new management. In a flashback scene, it was revealed that Lois Lane met with Luthor, who agreed to sell the Planet to a competing news organization. In exchange he told Lois that someday in the near future, he would have Lois kill a story of his choosing, or he would tell Perry White about their deal, which would seemingly torpedo her journalism career. When the time came for Lex to have Lois kill a story, Lois instead informed Perry herself rather than knuckle under to Lex.
  • Ultimate X-Men: Many years in the past, Wolverine saved Nick Fury's life. End of flashback. Fury is back home from his mission, and checks the lost calls on his phone. The first one is Logan: "Nick, it's me. Listen carefully, I don't have much time here". Later on, he shows up to close Weapon X with an army of agents.

    Fairy Tales 
  • Among the generally heart-wrenching begging Betta does at Pintosmalto's door in Pintosmalto, reminding him that he is indebted to her for his life is not a high note.

    Fan Works 
  • The Rigel Black Chronicles: Harriett and Marcus Flint Jr come to an arrangement after he recognises that she isn't her cousin Archie, but she later wants more certainty, so she persuades him to accept a sealing curse to ensure her secret is protected, in exchange for a Vow of Undisclosed Debt. He calls it in during her third year, to help him evacuate his mother from an abusive situation.
    I write in haste. I need you to contact 'Rigel' without delay—whoever he is, wherever he is, I don't care. He and I have an agreement, and I'm calling it in. The Leaky Cauldron, three nights hence.

    Films — Animation 
  • 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Wars:
  • In Midway, Charlton Heston's character asks 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.
    • A "blink and you'll miss it" scene near the beginning shows that his arm wasn't even broken in the first place.
  • 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.
  • Subverted in X-Men.
    Rogue: I saved your life!
    Wolverine: No you didn't.
  • Likewise subverted in End of Days.
    Jericho: I saved your life!
    The Devil: No. You saved this body.
  • In John Wick: Chapter 2, it is revealed that the Continental system includes exchanges of favors, known as Markers, which fall under this. If one person holds another's Marker, then that person must do one favor, no questions asked, for the holder, cannot act against the holder until the Marker is honored, and the holder is legally permitted to anything he sees fit to compel the debtor to honor the Marker should he hesitate. The plot of the movie is set in motion by an old colleague of John's who holds his marker calling it in, once again forcing him out of retirement.
    • During the movie Wick has to ask another crime lord a favour. When he gives this trope, Wick notes the irony — as he's trying to kill the last man who did this, the crime boss might not want Wick owing him favours.

  • 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 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.
  • In Oscar Wilde's short story "The Devoted Friend", after the winter when Hans had to pawn his silver buttons and wheelbarrow in order to eat, Hugh Miller offers him his wheelbarrow, which Hans never receives because Hugh Miller will come up with an errand and rebuke Hans as ungrateful for the wheelbarrow which Hugh promises to Hans, which prompts Hans to go to town and do such errands as taking a sack of flour to market, mending the hole in Hugh's barn roof with a plank which Hans gave to Hugh, working himself tired with very little time for rest, and ultimately going out in a storm to get a doctor for Hugh Miller's son, and Hans unfortunately drowns when he wanders off into a swamp on a rainy night, and Hans never received the promised wheelbarrow because he was too busy generously doing favors for his neighbor, Hugh Miller.
  • The Dresden Files: 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. He lied. 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.
  • A mostly off-screen example comes up late in the New Jedi Order when the Ryn network cobbles together an irregular but quite substantial fleet on short notice on the basis of each individual ship captain owing them "a favor" for past assistance. Then Han points out with a little trepidation that now he and Leia, and Supreme Commander Pellaeon of the Empire, owe them a favor.
  • The Godfather does this all the time, using his wealth and power to do favors for people that he expects to be reciprocated at a future date. It's not shown what happens to anyone who's foolish enough not to keep their end of the bargain, because no-one dares refuse a Mafia boss.
  • In Worm Cauldron is willing to accept promises of a future favor in addition to cash as part of their payment for super powers. The trading and owing of favors is also very common among capes in general.

    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.
    • Subverted in "The I In Team". Giles tries to express his gratitude for Spike helping him in the previous episode where he'd been turned into a demon, but Spike rudely shuts him down, saying he only did it for the money Giles promised. Later Spike turns up, begging him for help as he's being pursued by the Initiative.
    Giles: Why should I help you?
    Spike: Because I helped you! When you turned into that Fyarl demon, I helped you, didn't I? [smug]
    Giles: And that was out of the, um, evilness of your heart?
    Spike: Oh, hell no. I made you pay me— [stops grinning] You right bastard. [hands back the money]
  • 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.
    • When Buffy mentions this trope in "I Will Remember You", Angel gets annoyed. "We keeping score, now?"
  • 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.
  • A heartwrenching one occurs in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode "Bullets Over Bel Air". Carlton ends up purchasing a gun in fear after Will is hospitalized by Taking the Bullet for Carlton after a mugging at an ATM. At first, Will tries to be his usual joking self, then tries to calmly reasons with Carlton to give up the gun, realizing that he'll hurt someone, intentionally or accidentally. When both of those fail, Will gets quite angry when Carlton tries to leave.
    Will: [sternly] Carlton.
    Carlton: [turns around] No more hugs, Will. [goes to turn back around]
    Will: I saved your life, man. I saved your life! YOU OWE ME! [Carlton turns back around] Now give me. The gun. Carlton. [Beat] Give me the gun. I saved your life. I WANT THE GUN!
  • A Dirty Cop tries this with Pete Malloy in Adam-12 once. The other officer saved Pete's life earlier in the ep during a scuffle with some suspects. After Pete catches him committing bribery, he tries to throw it back at Pete, saying Pete owes him for saving his life. Pete isn't swayed.
  • Likewise in A Touch of Frost. A wanted criminal is suspected of murdering a police officer, so he holes up and demands to speak to Frost, declaring that he's innocent. Frost is able to talk him into surrendering, but then he makes a gesture that looks like he's about to shoot Frost and so gets shot dead by Frost's partner, who's the actual murderer. When Frost proves this, his partner tries this trope to talk Frost out of arresting him.
    Partner: I saved your life!
    Frost: Did you, Constable? Did you really?
  • It Takes a Thief (1968). A Jerkass criminal who saved Mundy's life by carrying him to safety during World War II plays this trope to get Mundy's help for a heist. At the end of the episode he gloats that it was actually another soldier who did that, dying just as he reached the criminal's foxhole, and he just took credit for it.
  • Lucifer. Rather than collecting souls, Lucifer does favors in Horrible Hollywood which he expects to be returned at a later date. When he asks a favor of Ella however, she points out that the whole point of doing a favor is not to expect it to be reciprocated. Although not evil in this series Lucifer is extremely self-centered, so he finds this concept difficult to understand.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation. In "Unification, Part One", Captain Picard goes to ask Chancellor Gowron for the lend of a Klingon warbird. Gowron however has been rewriting the events of the Klingon Civil War to make it seem like he won without Starfleet's help. So Picard gets the ship by pointing out if the Federation can't get any help from Gowron, they could always approach some other Klingon faction, and then they would have the Federation's gratitude...
  • Star Trek: Enterprise: Shran, vis-a-vis Archer. When Archer helps to reveal that the Vulcans are spying on Andoria, Shran's last shot before leaving is a pissed-off statement acknowledging that he owes Archer. He later turns up to bail them out, repaying the debt and then some — the two of them go back and forth with owing each other until a Fire-Forged Friendship evolves. Played for Black Comedy when Archer punches Shran in response to him invoking this trope. "I've owed you that one for a long time!" (A Call-Back to Shran beating him up on their first meeting.)
  • In Boardwalk Empire, Gyp Rossetti has someone buried to his neck in the sand at the beach. The uncle of the victim begs him for mercy, which Rossetti grants by foregoing his chosen method of death by rising tide, instead beating the victim to death with a shovel. He leans in and says "You owe me" while walking off the beach.
  • Deconstructed in Game of Thrones when Daenerys stops the army commanded by her husband Khal Drogo from their Rape, Pillage, and Burn. Later one of the women she saved gets her revenge by poisoning Khal Drogo.
    Dany: I spoke for you. I saved you.
    Mirri: Saved me? Three of those riders had already raped me before you saved me, girl. I saw my God's house burn, there where I had healed men and women beyond counting. In the streets I saw piles of heads... the head of the baker who makes my bread, the head of a young boy that I had cured of fever just three moons past. So tell me again exactly what it was that you saved?
    Dany: Your life!
    Mirri: Why don't you take a look at your Khal... Then you will see exactly what life is worth when all the rest has gone.
  • An episode of Corner Gas has Hank trying his hardest to do Brent a favour, and Brent trying his hardest to prevent Hank from doing him a favour. This is because Hank has an upcoming project to do involving lots of hard manual labour and is trying to make Brent "owe him one" so that he'll be forced to help out.

    Video Games 
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, by completing a series of quests for The King he'll grant you the permission to ask him for a favor. While you can use this to ask for things such as money, a passport to Vegas (if you don't already have access to there) or membership to his gang if you hold on to it for later one of the ways you can resolve the situation between the NCR and the Kings is to call in the favor, at which point he declares things even.
  • 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.
  • The Conclave DLC for Crusader Kings II allows characters to buy or earn Favors with others, which can be called in for special requests. Called favors can be used to overrule opinion preferences or even otherwise-ironclad game limitations that would prevent the request from being granted otherwise.

  • Unknown Lands: Vard is decidedly unenthusiastic when he hears that Kai wants him to help track down an incredibly powerful mage and ask for their aid, especially as he says Vard is supposed to be "the muscle" which Vard points out he's not built for. When Vard is almost out the door Kai points out that Vard owes him, which gets Vard to very reluctantly agree to help.

    Web Original 
  • In season 7 of Arby 'n' the Chief, this is the reason why Colin is working for Eugene and Tyler. Prior to joining Eugene's clan, Colin got himself into trouble for being a pedophile until Eugene managed to save him thanks to his connections, in exchange for Colin's services in terrorizing the OMN thanks to his technical brilliance. Despite this, Eugene takes any opportunity he can to wave this fact in Colin's face when his paranoia begins acting up, and Eugene even lampshades this trope when Colin attempts to ban Arbiter and Chief before they too can join their clain.

    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 desperately 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.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: 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, doesn't care in the least.
  • In an early episode of the '90s 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.
  • Superman: The Animated Series. Spoofed in "The Main Man". Superman saves Lobo from being eaten by a giant snake, so Lobo says he owes Superman for that. Moments later Superman is caught up in the snake's coils and is about to be eaten, but Lobo is enjoying the show.
    Superman: Lobo, you said you owed me!
    Lobo: What, now? [reluctantly shuffles over and rips off the snake's skin]


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