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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).

Examples of Living on Borrowed Time include:

Anime and Manga

  • Yuko Ichihara of XxxHolic 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.
  • 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.
  • Zest in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Striker S is revealed to be a former TSAB agent resurrected by Scaglietti with his cyborg project. Even after resurrection, his body is constantly degenerating, and he believes that he's running on borrowed time in order to finish some business with the TSAB.
  • 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...
  • In chapter 311 of Hunter X Hunter, Meryem is doomed to die in a matter of hours thanks to the Rose bomb's poison.
  • In Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: Vento Aureo, Bruno Buccelati Is killed by Diavolo, After his corpse is repaired by Giorno, he manages to remain animate through willpower alone. Because of Giorno's stand power, Bruno's body is very well preserved, to the point where his companions cannot tell that he has died.

Comic Books

  • In a recent Elf Quest 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.
  • This is the premise of 5 Days 2 Die. A mortally injured cop decides to make a final strike against crime.
  • In one Punisher MAX storyline, 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.
  • The entire premise of the Challengers of the Unknown, the name of this trope serves as their catchphrase. Four men were in a terrible plane crash but walked away without a scratch. Realizing fate had given them a reprieve, they become adventurers, in order to make the most of their "borrowed time". They don't fear death since they have already "died."
  • The origin of Iron Man. He has a nuclear reactor his chest that powers a magnet that keeps shrapnel from entering his heart and killing him. In Real Life, he'd be dead.


  • 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.

  • 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 2, Chev has his heart replaced by a machine, which technically qualifies him as a Cyborg.
  • 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 failed Batman Gambit to get him to jump.
  • 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.
  • The villain in The World Is Not Enough, who is still walking around as a bullet slowly works its way through his brain.
  • In Star Wars, Darth Vader lives in a life-support suit.
  • The Final Destination films run on this; all the protagonists have somehow cheated death, and Fate is trying to redress the balance.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.


  • In Discworld, Albert is a wizard who took the opportunity to work for Death rather than die. Thanks to taking shopping trips and making visits back home, he has about 15 minutes left in the real world, but if he stays in Death's country, he's safe.
    • Coin's father in Sourcery places his soul and mind in Coin's staff to try and cheat Death that way. It is at best a qualified success.
    • Happens twice in Reaper Man.

Live-Action TV

  • 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.
  • Burai of Kyoryu 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.
  • 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.

Tabletop Games

  • In Warhammer 40000, 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 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 the 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons 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. The flavor text is especially poignant.

 A life cut short. A quest left unfinished. One more task to be done.

    • Can count as Miles to Go Before I Sleep, and is thus on that page too.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.


  • 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

  • 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 demonic guardian of the timeline out to remedy the incongruity.
    • Elika is living on borrowed time in the 2009 reboot.
  • A major theme in Metal Gear Solid 4, most prominently with Snake who is dying from accelerated aging due to being an imperfect clone. 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.
  • In Nethack if you use a scroll of genocide on your normal race while polymorphed into something else, "you feel dead inside" and will die should you change back. If you quit, the death message is "quit while already on Charon's boat".
  • 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 any more, but its power is limited, and will fail eventually.
    • 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.
      • The Awakening expansion reveals that mages are immune to this particular side-effect of the taint, because 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.
  • 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 long been destroyed and his body is constantly being destroyed by blades.
  • 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.

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.

Western Animation