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Note: "Maxim 5" in The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries states "Close air support and friendly fire should be easier to tell apart." Should be, yes. But sometimes you need to call in an air strike on your own position, just to be sure.
—Schlock Mercenary, Author's note.
You're the hero, and you've got a chance to take a shot at the villain. If you don't do it now, the chances are good the villain will get away, or the doomsday device will go off, or something equally nasty. One problem: your ally is in the blast zone.
"Like You Would Really Do It", the audience (and maybe the villain) is thinking.
Sometimes the answer is "yes". While it's possible (and more common) for the hero to Take a Third Option, the hero actually going through (even accidentally) with it obviously has much more dramatic impact. An Anti-Hero will decide that saving the world is just too important to let collateral damage or personal concerns get in the way and tearfully pull the trigger. Sometimes there will be consent, explicit or inferred, on the part of the person in the firing line, that getting the villain is more important than them surviving. Non-Anti Heroes put in this position might have sworn a mutual pact to take the villain down no matter what, up to and including a Suicide Pact in dire circumstances, or the trapped character will give some sort of signal indicating to their comrade they're prepared to die for the cause. Or they may have some Applied Phlebotinum or superpower stashed away that the villain (or even the hero) doesn't know about and may secure their survival.
An alternate way this trope can occur is when a character makes a Heroic Sacrifice by directing someone else to open fire on their own position in hopes of taking out the villain as the villain attacks them.
If the character making the Heroic Sacrifice does die there will be deep repercussions. At the very least, if it's possible, a posthumous recognition of their life and deed will be called for. At worst, the hero will discover just how much Being Good Sucks, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, and they may spend the rest of their life as The Atoner.
May come close to or overlap with I Cannot Self-Terminate, Kill Us Both, Mercy Kill, and/or Shoot the Hostage if the character(s) sacrificed has been, or will be, put through hell by the villain, but a Mercy Kill alone does not this trope make. Arguably a supertrope of Kill Us Both.
This differs from Shoot the Hostage in that the innocent in the line of fire is not a hostage but a fellow hero. For cases where the character sacrificed is being used as a Human Shield, please put those examples under Shoot the Hostage rather than here.
Kill Us Both is a more specific case where the hero can restrain, but not defeat the villain on his own, and decides that he'd rather be killed than let the villain continue his reign of terror. This focuses more on the decision that collateral damage is acceptable and holding fire is not.
The heroic counterpart to We Have Reserves, this differs in that while the villain orders his archers to shoot at his own men callously, the heroic general gives the order with a deeply felt tear in his eye.
- Happens twice in the final battle against the Guild in Last Exile: Sophia orders the Sylvanas to shoot its way through the downed Urbania in order to not crash into it while they are charing Dalphine's warship. Moments later they shoot said warship only to learn just too late that Sylvanas' captured captian, Alex, was on board.
- And Alex's last words upon seeing the Sylvanas approaching were for her to open fire.
- In Dragonball Z, the only way to kill Raditz was for Piccolo to shoot him through Son Goku with the Special Beam Cannon.
- Not quite played straight: Goku does indeed make the sacrifice willingly, but Piccolo wanted to kill him anyway, and only regrets that Goku can come back to life afterwards.
- The Abridged Series plays this straighter on Goku's part: Goku asks Piccolo to warn him before he fires so that he can get out of the way and leave Raditz to die alone, but Piccolo simply kills them both instead, and proceeds to kidnap Goku's son as part of a plot to take over the world.
- In Code Geass, after Suzaku is immobilized but has caught Zero, the Britannian military orders him to keep them both there so they can bomb the area and kill them both together. This result is only avoided by Lelouch using his Geass to force Suzaku to save them. This is more due to apparent racism against Suzaku (an Honorary Britannian-A Japanese citizen that's in the Britannian military) as well as hatred of Zero, and Princess Euphemia herself tries to stop the bombing.
- Sometimes, Ranma ½ will have bitter foes teaming up to take down a common (and invariably much more dangerous) enemy. Then one of them will get hit by the other's friendly fire, starting up another fight between them while the actual enemy stares from the background.
- This trope is turned on its head in Naruto by Akatsuki members Hidan and Kakuzu. Hidan, a Combat Sadomasochist armed with a triple-pronged scythe and voodoo-doll like powers attacks foes close up, his partner, Kakuzu, a master of Elemental Powers shoots at Hidan and his opponent locked in combat. What makes this exceptional is that Hidan is functionally immortal, so its really only dangerous to their opponents.
- In one X-men comic, Cameron Hodge tried to goad Cable into shooting him through Psylocke. He failed and good that he did since he was literally Made of Iron and Psylocke would have been the only fatality.
- In The Green Berets, a forward base is being overrun and the base commander calls an airstrike on his own command post. However, friendly forces evacuate in time.
- One of the Brosnan James Bond had a situation where he ends up shooting M to get at the guy behind. Turns out it was a simulation, with M receiving Only a Flesh Wound in the process.
- A "call in an air strike on your own base" occurs near the end of Platoon. As North Vietnamese Army troops are overrunning a U.S. base, the commander orders a U.S. jet overhead to "expend all remaining" ordnance inside the base's perimeter. The ordnance turns out to include napalm, which incinerates almost everyone.
Capt. Harris: Snakebite leader, Bravo Six, for the record, it's my call. Dump everything you got left ON MY POS. I say again, I want all you're holding INSIDE the perimeter. It's a lovely fucking war. Bravo Six Actual and Out.
- The film Bat-21 has Gene Hackman's character calling down an air strike on a massing of enemy troops, despite the Reconnaissance pilot's warning that it's too close. though it's probably more inexperience than bravado.
- We Were Soldiers has this trope when the commander had to call in "Broken Arrow," massive emergency air support, to stop an enemy attack about to overrun their position. Unfortunately, one of the soldier calling in airstrikes has one that comes too close and some fellow soldiers are hit by the friendly fire. While the soldier is obviously distraught, the commander tells him to not worry about that and keep going since the entire unit's survival is at stake.
- In Beneath Hill 60, Pte. Tiffin has been trapped in a collapsed mine shortly before the explosion is set to be detonated. Unable to dig him out in time, the team beg Woodward to delay firing until Tiffin has been freed. Woodward, knowing what the consequences would be after months of careful planning, sets off the explosives, killing Tiffin.
- Discworld: In Hogfather, When Teatime is armed with Death's sword that can cut anything and in the presence of a dreamed-of chance to kill The Grim Reaper himself (not to mention the children Susan is responsible for), Susan, in desperation as much as anything, throws the poker (imbued with the children's belief that it can kill monsters), right through Death - showing that Death isn't a monster and the completely-human Teatime is. Death's been a fairly sympathetic character for a while by that point, but even so, Susan admits that she was only "reasonably confident" that it would work.
- A variation occurs in Red Storm Rising. As the NATO soldiers on Iceland are being overrun by Soviet troops, their newly arrived air support is forced to strafe dangerously close to the good guys' position. It's so close, in fact, that The Hero, Lt. Edwards, is nicked by shrapnel.
- In the Ciaphas Cain short story "The Beguiling," Cain calls down an artillery barrage on a finishing school he'd just left. The students are actually Slaaneshi cultists who'd created a daemonhost.
- He mentions several of these incidents when serving with Colonel Mostrue, one of the few people suspecting he's the self-serving weasel he describes himself as, and who has very little problem with speedily authorizing an artillery barrage on Cain's position.
- In Heroes, the puppetmaster Eric Doyle was defeated by having Claire's mother shoot her. Lucky for them, Doyle didn't know Claire has a Healing Factor.
- I recall a particular episode of Chuck where a particularly inconvenient air strike led to a near miss Out of the Inferno situation and a lot of Stuff Blowing Up.
- "The Best of Both Worlds" in Star Trek: The Next Generation -- Riker: "Mr. Worf... fire." (Un)fortunately, the attack is completely ineffective precisely BECAUSE Picard is aboard the enemy ship and has had all his knowledge of Star Fleet defenses and attack plans absorbed as part of his assimilation into the Borg.
- A much less extreme example, but in the Criminal Minds episode LDSK, Hotch does first verbally devastate and then physically kick the shit out of Reid in order to gain the trust of a sniper who's taken both of them hostage.
- A variant appears in the Battlestar Galactica Reimagined pilot:
Tigh: Seal off everything forward from frame 30 and start an emergency venting of all compartments.
- The Doctor of Doctor Who has occasionally found himself in this type of position. Most notably, it was revealed that in the Time War he locked all of the fighting in a inescapable loop, dooming everyone in it to eternally repeat the fighting. This included not only the Daleks and the Evil time-lords, but all his friends and family. In the End of Time he was forced to repeat his choice.
- After the trauma of the war, it perhaps explains why he hesitated so much in making a similar choice again, if it meant the death of his companion Rose. He got out of it the first time; the second he tricked her in to being sent home, while still leaving himself and Captain Jack Harkness to die.
- In NCIS, Gibbs had tracked down a spy within NCIS. Her operator, though, had grabbed her as a human shield. With the standard dramatic pauses, he finally shot through her and killed the bad guy, and her too.
- In Xenosaga, Kos-mos shoots through a team member to kill an enemy when she calculates it to be more efficient.
- In Soul Calibur III Maxi's ending has him telling Kilik to stab him to destroy the Soul Edge (and prevent him from falling under his influence). Whether he survives or not depends on a Quick Time Event.
- Prototype: Blackwatch has no qualms against "burning" their own to stop the spread of The Virus.
- Alex even gets an ability later that lets him impersonate a grunt, point at anyone and shout "It's him !!". Every soldier around immediately unloads on the poor schmuck. Yup, even if it's just another grunt. Heck, even if it's their commanding officer. Better safe than hideously dismembered by an abomination unto the eyes of God.
- A common manoeuver in Worms, a game that includes both teams of characters and various weapons of mass destruction. A deadly combination.
- Also a stock-standard maneuver in Final Fantasy Tactics, where non-Summon Magic spells hit anyone caught in the blast zone regardless of allegiance. While sometimes you might want to get away from a targeted enemy to avoid damage to your adjacent units, you might also decide to weather the damage if it will take out the enemy. In fact, two favorite techniques among players are to target your own unit with a spell, then send it rushing into the thick of enemy forces, or just going ahead and blasting everyone in the battlefield with a Calculator. Protecting them with magic-absorbing equipment is optional.
- Played perfectly straight in Metal Gear Solid. Shortly after Grey Fox takes out MG's radome, Snake is put in this position, complete with Liquid's comment "Can you really shoot? You'll kill him too!" Needless too say, you can't pull the trigger(or whatever the equivlant is on missile launchers)
- A common maneuver in Team Fortress 2 is the "spycheck": shoot your flamethrower at a teammate. If he doesn't immediately turn into a burning enemy spy, guess he was a friendly after all. (Fortunately, in this game you are Friendly Fireproof, so spychecking--or running at a supposed teammate to see if you no-clip through them--is highly recommended.)
- In armageddon of The Salvation War, during the final major battle in Hell (the humans against Beelzebub's army) several Russian BMP's called for artillery on their own position. Turned out better than expected for them since the incoming shells were full of sarin gas and a fully locked down BMP is gas tight (no air in). On the other hand, it didn't work out so well for those who didn't get the radio message.
- There were several episodes in World War II of observers calling down fire on their own positions. Several died doing this which would make it a Heroic Sacrifice.
- In the First World War the British perfected the art of the creeping barrage, for keeping the Germans' heads down as the attack advanced. Shrapnel shells explode forward, not outward, a bit like flying shotguns battering the ground in front of them; and the trick was to keep pace with the airbursts as the gunners shifted their aim, so they occurred right over your head and the ground in front of you was made unliveable. In fact, it was considered good form to hug the barrage so close that you received a few own-goals, because if you lost the barrage's protection you would expose yourself to even more murderous losses from German machine-gun fire.
- Forgetting this is the reason why much is made of British troops being ordered to walk towards the German lines. It wasn't out of some stupid fanatical adherence to discipline; it's because the person mocking the British for this tactic has forgotten about or doesn't know about the wall of high explosive and steel (and later, sometimes several walls at once) being swept back and forth across the enemy lines in support of the attack. Get the fire roller right, and the men can walk to their goal in perfect safety - get it wrong, and not all the running in the world will save them.