"My swashbuckling fop cannot take the flaw Dark Secret: Not Gay."Some characters that just have some dark terrible secret in their pasts that they don't want anyone to know. Sometimes they killed someone close to them. Sometimes they're secretly a double agent. Sometimes they took the last cookie from the cookie jar. It doesn't matter how big or small the secret is, it just matters that the person keeping it thinks that it's vitally important that it stay hidden. There are two standard reactions to these coming out. Either everyone involved is shocked and horrified and lives are ruined. Or it's almost an anticlimax either because they've known all along, or it just wasn't as dark a secret as the keeper thought it was. When it's a whole town that's doing this it's a Town with a Dark Secret. When you get even bigger in scale you get an Empire with a Dark Secret. My Greatest Failure is a particularly common type of Dark Secret, and it is often an element of a Dark and Troubled Past or a Mysterious Past and revealed in a Troubled Backstory Flashback. Related to They're Called Personal Issues for a Reason. See Open Secret for when your secret is not so secret. When they cause you to be suspected of unrelated crimes they become the Big Secret. This being a trope about secrets there will be Spoilers ahead.
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Anime and Manga
- How Tsume got his scar in Wolf's Rain. When his old pack was attacked by humans, he ran away, leaving his friends to die because he was afraid. He was exiled, and in the process he got his scar.
- Soubi in Loveless never tells Ritsuka anything about his past, especially the parts of it that involve Seimei. There's a reason for that. A twelve year old kid doesn't need to know that his beloved older brother was a sociopath who physically and emotionally abused his best friend/mentor/partner.
- The dark secret held by Hime in Happiness Charge Pretty Cure is the main drive of the entire series: she opened the Axia Box, releasing the Phantom Empire.
- Kokoro Connect: Taichi decides to reveal a dark secret about himself to Inaba, in an attempt to engender some trust between them. His secret? He's masturbated to her picture. Inaba freaks out in a confusing mix of emotions ("I'm disgusted and shocked and... strangely kind of touched?"), but it does help snap her out of her funk. Later she decides to return the favor by telling him a dark secret of her own: she's masturbated to his picture as well. She then grins broadly at Taichi's flustered reaction.
- In Death of the Family, Joker claims that Batman has a secret that he has hidden from the entire Batfamily. It remains to be seen if Batman does have one or if it's just a bluff.
- In Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl, Lex Luthor pretends he is a good guy and a philanthropist, backing the Justice Society and treating Supergirl like a daughter. However, Batgirl knew that he murdered baby Kal-El several years before the beginning of the story and got many people murdered, including her own parents. And she saw that everyone found out about it.
- In the second story-arc of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW) Nightmare Moon II claims that Rarity has one, which is part of why she choose her to be her new vessel.
- In Justice League of America (2013), Amanda Waller knows who Stargirl's biological father is and will have him answer for his actions if Stargirl does not comply.
- Evangelion 303: Jessika lusted after Asuka in a very creepy way. She memorized every tiny detail of her body and she fantasized about all naughty, perverted things that she wanted to do with and TO Asuka. However she never wanted that her friend found out about it.
- HERZ: Twelve years before the beginning of the story Misato was ordered executing Kaji. His death was covered up and nobody other than her knows what happened to him.
- Intercom: The emotions, when they first introduce themselves to Riley, don’t mention any of the events that happened during the film (though Fear almost let it slip when he said that Riley might become "apathetic again" in chapter 5). So this secret of how Joy and Sadness got lost hangs over the emotions while still trying to have Riley like them. It finally comes to light in Chapter 15, thanks to Forgetters Bobby and Paula Saying Too Much.
- There are more than a few dark secrets in The Lion King Adventures:
- Hago is Nala's father. He actually covered this up by altering Sarafina's memory, leading her to believe that a lion called Muerto was her actual father. He doesn't reveal it to his daughter until The Return of Hago.
- Zazu reveals that he inadvertently caused his father's death in Darkness Falls.
- Haiba certainly keeps his murder of Tama quite a secret. He comes clean in The Message, only to be rewarded with permanent scars from Simba.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fan story "Fluttershy Is Free", Fluttershy is half-Changeling, and has the Changeling powers of emotivory and empathy. She tries to tell Rainbow Dash, but RD doesn't believe her.
- In A.A. Pessimal's take on the Discworld, Assassin Miss Alice Band has a terrible dark secret known to only a very few. No, it's not that she's gay. Everybody knows this and only a few think it's an issue. In her childhood, a horrific act of abuse happened to her at school. Against her will, she was forced to learn the tuba in her school orchestra. She carries the scars - and the tuba - as an adult.
- Thousand Shinji: Subverted when the Keeper of Secrets -a daemon of the Warhammer 40,000 universe- reveals that Shinji finds his guardian Misato attractive and Shinji thinks that information is neither secret nor important.
“That is the best you can throw at me? Those are the terrible Secrets you Keep? That I’m a horny fourteen year old living with a sexually aggressive and experienced woman and I wouldn’t mind getting in her pants? By the Warp, this shocking revelation changes everything. Quick, call up the Gods; we have to get this critical piece of information to them in time!”
- America's Stepbrother, America's Enemy V2.0: Doublethink allows the core members of the Inner Party to explain to themselves where the stasis chambers came from. A mysterious alien gave them that tech and gave them pointers on how to better establish their eternal dystopia.
- Dark Secrets unsurprisingly has one: that Ron is a Death Eater.
- The movie I Know What You Did Last Summer is built on a dark secret shared by a group of friends after they accidentally kill someone with their car.
- A similar secret is kept by the protagonists of Urban Legend, involving the invocation of an urban legend to scare someone, leading to a fatal car crash.
- In The Last Witch Hunter, people tend to keep dark secrets reveal of which would benefit the plot greatly.
- The Axe and Cross hides one from Kaulder: the hunter's continued eternal life depends on the life of Witch Queen's heart, meaning the heart was never destroyed and the Queen can come back to life.
- Chloe is a dreamwalker, meaning she can access a memory Kaulder needs to solve the mystery of the plot, but hides it because it's Dark gift and she once accidentally hurt her little brother with it.
- A Nightmare on Elm Street's Dark Secret is the decision by the parents of Elm Street to take the law into their own hands and kill Freddy Krueger, who was known back then as the "Springwood Slasher" and liked to kill children.
- One Missed Call has Munchausen's By Proxy as the dark secret of one character.
- In the movie The Watcher in the Woods, a group of friends have kept the secret of Karen's disappearance since they were children, and are haunted by it.
- The World Is Not Enough: M is so ashamed over how she handled Elektra King's kidnapping that she sealed Elektra's file so that no one else can access it. When Bond requests the classified information as an employee, M flatly refuses with a stern warning ("I will not tolerate insubordination, 007"), so he resorts to using their implicit mother-son relationship (the gentle way he asks, "What happened?") before she willingly discloses a painful part of her past.
- X-Men: Days of Future Past: By 1973, Charles Xavier had never revealed to anyone—not even Raven, Erik or Hank—that as a nine-year-old kid, he thought he was going insane after his telepathy became active, and he didn't learn until he was twelve that he could in fact read other people's minds.
- In Japanese film Zero Focus, Sachiko, now the respected wife of a prosperous businessman, was once a prostitute who serviced American soldiers after the war. She kills two people, Kenichi and his brother Sotaro, to keep this secret.
- Zoe from Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Titan's Curse is Atlas's daughter.
- In Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, the heroine's husband has a dark secret. She believes he can't love her because he's still thinking of his first wife Rebecca who was supposedly drowned in a sailing accident. Turns out he had murdered Rebecca himself — and she had goaded him into it.
- In the fourth The Dark Tower novel, Roland's friends must see his dark secret to proceed along the Beam. They find out he shot and killed his mother, upon seeing Rhea's reflection in the Wizard's Glass.
- In the first Ellery Queen novel, "The Roman Hat Mystery", the murder victim is a blackmailer. No one familiar with the rules of Golden Age mystery novels will consider "murderer is being blackmailed" a spoiler. The secret worth killing over? One of the murderer's ancestors married a black woman. The line is so diluted that there are no visible signs of African descent in the murderer's appearance, but that "drop" of blood would ruin him socially and professionally.
- In the both the books, and the 90s TV adaptation of P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories, Jeeves reveals British fascist leader Sir Roderick Spode's terrible secret to Bertie: Spode owns a ladies' fashion boutique. Should this become widely known it would ruin his reputation.
Bertie: You can't be a successful Dictator and design women's' underclothing. One or the other. Not both.
- The Heroes of Olympus:
- Piper thinks she'll have to betray her friends.
- Hazel is directly responsible for Gaea bringing back Alcyoneus.
- The reader is every bit as aware of it as she is, but Gara Petothel / Lara Notsil, in the X-Wing Series, is a Deep Cover Agent who's gone through a private Heel–Face Turn, and is unhappily aware that the badly damaged pilot who she's falling in love with is damaged because of her actions.
- In the Warrior Cats series, many cats' forbidden relationships. The parentage of kits born to said forbidden relationships. Visiting the Dark Forest.
- The Missus and John-the-dig in The Thirteenth Tale can't let anyone know there is a third girl in Angelfield, or else Charlie's rapes and incest will become open public knowledge.
- In The Dresden Files, Harry treats his possession of the coin containing Lasciel as this. When he finally speaks of it to Michael, he already knows.
- In Ghost Story, Molly's secret is that she helped Harry- her mentor and Chicago's main protector against supernatural predators- kill himself. Her guilt over this fucks up her psyche and relationships with people, but she can't tell anyone for fear that they'll hate her as much as she does.
- Skulduggery Pleasant: "China Sorrows, China Sorrows. She's the one, she's the one. Nefarian Serpine killed Skulduggery Pleasant, but China Sorrows led his family into the trap."
- The Stormlight Archive: The Knights Radiant were an order of magical knights tasked with protecting humanity from the apocalypse. Thousands of years before the story, they abandoned their oaths, as well as their unspeakably powerful arms and armor, for unknown reasons. The current religion claims that they used tricks to pretend divine powers and a holy calling and fled when the charade was discovered, but we see the event at one point, and it's clearly something else entirely. In the second book, Words of Radiance, Taravangian's Diagram says (in code) "Hold the secret that broke the Knights Radiant. You may need it to destroy the new orders when they return."
- Murder at Colefax Manor: The manor is the base of a cult for an Eldritch Abomination and all but one of the manor's staff are in on it.
- Shaman Blues: The reason Konstancja ran off from Witkacy was that she was pregnant with his child, and was terrified what kind of a parent a depressed junkie would be. She only tells him about it because Wiktoria starts to display the same powers he has.
- The Girl From The Miracles District: Nikita hides the fact that she's a berserk, which in the world of the story is basically equivalent to a magical Super Soldier. If her mother was to find out, she's turn Nikita into a virtual slave to be let off the leash whenever someone had to be killed.
- The Traitor Son Cycle: The abbey of Lissen Carak hides the fact that all of the nuns there are sorceresses, as well as the interdimensional gate in their basement. By the end of the first book, however, the former is pretty much an Open Secret.
Live Action TV
- In the Cold Case episode The Hen House the victim was killed for discovering that her murderer was really a Nazi pretending to be a Dutch Jew.
- An episode of CSI NY had the Nazi pretending to be a Jew. Unfortunately for him he married a Jewish woman and raised his own son as a devout Jew to keep his cover story up.
- An episode of CSI has an episode where a school boy with neo-Nazi beliefs is murdered. He was growing out of racism after making friends with the school's black janitor. The suspects were other neo-Nazis who not only found out, but for some reason concluded he was also in a homosexual relationship with the janitor. The boy was murdered because he discovered an even darker secret: his new friend was actually a leader in the Rwandan genocide.
- Power Rangers Dino Thunder: Trent, the White Dino Ranger, is the son of Anton Mercer, a.k.a. Mesogog. When the Rangers find this, they're a bit amused.
- The whole premise of Dexter. His secret is quite dark indeed...
- Babylon 5, with Ivanova secretly being A rogue telepath. Sheridan also has a secret, in that he's a member of a military conspiracy to overthrow President Clark. Then there's Delenn... you know, with Babylon 5 being a Space Station Of Spies, it's safe to say that there are many people with dark secrets.
- In Stephen King's Storm of the Century, many of the residents of Little Tall island have Dark Secrets. The Big Bad, being a mind reading demonic sorcerer, lets them know that he knows just to freak them out. He also reveals some of these secrets to the other residents for kicks.
- In the Community episode "Mixology Certification" the group learns that Shirley had been hiding the fact she was a barfly during a more troubled time of her life.
- In Switched at Birth, Regina knew about the switch and had a private investigator keep tabs on Bay for some time.
- Tara's attempts to hide her part-demon-ness in Buffy almost result in her friends being killed. Still, they stand up for her anyway and eventually determine that Tara's family lied to her about her heritage.
- In The Mentalist, J.J. La Roche has a Tupperware container hidden in a safe, which is later stolen and retrieved, as the contents of the plastic container would ruin his career and reputation. It's the tongue of his mother's rapist.
- Played for Laughs in Downton Abbey, where the butler Mr Carson has a deep dark secret that will lose him Lord Grantham's respect, which turns out to be....that he used to be a song-and-dance stage performer when he was young. When he confesses this in anguish, loudly curses himself for being worthless, and declares that he will resign in disgrace, Lord Grantham merely sighs and says "Oh do stop being so melodramatic, you're not playing Sydney Carton now, are you?"
- In the Supernatural episode "Bloody Mary" (S01, Ep5), the ghost's victims all have a secret they do not want anyone else to know, a guilt for another person's death. It is revealed that Sam also has a secret he has not shared with Dean during this episode.
- Several characters in Scream Queens have some dark secret that they don't want getting out. Chanel #3 believes that her father could be Charles Manson, Chanel #5 touches herself to Dora The Explorer and Chad is extremely ashamed of his lactose intolerance. Kappa keeps an entire room filled with the evidence of their more disturbing acts, most of which we don't learn the whole story of, but there is one event that leads to different people's own secrets. In 1995 members of the sorority allowed a girl to die in a bathtub in order to continue a party being hosted in Kappa House. Dean Munsch, to save her own career, helped cover the incident up.
- In episode 8, we learn Wes'. His wife was the president of Kappa at the time of the Bathtub Baby incident and the guilt caused her to a life of drugs and crime. To protect Grace from the truth he went as far as to burn down their house and created an ideal image of her mother.
- Simon Tarses in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Drumhead had one that he lied about on his Starfleet application because he feared that he would be suspected because of it. The events of the episode validate that fear — he claimed his grandfather was Vulcan, when actually he was Romulan. This is arguably more politically than genetically relevant, as Romulans and Vulcans are the same species, or at least very closely related, but Vulcan is a key and founding member of the Federation while Romulus is the centre of the original rival empire to the Federation. Thing is, once this is found out that's the only thing driving the proceedings against Tarses — his personal feelings and political leanings about Starfleet and the Federation aren't even looked at. While the future of his career is uncertain at the end of the episode (the investigation dramatically fell apart, but he did still lie on his Starfleet application), Expanded Universe materials tended to take pity on the poor fellow, and have it eventually recover.
- Everybody in Quantico has a dark secret, to the point where it's a frickin' joke.
- GURPS has a Disadvantage called Secret. If it's revealed, the character loses the Secret, but gains Disadvantage(s) (or loses Advantages) worth twice as many points as the Secret.
- The Old World of Darkness had a one point flaw called Dark Secret. That it's only worth one point tells a lot about the setting.
- The GURPS Disadvantage was inspired by Champions and its system of Disadvantages. The current edition has Social Limitations that include things like Guilty Secret, Dark Secret, Embarrassing Secret, and so on.
- Similar to the GURPS example; the BattleTech RPG A Time of War has the negative trait "Dark Secret". These can range from things that could harm the character socially up to something that could trigger an interstellar conflict. Should it be discovered the PC can expect to gain Enemy, negative Repuation and Bloodmarked traits.
- Fading Suns has the Dark Secret disadvantage, in three levels depending on the severity of the secret. It also has the Secret advantage, which (among other things) may mean you know someone else's Dark Secret.
- Almost everyone in Warhammer 40,000 has their own dark secret, but the Dark Angels Space Marine Chapter really don't want anyone to know half their chapter joined the other side during the Horus Heresy. Ironically, it's implied in other fluff that not only are the Inquisition fully aware of the Fallen Dark Angels, but they don't really care too much. That means their self-appointed mission to keeping the Chapter "secret" a secret and the numerous atrocities they commit in its name are utterly pointless and simply alienating the rest of the Imperium.
- In Pokémon Live!, Delia keeps her past relationship with Giovanni secret because she's terrified of how Ash will take the news.
- Starcraft II
"I've made a Deal with the Devil."
- Tychus Findlay. The Dark Secret in question is his deal with Mengsk: he kills Kerrigan, he's free. As he says in the end of the game:
- In the secret mission "Piercing The Shroud", it is discovered that the Dominion is behind the Zerg-Protoss Hybrids, which play a very important part in Zeratul's missions. Yep, that's right: it seems that the Dominion (with some dirty help) wants to bring The End Of The Universe As We Know It.
- Mengsk's other dark secret is his role in the fall of Confederacy, namely that his hand was on the button that murdered eight billion humans and toppled their government, leaving him free to take over what was left. Given the magnitude of the crime, he's understandably kept it under tight wraps since becoming Emperor. Raynor's Raiders, naturally, have an opportunity to blow it wide open.
- Ace Attorney has a number of these. Figuring out what they are is the whole point of the game.
- The sequences with Psyche-Locks involve a person's secrets/lies being locked up with spiritual locks and chains when confronted with a statement or question the person refuses to answer and may go to great lengths to keep that secret hidden. The more locks that appear, the more desperately the person wants to hide their secret. Phoenix can see the locks due to the Magatama item he carries and presenting the right pieces of evidence when questioning the person gets them to "unlock" themselves and reveal the truth. While a typical Psyche-Lock is colored red and can easily be broken, there's two occasions where the locks are black and can't be broken by normal means. Phoenix first sees the black locks during Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney when he asks Kristoph Gavin why he killed Shadi Smith, Kristoph refuses to answer and 5 black Psyche-Locks appear, which Phoenix describes as cold and dark and probably cannot be unlocked. The black locks appear again in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies when Athena is accused of killing her own mother several years ago and the suppressed memory of the event causes her to throw up 5 black Psyche-Locks. Phoenix finds out from Pearl that the black locks mean that someone has a secret buried so deep within their hearts that they are not consciously aware of it and if the Magatama user tries to brute force the locks open (not approaching the topic gently in other words), the person's spirit can become broken beyond repair and they are traumatized for life. Luckily, Phoenix gets past Athena's locks without any damage to her mental state.
- Sword of the Stars II: Lords of Winter reveals that the Liir have been harboring a dark secret: the Suul'ka are really Liir Elders who have refused to die and became Drunk with Power. The bit about the Liir killing all Suul'ka with a bio-engineered plague is complete bull.
- The Dark Secret of Nathan Drake, the Badass Normal treasure-hunting descendant of Sir Francis Drake, is revealed in Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception: he was never an heir of Sir Francis, merely a ward of the state with a history obsession and a Changeling Fantasy. Not even his Parental Substitute or his fiance knew, but the desire to prove himself as Sir Francis' heir is Nate's driving motivation for the first and third games.
- Dead Secret: Harris Bullard's notes reveal that he has a deep, dark secret that he has been intent on hiding for decades. And that someone calling themselves 'the Woodcutter' has found out said secret and has begun to blackmail him because of it. Harris' dark secret involves him taking on the identity of a dead squad member of his; with him actually being Josie Herrera's biological father being a mere by-product of said secret.
- In Higurashi: When They Cry, there's Keiichi's habit of shooting kids with a BB gun, Rena's psychotic episode, Satoko's unwitting murder of her parents, the Sonozaki family's complete lack of a Dark Secret, despite all their posturing, and the fact that Rika is stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop. The entire series being based on The Power of Friendship, all of these are eventually revealed and Easily Forgiven.
- In Dangan Ronpa, Monobear threatens to reveal Dark Secrets for every character to the public unless there is a murder.
- Thedas is full of these. Every single organization, race, and country with high repute has at least one dark secret. Others don't even bother keeping their "darkness" secret.
- Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Seekers' initiation is outright horrifying: first they are lobotomized with a magical process called Tranquility. Then they have an emotional substitute injected into them by a spirit of emotion in the fade. That's right, they had the cure to Tranquility all along. It did have major side-effects in mages, but that's kind of expected.
Web Comics and Web Original
- In Deviant Universe, while many characters have their own from their backstories or side comics, Christina Rogers being responsible for the Genocide Wave is considered in-universe to be the most notorious one.
- In Doc Rat, Doc pops the question to Danielle before she learns he's already married.
- Characters in Ménage ŕ 3 and its spinoff Sticky Dilly Buns are mostly pretty open about sex, but there are things that even they prefer to keep quiet...
- Amber doesn't want her parents to know about her past career as a porn star. How well she can keep this from them if her straight acting career takes off remains to be seen. She also obliged her younger sister Ruby to preserve this secret for several years, which has caused the very truthful Ruby a lot of stress.
- Meanwhile, Ruby tries to keep anything faintly embarrassing or just slightly unconventional about herself, such as her brief (and quite credible) adventure in male disguise, or her liking for yaoi, secret from Amber. Apparently, her self-image as the serious, respectable one in their relationship is vitally important to her, or she assumes for some reason that Amber would taunt her mercilessly given half a chance.
- Tracy, who works as a webcam girl and who let herself almost be drawn into an orgy by her porn star friends at one point, doesn't want these facts know at the games company office where she's working as an intern. When Gary, who knows these secrets, turns up there for a job interview, Tracy's usual niceness slips a little as she persuades him not to say anything.
- In Sinfest, when Tangerine tells Seymour to tell the ring his secret, Seymour flashes back to his and reacts strongly.
- In If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device, Calgar is hiding the secret to Ultramarines' invincibility, and the mere possibility that someone may figure it out makes him panic.