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Secretly Dying
Everything's fine...

A character knows His Days Are Numbered and tries to keep it under wraps. If he's diagnosed with The Virus or an Incurable Cough of Death, Herr Doktor may be begged to keep silent about it. If he's harboring a Secret Stab Wound, he may wear extra shirts and haphazard bandages to avoid a Mortal Wound Reveal.

Why? Perhaps he doesn't want his friends handling him with kid gloves or passing the Despair Event Horizon, or he wants to spend his last days seeing his sweetheart smiling rather than grief-stricken. Alternately, he might want to keep his enemies from getting a morale boost out of it. This can also be a selfish act if his condition represents a danger to others, such as with The Plague or a Zombie Infectee.

This may lead to Dying Alone, if taken to its logical extreme. It also can invoke Fridge Logic of the Stupid Sacrifice variety if medical treatment could have saved or at least prolonged the victim's life.

This is a Death Trope, and usually a major Plot Twist. The examples section is a minefield of unmarked spoilers.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Bokurano, all the kids piloting Zearth would qualify. They don't suffer from any kind of medical condition, but once they pilot Zearth, they die. They just keep this a secret from everyone they know, to avoid hurting their feelings, but they secretly know that once it's their turn to pilot Zearth, they only have very little time left to live.
  • Roy Fokker's death in Macross. After coming back from a mission where his fighter got shot up, he spends a quiet night at his girlfriend's place strumming his guitar... then keels over, revealing bloody wounds in his back. Possibly a Stupid Sacrifice since the injuries weren't severe enough to debilitate him — he might have lived if he'd gotten immediate treatment
    • According to a mildly popular Alternate Character Interpretation, Roy might have sensed that he was about to die and no immediate treatment would've been enough. So he decided to not die alone and so he went to Claudia's place intending to see her one last time before kicking it. Considering that Roy pulled lots of risky stuff in canon, it's not that implausible.
    • This incident is referenced and the trope subverted in Macross Frontier, where Ozma Lee goes to Ranka's concert while seriously wounded and collapses - but he's rushed to the hospital and survives.
  • In Dear, Subaru's Evil Hand is painfully consuming him. He keeps quiet about it so Komomo won't worry.
  • In the anime of Trigun, when Wolfwood is mortally wounded in his battle with Chapel, he speaks briefly to Vash, then heads to an abandoned church to confess his sins. Vash is too busy angsting about his own duel with Caine the Longshot (who ended it via suicide) to notice the trail of blood droplets in his wake. Wolfwood dies as he's praying.
    • In the manga, things are played differently. The kids of Wolfwood's Orphanage of Love have been sent away to safety, and both him and Vash watch them leave. Then they share One Last Smoke... and Wolfwood dies as they're talking to each other.
  • In Darker Than Black:
    • Season 1 Huang hides a Secret Stab Wound to sacrifice themself as a distraction. Also in DTB, November 11 believes Amber's precognition that he's not long for this world, but keeps it to himself.
    • Amber spans a Batman Gambit to detonate the Gate using judicious use of her time manipulation power. The price she pays for using her power is Cast from Lifespan in reverse, causing her to age backwards. She worked it all out so that she had exactly enough lifespan left to see her plan to fruition, and unmakes herself the last time she uses her power.
  • In Gundam SEED, Rau le Creuset is very slowly dying because his cells are a good 30 years older than they should be. There are a number of scenes that show him self-medicating to deal with the pain, but the cause is not explained until The Big Damn Reveal, as his condition is the root of his misanthropy and thus his desire to wipe out humanity with him in retaliation.
  • Kaiser in Season 3 of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX. He wants one last amazing duel before his heart condition takes him down, and he shrugs off concern and support all season when anyone notices the pain he's in.
  • In One Piece, Hiruluk keeps his fatal illness secret from Chopper. After getting Shoo the Dog, though, Chopper learns the truth by listening to Hiruluk and Kureha.
  • In Naruto, Itachi had a fatal illness which he barely controlled via medication, and likely would have won his final battle if he hadn't succumbed to it mid-fight. Later, we find out Itachi wasn't aiming to kill Sasuke anyway.
    • Kimimaro attempted this trope, refusing to reveal his growing illness for fear that he would lose value in Orochimaru's eyes. Kabuto and Orochimaru saw through this and he ended up bed-ridden before the invasion of Konoha.
  • Fairy Tail: Loke, being a celestial spirit trapped in the human world, could not survive for an extended period, and the fact that he made it three years before he started dying just makes it that much more impressive. When he eventually reveals to Lucy that he's dying, she flips out and summons the Spirit King to revise Loke's sentence and save his life.
  • In Shigofumi there was the story of an older man watching over a little girl named Fumika (the same as the protagonist). The older man treated the girl nicely, but did not tell her that he was dying from a condition. He ultimately dies by pushing Fumika out of the way of a bus, though he gets hit and dies.

    Comics 
  • In Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers, Ironfist is dying from taking a cerebro-seeking bullet to the head in an "accident", and having it slowly working its way closer and closer to its target and unable to be stopped. He hides it because he's assigned to what is a dream mission for him and doesn't want to be ruled unfit to serve it. Prowl apparently knew all along and allowed Ironfist to go on the mission because fulfilling it would require someone to die. Someone else made the sacrifice instead, and Ironfist was eventually killed by the bullet after the mission.
  • All-Star Superman begins with Superman discovering that he's dying. The comic ends with him telling the world in the form of a Clark Kent article.
  • In the "Whitewater" arc of Birds of Prey, General Kerimov's plot to resurrect Ice came about because he discovered that he was dying of pancreatic cancer and wanted to die having done something that he could be proud of. He figured that resurrecting a beloved superheroine and offering her up to his country would help make up for decades of morally-questionable behavior.
  • In her last arc in The Authority, Jenny Sparks knows that she's going to die (she's the spirit of the 20th century, after all, and the story opens on December 30th, 1999), but is determined to keep her teammates from finding out they've finished dealing with God.

    Film 
  • One of the most famous movie examples is in El Cid, when the eponymous hero tells those around him to keep the fact that he is dying a secret so as to avoid demoralizing the Spanish troops and boosting the morale of the besieging Moors. This ends with the famous scene when the now-deceased Cid, strapped to his horse, "leads" his army out of the city gates to victory.
  • Tony Stark in Iron Man 2.
  • At the end of Once Upon a Time in the West, Cheyenne reveals that he's bleeding out from a gut-shot. He asks Harmonica to get him out of sight from the new town before he keels over.
  • In Shaun of the Dead, Shaun's mum doesn't let anyone see her zombie bite to avoid worrying anyone. This leads to the movie's biggest Tear Jerker when Shaun has to kill her when she turns.
  • Satine in Moulin Rouge! is dying of tuberculosis. For the maximum amount of gut-wrenching Dramatic Irony, almost everyone knows it before she does (including the audience, since the story is a flashback told a year after her death). When she does find out, she keeps it a secret in an effort to spare her beloved's life.
  • Madame Armande in Chocolat
  • Breaking the Code (1996). Alan Turing is called before Dilly Knox, manager of Bletchley Park, because his overt homosexuality is upsetting his co-workers. Knox tries to convince Turing that discretion is not only appropriate, but kinder to his friends.
    Knox: Supposing I said that I'm mortally ill, and that I've only a year or so to live. Supposing I'd broken down and wept. Supposing I'd opened my heart to you, and said that I have no wish to die; that I am frightened and in despair. (laughs) Well I can't believe that you'd welcome such a disclosure, finding it distressing, and embarrassing — somewhat inconsiderate. And so, having regard for your feelings as well as my own, it would seem to be both correct and appropriate to...moderate my response.
    Turing: (quietly) Are you dying? (Knox ignores the questionnote )
  • Pacific Rim: Marshal Stacker Pentecost is dying from radiation poisoning due to Mark 1 Jaegers not having proper internal shielding to protect the pilots from the nuclear reactors. Thus, he was slowly poisoned every time he went into combat. He keeps this a secret to keep the morale of his men.

    Literature 
  • Near the end of the Harry Potter series, Harry learns that Dumbledore had been hiding an unbreakable death curse from wearing a ring which was a horcrux.
  • In The Curse Of Chalion, Cazaril has a supernatural tumor in his gut haunted by the ghost of the villain he killed with magic. He tries desperately to keep it under wraps, both for political reasons and so the girls he's trying to protect won't worry about him.
  • In The Dogs of War, Mercenary leader "Cat" Shannon has been diagnosed with cancer.
  • In The Dresden Files book Death Masks, Shiro exchanges himself to almost certain death for Harry. Harry learns via a letter that was arranged beforehand that his benefactor was already dying from cancer.
  • In the Gaunt's Ghosts novel Blood Pact, the reader is led to believe that Ayatani Zweil is dying of cancer this way. He isn't: Dorden is.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Jon Connington is dying from greyscale, and tries to keep it secret from his men so he can fulfill his dream of placing Aegon on the throne.
  • Subverted in Percy Jackson and the Titans curse. Poor Zoe Nightshade knew she would be the heroine in the prophecy to "die by a parents hand", but told no one because she needed to go on this quest, and die for her beloved lady Artemis.
  • Subverted in The Serpent Sea. Flower's health fails over the course of the book, with her stubbornly shrugging off the others' concerns, until she dies at the end. The subversion: The only one it was a secret from was Moon. Everyone else knew it was coming because elderly Raksura's scales turn white when they're close to dying of old age; Moon, having grown up without other Raksura around, didn't recognize the sign. Flower didn't say anything to him because she liked having someone around that didn't treat her like a dying person.
  • Infernal Devices: As of Clockwork Prince, Jem is still hiding his Soap Opera Disease from everyone except Will and Tessa.
  • In The Man Who Carried Trouble, as part of a terrible week, Bill learns that his mother is dying of cancer, and the reason she is finally telling him is because she has only months left.

    Live Action TV 
  • Angel: Since the visions Cordelia had were intended for demons, they begin to physically damage her brain. Skip circumvents this by turning her half-demon.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series episode "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky". Dr. McCoy learns that he's suffering from a disease called xenopolycythemia which will kill him in one year. When he tells Kirk about it he asks him to keep it to himself so he'll be most effective in his job in the time left.
  • Professor Arturo on Sliders had an incurable disease which will kill him in a number of months, but didn't want anyone to know.
  • Hiro from Heroes hides the fact that he has cancer from everyone at the start.
  • President Laura Roslin spends most of the first season of Battlestar Galactica hiding the fact that she has terminal breast cancer from the fleet at large. Then, after the news broke, and a miracle cured her, it came out at Baltar's trial that she was hiding a relapse.
  • During the early part of season 7 of The X-Files, Mulder is hospitalized for unusual brain activity. At the end of the three-episode arc, it's implied he made a full recovery. In reality, he did not and is dying from an "undiagnosable condition." He hides it from everyone, including the audience. It's not until he goes missing in season 8 that anyone finds out. And how do Scully and Skinner find out? Doggett has the manhunt team bring in his family headstone from North Carolina, which Mulder had recently changed to include his own name, birthyear, and anticipated year of death.
  • In the last season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Odo conceals from Kira (with whom he's recently gotten together after many seasons of pining) the fact that he's got the disease that's infected his entire species. Slightly subverted in that Kira is actually perfectly aware what's going on; she just doesn't let on because she respects Odo's reasons for not telling her.
  • From Firefly, Word of God says this is why Inara joined Serenity.
  • Early on in Breaking Bad, this was Walt's cancer situation. It takes a while before the word "cancer" is even said again after the initial diagnosis. Unlike most examples, though, he does survive.
  • Subverted to hell on House. The ducklings find out that House is dying of brain cancer and has been hiding it from them. They then realize that it isn't cancer and he can be easily cured only to find out that he was faking terminal brain cancer so he could participate in a drug trial and get really strong painkillers.
  • The pilot of Castle had a business executive whose daughter Beckett was investigating. Castle deduced that he was dying due to no recent pictures and an Incurable Cough of Death. This turns out to be a plot point that points them towards his daughter's real killer: Her brother.
  • Sid on CSI NY, very possibly. He has Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, which is not invariably fatal, but his is well advanced and there's a real chance it will kill him. Jo knows, but no one else.
  • Jenny Shepard on NCIS was plagued by a fatal disease that would have slowly killed her, but instead she went out in a shootout, taking down five people before she succumbed to blood loss.
    • Three years later, Mike Franks also came down with a fatal disease (hinted to be lung cancer) and chose to go down fighting. In both cases, no one else knew about the diseases until the afflicted were already dead.

    Theater 
  • In Act Five of Cyrano de Bergerac, Cyrano tries to keep his mortal wound from showing to his beloved, Roxanne.
  • Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet downplays the severity of his mortal wound at first: "Ay ay, a scratch, a scratch". Shortly after, it becomes obvious: "I am peppered (finished), I warrant, for this world."

    Video Games 
  • Proto Man from Mega Man knows that his power supply is flawed and will eventually run out of energy. He'd prefer to not tell others about it and just accept when his fate will come.
  • In inFamous 2, Zeke catches The Virus and hides it from Cole until Cole's powers allow him to plainly see it.
  • Persona 3:
    • Shinjiro Aragaki is slowly killing himself with power-inhibiting drugs. He refrains from mentioning his poor health to anyone, mostly because he's expecting one of two other things to kill him before the side effects of the drugs manage to do it, and because he thinks he deserves it. Even when it comes out that he was taking the suppressants, he waves off any concerns about the side effects, and only comes close to hinting how little time he has to the female protagonist in the last few stages of his Social Link.
    • The Protagonist goes through this in the good ending. After performing a Heroic Sacrifice, s/he is just living to meet up with everyone on graduation day, like they promised. However, everyone in SEES has forgotten about what they've accomplished, even if they haven't forgotten about you. Only one person remembers and she makes sure that you won't die alone. Unless you're playing Portable with a New Game+, then your preferred Love Interest can spend your last few seconds with you.
  • Hanbe from Sengoku Basara hides his tuberculosis from Hideyoshi and Mitsunari, who know he's ill, just not that it's terminal. If they were aware they'd probably either lose hope and abandon the conquest of Japan, or force him to stop being The Strategist.
  • Comes completely unexpected in Metal Gear Solid 4 with Naomi Hunter, who reveals it just after she disabled the implants that extended her life for the last couple of years, and dies within the next few minutes, having completed the last thing she needed to do.
  • Depending on how you interept the implications, Dr. Neil Watts from To the Moon. Either that or he's addicted to painkillers.
  • Late into Tales of the Abyss, Luke's Fonon's (the particles that make up his body) begin breaking down after the events at the Tower of Rem. He opts to keep this a secret from the rest of the party so they wont treat him any differently. Subverted in that they all figure it out eventually.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, White Mage Wynne eventually reveals to you that her life is being artificially sustained by a benevolent spirit, but she knows it won't last forever.
  • Litchi Faye-Ling from BlazBlue contracted the same corruption that turned her friend Lotte into the creature known as Arakune, and is slowly being consumed by the corruption which will cause either complete memory loss or turning the rest into Arakune. To others, she'll try to say "There's just someone I need to save." and pass off with a reassuring smile and the image of a helpful, compassionate lady that she's fine, to the point that nobody else knows that she's Secretly Dying. Part of her not revealing it may have to do with how she didn't want to burden everyone that doesn't know better with her quest to save Lotte along with her Guilt Complex.
  • Halfway through Jess' character quests in Mana Khemia, she reveals that she's been terminally ill since childhood, and attempts to cure her have only managed to prolong the inevitable. Subverted in that she doesn't feel a need to hide it; she's lived with the knowledge long enough that she doesn't understand how sad death makes other people. The subject just never came up, and when it does her delivery is so casual that Vayne has trouble believing her.

    Web Comics 

    Real Life 
  • Admiral Yi Sun-Shin died this way, suffering a mortal injury due a chance shot during the Battle of Noryang. Witnessed only by three people, his final orders were to press the attack home and to hide his death from the crew and fleet, to avoid ruining morale at a critical moment. Two of the witnesses, his son and his nephew, carried his body into his cabin unnoticed. His nephew then put on his armor and pretended to be Admiral Yi for the remainder of the battle. His final victory was thus won posthumously.
  • Bill Hicks never told anyone but his doctors that he had cancer until he died from it, just weeks after his last live performance.
  • One version of the death of Turkish Sultan Murad I at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 is that he was killed in his tent before or during the battle by a Serb pretending to defect, and asked his entourage to make sure the news didn't get out to his army. Unfortunately for colorful historical tales, there are other versions in which he is killed fighting during the battle or even afterwards.
  • Freddie Mercury kept his AIDS diagnosis secret within Queen and a few close friends, not publicly revealing he had AIDS until the day before he died.

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