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Examples of What You Are in the Dark in literature.


  • Agent Pendergast finds the formula for an immortality elixir in The Cabinet of Curiosities. During the story, he agonizes over what to do with it when he finds it. Keep it to himself? Destroy it? Share it with humanity? In the end he realizes that no good could come of it's existence and he burns it. However, in the unofficial epilogue, he's memorized the formula before doing so and goes to pick up the ingredients afterward.
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  • In All Creatures Great And Small, Dr. Herriot is called into to perform a post-mortem on a dead cow with the owner assuming it was killed by lightning, which means an insurance pay out. However, Dr. Herriot determines that the cow died of heart failure and is solicited by the owner, who is a disagreeable chap anyway, to report it falsely as a lightning kill. However, Herriot, after hearing the usual claim that no one will know, responds that he himself will know what he did and stands his ground. The grump then blows his temper and complains to Herriot's boss, Dr. Siegfried Farnon, about Herriot's refusal to cooperate and Siegfried backs up his employee all the way.
  • In The Belgariad, Durnik's influence on the growing Garion is exemplified by his explaining that he is making a small piece to be used on the bottom of a cart as good as it can be made — because he will see the cart every day and be reminded how good or poor a job he did.
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  • Books of Bayern: Selia of The Goose Girl offers Ani/Isi a very tempting offer — admit that she "lied", tell the king that Selia really is the Princess Anidori, and no one will ever have to know. Ani/Isi can even go back to her goose herd, rather than face death. This would lead to Ani/Isi's entire homeland being killed in an ambush. Ani/Isi knows that she can't convince anyone of the truth, knows that she will die unless she sacrifices her people. No one would know but Ani/Isi, Selia, and Selia's guards... and the Prince and his guard, who are listening in a hidden passageway. Ani/Isi doesn't know that, though, but declares she won't lie anyway. Cue Big Damn Heroes.
  • Commented on in The Brothers Karamazov. Ivan, the middle Brother states that humans will become utter bastards if they delincuish their faith in "immortality" (that is God and a final judgement). It fits the trope because the absence of God would mean nobody will see what you are in the dark, and hence - no human conscience.
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  • Comes up in A Brother's Price. Jerin Whistler is being taken to be married; he's known to be a virgin and free of STDs, and men of his family are uncommonly virile; a family that was on its way to the cribs to try and get someone pregnant tries to pay his sisters to get him for one night with one of their daughters, who's also a virgin and clean. They reason that no one can tell if a man is a virgin, and this would profit everyone. Eldest Whistler will have none of this. Somewhat subverted in that Captain Tern was there, if overlooked, and reported this incident, making the Whistlers look better.
  • John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos: In Fugitives of Chaos, Amelia weeps over a Western movie (High Noon by the description) and tells Vanity that she wants to be like the marshal, doing what is right regardless.
  • C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia: This is the climax of the first book, The Magician's Nephew. Digory is tasked with recovering a magical apple for Aslan for unknown purposes, and told not to eat any of it before coming back. When he and Polly reach the garden where it grows, he easily pockets one, but smells it first and is overcome with a massive hunger and thirst. He's tempted to take a little bite, but stops when he notices a large bird watching, which reminds him of his promise (the narrator, meanwhile, comments that even if the bird hadn't been there, Digory probably wouldn't have done it). But things take a turn for the worse when Jadis appears, having stolen and eaten an apple for herself; Digory runs for Polly, who's waiting outside, but the witch still reaches him and starts describing the fruit's powerful magic and ability to make people into gods, and how Digory doesn't really owe Aslan anything, does he? Digory turns her down, but Jadis then brings up Digory's mother, who's dying of a rare, incurable disease—he could teleport back home using the magic ring that brought him to Narnia and give her the apple, curing her. Digory is sorely tempted as Jadis paints a picture of his mother being returned to health, free of any consequence...until Jadis points out that he could ensure no one would know by leaving Polly behind. This shocks Digory right out of any temptation to do as Jadis says, as it would never even have occurred to him to abandon Polly.
    • There's also the fact that Polly had a magic ring of her own and could get home perfectly well without Digory. The Witch doesn't know that, but Digory does and it's that slip-up which makes him realize how "false and hollow" everything Jadis said was. He brilliantly shuts her down by asking why in creation she suddenly cares so much about his mother, who she's never even met. Aslan thus rewards Digory with both the knowledge that his choice has kept Narnia peaceful and idyllic, and a magic apple of his own that will cure his mother after all.
  • Taran faces a moment of this in the fourth book of the Chronicles of Prydain when Craddoc, who he believes to be his father, falls down a ledge. When Taran believes that Craddoc is dead, he realizes that he no longer has any sort of familial obligation to remain as a shepherd on Craddoc's rundown farm and can instead pursue the woman he loves. However, he quickly realizes that Craddoc is still alive. Even then, though, he is so far away that Taran knows he could leave him and no one would think any worse of him. When he realizes what he is thinking of doing, he cries out, "What man am I!" and tries to save him.
  • Circleverse: Young Sandry in Daja's Book is so considerate and scrupulous that when she accidentally burns an odd pattern into someone's jacket while he's out, she stays around until he comes back to point out the damage, take responsibility, and offer to replace it despite the difficulty. All the while, one of her friends is urgently insisting that she go take a message somewhere, and another is thinking she's daft and should just leave the jacket so she won't get in trouble.
  • In the first book of Harry Turtledove's Alternate History Colonization series, a sequel to the earlier Worldwar series, Vyacheslav Molotov, General Secretary of the Communist Party, is kidnapped and sent to the gulag by Lavrentiy Beria, chief of the NKVD, as part of Beria's attempted coup to seize control of the Soviet Union. Molotov is rescued by Georgy Zhukov, Beria's rival and commander of the Red Army, after Zhukov survived his own attempted assassination and thwarted the coup. In the aftermath, with Beria already having delivered false announcements that Molotov had voluntarily retired and with many senior communist officials already dead, Molotov is worried that Zhukov could easily just execute him and seize power for himself now that Beria had been dealt with. Zhukov seems to consider this for a moment, but in the end, apparently surprising even himself, he allows Molotov to remain as General Secretary and head of the Soviet Union. Zhukov is not above extorting more funding for the Red Army afterward and "suggesting" the course of political actions, but he remains loyal to Molotov for the duration of his rule. This is likely a reference to the Real Life Zhukov's admission that he was much better dealing with military matters than with politics.
  • In Creation Man And The Messiah, Jesus states that this is the essence of truth: "Knowledge of your own self", later interpreted like this: "Truth is what you know about yourself when you are alone". This definition of self-conscience fits the trope.
  • Iain M. Banks' The Culture: In The Player of Games, the protagonist master game-player is pressed into a multi-year epic journey across the galaxy that is instrumental in the downfall of an empire, ultimately because he accepted a drone's help to cheat in a meaningless exhibition match. And it was not even in order to win, but just to convert a certain victory into a record-breaking one.
    • It is later revealed that the protagonist was set up from the getgo. The drone who offered him the temptation to cheat was an agent of Special Circumstances — the same people who the protagonist had refused an earlier invitation to come work for. So they sent someone to help him cheat, then record him cheating, and then blackmail him...not into coming to work for Special Circumstances, but into doing the drone a favor that he could only accomplish by first going back and accepting SC's recruitment offer, which was "conveniently" still open. Gurgeh, until the end of his life, never figures out that the two events were related.
  • Terry Pratchett uses this several times in Discworld:
    • In Small Gods, Brutha contemplates leading Vorbis into a trap in the labyrinth. He thinks: "Who would ever know? I would" and doesn't do it. Later, when Brutha carries a comatose Vorbis through the desert, he's In The Dark the entire time. The Great God Om keeps reminding him of this, without success. And for a third time, the book ends with Brutha dying of old age at over a hundred - only to find Vorbis' spirit has never moved on. Despite Death himself pointing out with a monster Vorbis was, and the total lack of witnesses, Brutha leads Vorbis "across the desert" once more.
    • Commander Sam Vimes of the Watch, as a deconstruction of the Cowboy Cop, has a couple of examples of this. At the end of Night Watch Discworld he faced a Serial Killer in a deserted graveyard and no one save Vimes himself would have known (or cared) if he had simply killed Carcer instead of trying to arrest him properly. This is a good part of the plot in Thud! where we see that Vimes has an "internal watchman" that stops him from abusing his power, in response to the question Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? This comes up again in Snuff: Willikins believes that Vimes would uphold the law even against his own desire for extrajudicial justice, but unlike Vimes, Willikins himself is perfectly willing to murder Stratford rather than try to bring him to formal justice for his crimes. Meanwhile, Vimes believes that if he was ever truly "in the dark" he would likely cross the line while pursuing psychopaths like Stratford. Therefore, he goes to great lengths to ensure that he is always being watched, even if the watcher is only in his head.
    • Esmerelda Weatherwax. She's not "gone to the bad" only because she has Esmerelda Weatherwax watching over her shoulder the whole time.
    • And, in another sense, Carrot. He's had a couple moments like this, most notably at the end of Men at Arms AND HE ALWAYS MAKES THE RIGHT CHOICE. Because he truly IS a hero.
  • In The Dresden Files, Harry Dresden has had his fair share of these moments, usually when faced with Black Magic.
    • It's a recurring theme in Changes, with several characters, even Mac, warning Harry that the latest crisis will show Harry who he really is. It showed that Harry is capable of being a true monster, if the stakes are high enough. Including when Harry is given the choice to kill a man and gain the power to save his daughter... and goes through with it.
    • The next book shows Harry does feel remorse when he realises the true consequences of his actions. It turns out he was manipulated by a Fallen Angel with seven simple but powerful words into making the choice but the realisation, along with Mab's speech about how she now controls him, almost convinces him that he'll stay a monster forever. But the scales must be balanced. Then Uriel uses his seven whispered words.
  • In a tale of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, the Anti-heroic duo briefly go into semi-retirement. Fafhrd the Barbarian becomes the acolyte of the Church of Issek of the Jug, a faith that had one priest, no other followers, and was maybe two days away from failing entirely. Fafhrd's reason? He saw the priest pat a deaf-blind-and-dumb child on the head while (as far as the priest knew) no one was looking. The priest's action is described as possibly being unique in that world's history.
  • In the Dale Brown novel Fatal Terrain, Patrick McLanahan warns his group that due to the classified nature of their mission, even if they succeed no one will congratulate them, and at worst they will be condemned by their own side. On the other hand, if they choose to back down and face trial in a federal court, it is likely that they will come out in a position to maintain Sky Masters, Inc. None of his group flinch from it.
  • The Firm by John Grisham does this in a more conventional way, with the main character tempted to adultery. Unusually, he gives in, but doing so turns out to be a very bad idea.
  • A defining character trait of several Harry Potter characters:
    • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry finds himself having to rescue Ron Weasley from the merpeople under the Black Lake as part of the Second Task of the Triwizard Tournament. Rather than simply rescue his own hostage and return, guaranteeing himself a high score, he stays behind to make sure everyone is rescued, including rescuing both Ron and Gabrielle Delacour after Hermione Granger and Cho Chang are safely rescued, resulting in him returning last. He did not recognize that this was all planned, and thus no one was actually in any danger, though. His decision is rewarded by the tournament judges for showing great moral fiber.
    • Hermione steals food multiple times while invisible to keep the group alive in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but always takes the time to ensure the shopkeeper is compensated in some way.
  • This is one of the major themes of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Imperialists in Africa know that no other Europeans can see them, so they feel they are free to do whatever they want. Only Marlow, it seems, manages to retain his humanity — and he admits that he can feel himself becoming "scientifically interesting".
  • Honor Harrington:
    • In the novel In Enemy Hands, Honor struggles with the desire to give in to despair during her captivity in State Sec hands, but manages to convince herself to refuse, believing that it is her duty to herself.
    • Albrecht Detweiler is unknown to the galaxy at large, his enemies, and even most of his allies. His plans will not come to fruition until long after he is dead, at which point he will still be unknown as figureheads make all the public moves. However, despite the fact that he will never even be acknowledged as existing, he follows through on his plans because he believes they are the right thing to do. Too bad he is the villain.
  • In one Horatio Hornblower short story, Hornblower is put in charge of an Irish rebel to be hanged, who agrees not to make a speech if Hornblower will deliver his seachest to his widow. After it's done, Hornblower decides to poke around inside and discovers that the lid is a puzzle box full of rebel pamphlets, a list of names, and a wad of likely Counterfeit Cash, no doubt destined for some hideout. Hornblower considers whether to reveal his discovery, which took a great deal of cleverness and would probably raise his standing. On the other hand, it would wreck the career of the man who searched the rebel's effects in the first place. Hornblower quietly has the chest dumped overboard.
  • In the Hurog duology, there are several of those. Ward's father fails this test of character - he once, while drunk, admits to Ward that he killed his father and disguised it as accident when they were out hunting, without witnesses. Ward, on the other hand, is "in the dark" in the sense of the word that most people around him are less moral than he is - when two nobles ask that a slave that fled to Hurog be returned to them, Ward is the only one who refuses. He briefly considers to spare himself the hassle (as the nobles will be very angry, and they're powerful) but then remembers his own, inherited, immortal slave Oreg, who he knows is severely traumatized, and just can't bring himself to turn the slave in.
  • Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality: In On a Pale Horse, Luna is illegally destined by Satan to premature death on a certain day, at a time when her soul is weighted with so much evil that she's doomed to Hell upon her death. Nonetheless, knowing her fate, she goes to put her death to the best use she can find, making a Heroic Sacrifice to trade places with a virgin scheduled to be sacrificed to an endangered dragon, then allowing herself to die rather than damage the dragon's egg to save herself. The thing is, all this good pushes her soul into neutral, which means that Death is called to judge her soul personally, which he refuses to do, for various reasons up to and including having fallen in love with her. All of which is exactly as Fate planned.
  • Happens twice in In the Keep of Time, from different points of view among the children. When Andrew goes back to get the key from the door, while the others are waiting in Anna's cottage, he is strongly tempted to escape back to the present—and the key even starts to turn in the door, before he wrenches it free and hides it instead. This act, he thinks, "took more courage than all the adventures and battles which were to follow". Later, when he finally returns from the Battle of Roxburgh, ready to go home, he cannot find the key, Elinor, or Ian and assumes they left without him. When he is reunited with them again, he learns they were indeed tempted to do so, but couldn't find the key either. Whether they too could have resisted if they had found it will never be known.
  • Jane Eyre refuses to live with her lover outside the bonds of matrimony though nobody would know, or care if they did, because she would know and she cares for her personal integrity even if nobody else does.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
    • In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo is tempted to run away and leave Sam, Pippin, and Merry to die at the hands of the barrowwights because he could get away alive. He does not reflect on how no one else would know; then, he doesn't leave, either.
    • Sam could have left Frodo to die at the end of The Two Towers and kept the Ring for himself. Instead he is the only mortal to ever give up the Ring willingly and without outside coercion.
    • Also happened with Bilbo and Gollum in The Hobbit, when Bilbo (invisible from the Ring) needs to get past Gollum, who had already made it clear that he wanted to eat him. Bilbo reflects that he could easily kill the defenceless and unprepared Gollum with his sword and no-one would ever know, but pity stays his hand — which is ultimately responsible for the resolution of The Lord of the Rings.
    • Also in The Hobbit, after Bilbo escapes from Gollum, he thinks for a minute that the dwarves are still prisoners of the goblins. He briefly considers going on without them, but then changes his mind, and decides to go back to the "horrible tunnels" to look for them. Fortunately, he finds out the next minute he doesn't have to, because he overhears Balin on lookout.
  • In The Martian, the Chinese scientists of CNSA admit that if they didn't help, no one would ever know that they could have helped. They chose to help.
  • This is the whole point, even the unspoken Aesop, of Les Misérables. Valjean could easily let another man rot in jail in his place, freeing him from worry about Javert forever and no one would ever know. But he'll know, and God will know, so he stops the execution and reveals himself, forcing him to disrupt his now peaceful and productive life to go back on the run from the law.
    • Played much more darkly in Victor Hugo's other famous novel, Notre Dame de Paris. Esmeralda is about to be hanged for the murder of Phoebus. Phoebus, quite alive, is standing in the crowd and nobody recognizes him. Revealing that he's still alive would put him in no real legal trouble at all. He lets them hang her.
  • In Teresa Frohock's Miserere: An Autumn Tale, Caleb offers to go in after Lucien. No one would know that Rachael wasn't there for the arrest. She refuses; she would know.
  • Subverted in Vonnegut's Mother Night. The moral of the story can be summed up as: you are who you pretend to be. At one point a Nazi informs the main character, who was working as a propagandist but was secretly passing information back to the Allies, that the Nazi knew the hero was a spy all along. The Nazi didn't care, though, because the hero's words were the only things that convinced him that the Nazis were right, and his country hadn't gone insane. Even if the hero was helping the allies, he'd helped the Nazis far more than he had ever helped them.
  • One part in The Name of the Wind has Kvothe and his almost love interest Denna alone, at night, curled up to each other for warmth. Denna had eaten some denner resin (a rather potent drug) and Kvothe knew she wouldn't remember a thing that had happened while she was high on it in the morning. He was tempted, once or twice, to rape her, but resisted, because he would know, even if she wouldn't.
  • Happens two times to Íñigo Balboa, the sidekick of Capitán Alatriste in the novels of Arturo Pérez-Reverte: Once in "Purity of Blood" (faced to surrender or attack, as 13-years old boy chooses to attack with a dagger the troops of the Inquisition including an expert assassin) and once in "The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet" (a trap is prepared for him and Alatriste under the supposition that Íñigo would never dare not to ask him for support - he does). In both cases the fact of "showing the real character even with no possibility of glory" is indicated (in the first case by the narrator, in the second by Alatriste who actually arrives on time.
  • Such a situation appears for the main character in the sequel to One Fat Summer. When the outdoor theater at Camp Mohawk is burned down, Bobby Marks realizes the culprit is one of the campers he's been looking after rather than local bad boy, and former antagonist, Willy Rumson. The boy's father, who has pull with the camp, attempts to convince Bobby to let Willy, whom Marks has no reason to protect, take the fall, even offering to make sure Bobby has a job with the camp next year. Ultimately Bobby chooses to reveal what he knows, less for Willy's sake and more for the sake of the unbalanced camper.
  • The Princess Diaries:
    • Mia's ancestor Amelie was a princess for twelve days during the plague, where she was forced to take the throne after all the other heirs except her Evil Uncle were killed. She didn't tell anyone she had contracted the fatal disease, while enacting life-saving measures, and hid one final proclamation in her painting to protect Genovia from said uncle.
    • A villainous example: Mia and Lilly have fought about a lot of things, but what ends their friendship is Lilly's reveal that after Mia broke up with Michael and went on a platonic date with Lilly's ex, Lilly created a hate site about her best friend.. It is two years before she takes the site down, and even then Michael has to read her the riot act offscreen for being so cruel to Mia. In addition, as Tina points out, it's grounds of expulsion for Lilly, who already has a track record for being a rebel at the school. After making this loud confession and getting a lecture from her brother, Lilly feels really guilty and had a Heel Realization, but couldn't figure out how to apologize since what she did was truly heinous, especially since if she had just told Mia why J.P. had broken up with her then Mia would have realized J.P. was using them.
  • In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain has to deal with this twice, once when the wife of Sir Bercilak de Haudesert is trying to seduce him and again when a servant who takes him to the home of the titular Green Knight offers to keep silent if Gawain runs away from his almost certain death.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Jaime Lannister fills this trope, particularly due to being villified afterwards and known as "The Kingslayer" for his Bodyguard Betrayal of King Aerys. It also slightly deconstructs the trope, as in the backstory, Jaime was sworn to protect Aerys, but after fighting and losing a long rebellion, and as the rebels marched into his capital, "Mad King Aerys" planned to burn the entire city down with wildfire. He could just let him do it, or he could kill him, becoming an oathbreaker and saving thousands of lives, but he will only be known as Kingslayer, and no one will know why he did it, not even the rebels he literally surrenders the throne to.
    • Played with, in the sense that Jaime should really not have allowed the reason for his action to remain in the dark. The wildfire caches are still hidden all over the city, & wildfire is infamous for being dangerously unstable & almost supernaturally destructive in nature. In fact, many fans believe that these caches will go up in a green apocalypse, once a certain young dragonrider appears to reclaim her birthright...
    • Theon Greyjoy goes to great lengths to save "Arya Stark", actually Jeyne Poole. He is the only member of the rescue party aware of Jeyne's actual identity and therefore lack of political value. This is despite a year of torture and Brainwashing, and being aware the best reward he can hope for is a less torturous death.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Dark Rendezvous has a certain Jedi Jai Maruk, dueling Asajj Ventress. He realizes that she's better than he is, and that she will inevitably kill him. But rather than succumb to despair and fall to the Dark Side, he remains in the Light, and dies smiling.
    • In one of the New Jedi Order books, Wedge Antilles leaves the command station where he'd been directing a crucial battle, only to find that his shuttle had been destroyed. The only craft available is an X-Wing with damaged comms and no astromech. After taking off in it, he finds a civilian transport under attack by an enemy squadron, and bravely annihilates them by himself, but loses his shields in the process. When a second squadron heads towards them, he has a choice: if he stays to fight the squadron, he will almost certainly die, and, as he is in an extra fighter that was assigned to no one and he can't comm anyone to tell them where he is, his family and friends will never learn what became of him. He will die alone and unnamed. Or, he could abandon the transport, having already fought valiantly to save him. No one could blame him for retreating in the face of certain death after having already given his all. Wedge turns to face the approaching squadron head on. His specific answer is "I'll know"; he knows himself well enough that if he leaves the transport behind, it'll only give him enough time to get his affairs in order before he finds some other way to die. Because it's Wedge, the best damn X-Wing pilot in history, he's got Plot Armor in effect, and he gets rescued by members of the X-wing's squadron who noticed his fighter still active.
    • Played with in X-Wing: Wraith Squadron. When Wedge and Wraith Squadron capture a band of pirates, he asks them about their affiliation with Warlord Zsinj. The pirates refuse to talk, claiming that they're settlers in an unclaimed system, so there are no laws to govern their actions. Wedge counters by pointing out that if there really weren't any laws, then he and his men could easily murder all of the pirates and nobody would ever know. Suffice to say, the pirates decide to talk.
    • In Michael A. Stackpole's I, Jedi, Corran Horn gives a whole litany of examples from his past, while trying to convince Luke that rather than being ignorant of temptation he does, in fact, know the lure of the dark side. Two of them are cases when he could have shot someone and had it explained as "resisting arrest", one of those being when he caught the one responsible for killing his father (he says he could've marched Bossk into the lobby of One CorSec Plaza and shot him in the head and nobody on the force would've given it a second thought). The other example:
      Corran: I've walked into a warehouse and arrested a spicelord in his office. He opened a case and it had over a million credits in it. A million — more money than I'll ever see in my lifetime. It was mine, he said, if I'd just take it and walk away. No one would ever know. But I'd know, and I didn't do it.
    • Later in the novel, though, Corran faces a form of Scarpia Ultimatum, realizes that his pride has pushed him to the point that he "doesn't recognize himself in the mirror anymore", and has to trace back and find himself again...
  • In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jekyll wonders if Mr. Hyde is truly a different person, or just him making the wrong choice when confronted with this trope.
  • In The Door into Sunset, the last volume of Diane Duane's The Tale of the Five series, the main character Freelorn is confronted with Cillmod, his half-brother and the man who usurped his throne (and this is a Fisher King scenario, so that's doubly bad). They are in an absolutely dark, isolated place. Cillmod has just attacked him. 'Lorn could kill him, and no one would ever, ever know. If they did, who's going to argue with the king about it afterward? In a remarkably astute move, Freelorn spares Cillmod's life and puts him in a position of high authority in his kingdom (as the latter wasn't actually evil at all, just manipulated. Cillmod legitimately wanted to try and rule as a good king, but that whole aforementioned Fisher King thing was pretty set in stone, and he didn't have a strong enough bloodline).
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga:
    • In Memory, Miles Vorkosigan is asked why he did not accept a bribe, and part of the question is that it was almost certain that no one would have realized it. Miles modestly disclaims it on the grounds three would have known: him, the man who offered it, and the man he would have sacrificed by taking it. Only when it is pointed out that he would have outlived them does he admit that accepting the offer would have changed him irrevocably.
      Miles: The one thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart.
    • Later, in A Civil Campaign, Miles's father tells him the difference between reputation and honour: "Reputation is what other people know about you. Honour is what you know about yourself."
      • In Mile's father's case, Count Aral knows this on multiple sides. His long and dark history includes periods of alcoholism and a suicidal deathwish due to issues with his sexuality, culminating with his first wife's suicide which he was widely believed to have caused. He got into a series of duels creating him political enemies. His bad reputation followed him to Komarr, where he strangled an underling who committed a war crime against orders. Aral's bad reputation and rank made many believe that strangling was a cover up such that Aral was known as the Butcher of Komarr. However, later in the Escobarian War, Aral joined with Emperor Ezar's plan to assassinate Prince Serg, and ended up being considered the Hero of Escobar. Aral is disgusted with the redeemed reputation he has as the purpose of the entire war and thousands of deaths was just to murder Prince Serg. Thus Aral views his disreputable actions in the Komarr war as honorable and takes pride with them, while his reputable actions in the Escobar war he views with disgust.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • In Graham McNeill's Ultramarines novel Dead Sky Black Sun, Pasanius and Uriel are in the Eye of Terror, and Pasanius suggests that not stealing a treasure from a daemon lord might be better. Uriel cites a philosopher who asked whether, if a stalagmite fell with no one to hear, it would make a sound, and says he understands it now: they will do the honorable thing, knowing that no one is likely to ever know.
    • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Sabbat Martyr, one squad of Ghosts returns too late and sees the gates closing on them. Their leader gives the order to fight.
      Nineteenth [Platoon] lasted seventeen minutes from the time the gates closed. They accounted for one-hundred and eighty nine enemy casualties. No one witnessed their heroism.
    • In Black Legion by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, when Khayon is in psyker-coma, Telemachon spends long hours standing in his room with a sword and considering killing the sorcerer while he's defenseless. In the end, he doesn't, although Khayon believes it's more due to the fact that if anything happened to him, Gyre and Nefertari would rip Telemachon to shreds, regardless of evidence.
    • In Andy Hoare's Commissar, an appropriately named character, Solomon, the Imperial Guardsman turned convict turned Indentured Imperial Guardsman, is traversing a tunnel that is periodically flooding. He considers going back to tell the titular Commissar, Flint, that the path is not traversable. However, he determines that his responsibility to his home planet, Jopall, is too great and further reasons that only the Emperor is watching him now and that he shouldn't let him down as a Jopallis.
  • In Glen Duncan's Weathercock this is pretty much the theme of the book, along with its climax: Dominic, the protagonist, is given the chance to do what he's always struggled with the desire for - to torture someone to death. He doesn't do it. It is not about what he wants to do; as he notes, it is a matter of what he is and is not capable of.
  • The Witchlands:
    • Merik has three such moments in quick succession.
      • After Cam gives him "The Reason You Suck" Speech and leaves him, he realizes he's free to pursue Vivia's death like he wanted to and no-one can stop him, but instead choses to consider what Cam's told him.
      • He has a choice or either staying in hiding and learning valuable information or intervene and save Cam (who doesn't know he's here), and choses the latter.
      • Finally, when they're hanging high in the air, out of everyone's earshot, Kullen gives him his We Can Rule Together spiel and points out that all Merik has to do to kill Vivia is to do nothing for a few more seconds. Merik choses to save her instead.
    • Iseult has this moment in the climax of the second book, when she realizes that she can either keep searching for Safi like she did for all of the novel, or come back and save Aeduan. As an added bonus, Aeduan doesn't expect her to return, and Safi doesn't even know Iseult's travelling in a company. She comes back for him.
  • The Wonderful Adventures of Nils: In order to escape his curse, Nils has to find someone who'd be willing to become a tomte in his stead. He finally encounteres a volunteer - a student who landed into a terrible predicament (he accidentally scattered the manuscript of his friend's brilliant novel across the city) and would welcome any escape, even such a bizarre one. But Nils refuses to take advantage of his distress and instead helps him recover the manuscript.
  • In Tom Holt's Ye Gods!, when Jason meets the old woman, she insists on their going through the whole spiel. When he says no one would know if they didn't, she says, "I will."
  • Wheel of Time, last book, A Memory of Light. During The Last Battle, Logain has two options: Look for Demandred's discarded sa'angreal to gain more power for himself after the battle, or lead his soldiers to save hundreds of Caemlynian refugees. Guess which one he takes. A bit of Book-Ends here, in both his first and last scenes in the series, the people of Caemlyn look upon him in awe. In the Eye of the World, he's a dangerous False Dragon, but in A Memory of Light, he's their saviour.
  • Wonder Woman: Warbringer: The Oracle offers to stay quiet and just let Alia die, which would restore the balance in Themiscyria, prevent Diana from facing the consequenses of breaking the law by brining Alia there, and stop the war that Alia is foretold to bring. Diana chooses the difficult path of trying to save Alia, Themiscyria and the world.

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