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I'm a sawed off shotgun full of secrets!—Olive Snook, Pushing Daisies
You must release me from my oath. I can't keep your secret, Penny. I'm going to fold like an energy-based de novo protein in conformational space... like a Renaissance triptych... like a cheap suit.—Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory
Secrets are cool. Everyone wants to be in on them, making one or discovering one. What's more satisfying about these is selectively spilling the beans. One of the guiltiest pleasures of secrets comes from breaking them like a colorful easter egg full of surprises and skeletons. But actually keeping one? That sucks.
To keep a secret requires that characters not just withhold information, but actively lie and at times even kill for it. Formerly honest souls now have to struggle with constantly lying. Even less honorable characters may find it eats them up inside, trying to claw its way out with talons of guilt. Depending on the secret, the keeper may even be in for a great deal of inconvenience... and danger. A Secret Keeper doesn't just cover for their friends' Superhero troubles, but will end up taking the social bullet for them, suffering quite a bit... when they aren't getting kidnapped or tortured to reveal that Secret Identity, that is.
Of course, most secrets do eventually come to light--this is fiction we're talking about after all: every secret is made to be spilled. Depending on the secret, the keeper usually has a falling out with one or more characters, and may face great danger. Of course, if handled well it can make for a great cathartic payoff when this character chooses to unburden themselves and share the secret.
Of course, if the keeper is having their buttons mashed in, they may blurt it out to hurt another character. Much to their regret later on. Villains on the other hand will use it to blackmail the keeper... which of course, doesn't stop it from coming to light eventually. When a character genuinely doesn't want to spill the beans, it's because They're Called Personal Issues for a Reason. This is one of the reasons The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life.
- In Ranma ½, Ranma swears to keep Ryouga's curse secret, even when Ryouga uses his cursed form to sleep with Ranma's fiancee Akane. Ryouga's cursed form is as a cute little piglet that Akane adopts as a pet. Semi-subverted in that while Ranma won't come right out and say it he does drop a megaton load of hints, but Akane is just that dense that she doesn't get it.
- The fact that everyone in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni is hiding something is one of the main reasons for how badly things always turn out. Because everyone is keeping secrets, they can't trust each other and work together, and the Hate Plague will seize on that distrust and turn one or more of them into a delusional, homicidal serial killer, which is the last thing they need with everything else that's going wrong. Interestingly, though, They're Called "Personal Issues" for a Reason also comes up and is an important part of at least two arcs.
- Inuyasha: Totosai's role in hiding his dead master's plan for developing Sesshoumaru enough to finally obtain Bakusaiga results in him putting his life on the line, as Sesshoumaru detests being manipulated so much he has a tendency to kill anyone he catches doing that.
- Symphogear: The heroine's need to keep her magical girl deeds secret puts a big strain on her relationship with her best friend.
- In Aim for the Ace!, Munakata dies of his illness when Hiromi, Todou and other players are in a tournament in the USA. Those who know keep Hiromi Locked Out of the Loop so she won't lose her matches (plus Todou lost his own when he found out due to the shock), but feel horrible about it.
- In Anatolia Story, everyone has to keep Prince Kail from finding out that Kash's girlfriend Ursula is about to be executed, since right then he's dealing with a huge mess and CANNOT get distracted.
- For Spider-Man, things could have been so much easier if everyone he cared about had known he was a super-hero. Subverted when one of his closest friends proves to be a deadly enemy.
- The Matt Fraction 2011 Defenders title is purportedly going to put all the Defenders in this position when they stumble across an Ancient Conspiracy.
- A rare AI example: HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Word of God has confirmed that HAL went crazy because he was ordered to keep something very important secret from the crew, when his entire prime directive was to provide accurate, truthful data. Ordering a computer to lie can be a very bad idea. A Foreshadowing can be seen when he says:
"Let me put it this way, Mr. Amor. The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error."
- Pride goeth before the fall indeed.
- Any computer sophisticated enough to yammer out empty platitudes on how stimulating its work with humans is without mention the eons of time spent waiting for the meatbag to reply, and tell white lies about how isn't that a pretty picture you drew, Dave, would either have no problem with a last-minute mission change, or would be sophisticated enough to go insane. Just like a human.
- Lady Audley in Lady Audley's Secret resorts to murder a couple of times in an effort to hide her bigamy. She does crack eventually, though.
- Just about everybody in the Percy Jackson 'verse seems to be hiding a terrible secret. Just a partial list:
- The first Great Prophecy. Secret keepers: Annabeth and Chiron
- The Roman Camp from the Greek Half-bloods. Secret keepers: the gods
- The Greek Camp from the Roman Half-bloods. (see above)
- 'I'm a pyrokinetic. Secret keeper: Leo
- Enceladus has my Dad. Secret keeper: Piper
- I'm really eighty-three years old and back from the dead. Secret keeper: Hazel
- My life is tied to a piece of half burned wood. Secret keeper: Frank
- In the Warrior Cats series, when Leafpaw is the only cat who knows where the traveling cats went, she feels the strain of being loyal to both her sister and to her father.
- Joey in the Friends arc when Chandler and Monica are keeping their relationship secret. It gets especially hard when he has to take the fall for them when they almost get caught.
- In Desperate Housewives, when Carlos accidentally kills Gabby's sexually abusive father, and the others help him cover it up, they become consumed with guilt which drastically affects their day to day lives.
- My Name Is Earl: in order to not ruin Christmas for Joy, he has to pretend to Joy's parents that he and Joy are still married, and then he finds out that Joy's mother is pretending to be wheelchair-bound and has to keep that secret or else ruin Christmas too. Since "ruining Christmas" was the item from The List he was working on at the time, he had to keep both secrets.
- In Pushing Daisies, Olive didn't know everyone's secrets--she never learned the show's biggest one, Ned's power of resurrection. However, she had at that point been privy to several secrets from all over the cast (Chuck being alive, Lily being Chuck's mother, and her own--an unrequited love for Ned) and sworn to secrecy in every case, which was driving her mad with conflicting impulses. She did slowly let some of them go by clever yes/no games and getting some of the secrets' owners to allow her to fess up, as well as outright admitting to Ned she was having trouble moving on.
- For that matter, Chuck was being eaten up maintaining the lie that she was dead from her aunts, as well as having not let Ned re-dead her resurrected dad, making him "kill" an "innocent" bystander Dwight Dixon with his powers Equivalent Exchange. And in the first season, Ned was likewise being eaten up by guilt over inadvertently killing Chuck's father before he figured out how his powers worked. And not one to be left out, Emerson Cod was too ashamed to tell his mom he had a daughter (who had been kidnapped), and wanted to tell her to maintain their honest relationship. By the time he told her she had figured he was hiding something, but had guessed wrong. Really, Keeping Secrets Sucks is a big theme for Pushing Daisies.
- Chloe on Smallville keeps Clark's secret, but also keeps Lana's and some others. She lashed out at Clark at least once, when Clark complained that she didn't tell him about somebody else; she replied tartly that just because she's keeping his secret from others doesn't mean she can't keep others' secrets from him.
- Pete found this out too, with Clark's secret torturing him for much of Season 3. Chloe eventually gets caught up in that aspect of it as well, withdrawing from life and having fewer and fewer friends who aren't in on The Masquerade. By Season 9 she's permanently become Watchtower and really has no life outside the infant JLA.
- Captain Awesome on Chuck is suffering from this these days. He stumbled on the fact that his soon-to-be brother-in-law was a spy near the end of Season Two. For a while he thought it was cool and interesting, but after he got asked to use his skills as a doctor to help, that was enough for him. Unfortunately, the spy life didn't let him go... now he's not sleeping much, not working out, and trying (and failing hilariously) to lie to his wife about what Chuck does when he isn't around.
- It's not always puppies and sunshine for the cast of Hannah Montana, mainly due to this trope. In fact, the title character breaks down twice for it. In the movie, she decides she's done leading a double-life and gives away her identity, but the crowd talks her into staying as Hannah. She breaks down again in the final season and finally reveals it on national television.
- You'd think the characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer would learn to let people know about any drastic changes in their love life after season two or so. Failure to do so has led to character deaths, permanent bus trips, the gang nearly tearing itself apart with mistrust, and more.
- In Supernatural, the few times Sam keeps a secret from Dean that isn't too personal. And every single time Dean has to keep a secret from his brother (granted, that's mostly because he only keeps secrets about his brother's fate or things he's done that Sam wouldn't like).
- Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory doesn't like being asked to keep a secret, and for a good reason.
- The Paradise setting involves an unknown force changing humans into Funny Animals (and sometimes changing their gender, too) in a way that is Invisible to Normals—-forcing the Changed into a Masquerade since to everyone else they still appear to be their old human selves (and gender). Changed who have to maintain the Masquerade over the long term, keeping their true condition from friends and loved ones, often find it harder the longer they have to keep silent.
- Christopher Mattiaz from MatthiasRat's stories has not been able to be intimate with his wife for two years because he changed gender six days after their wedding—and can't tell her why either.
- Joey from Jetfire's "Veil" series kept his Change from his parents over three years and two gender changes before breaking down and telling them the truth—which made for fairly awkward interfamily relationships for the following month or so.
- In the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "Green Is Not Your Color," Rarity confides to Twilight Sparkle that she is incredibly jealous of Fluttershy for her job as a model, while Fluttershy tells Twilight that she hates her job. Hilarity Ensues, mostly from Pinkie Pie's constant reminders on the importance of keeping secrets... Eventually the stress drives Twilight mad and after struggling to keep herself quiet ends up blurting out Spike's "secret" crush on Rarity.
- The title character of Jem maintains a double-life as the titular pop star and as Jerrica Benton, which wreaks havoc on her love life since she ends up getting her boyfriend, Rio, attracted to both identities and never does get the nerve to tell him for fear of how he'd react to being led on. She also deals with the affections of Riot from The Stingers, who's attracted to her Jem persona only. It also causes other problems since her method of staying in persona requires that she wear a pair of holographic earrings (as opposed to make-up), such as not being able to get through metal detectors. Furthermore, since Jem is entirely made up as a person, Eric Raymond tries to exploit this in one episode by setting most of the city on a massive manhunt to learn her real identity, though she's able to get people to calm down and leave her be at the end of the episode.
- Given an interesting spin in Steven Universe, where Pearl cannot tell anybody that Pink Diamond and Rose Quartz were the same person... because that was Pink Diamond's literal last order to her, so she's physically unable to speak about it no matter how much she wants to.