|Tropes and genres
|Whump, Angst, Torture, Rapefic, Disability fic, Darkfic, Get 'em, BUARA
|Smarm, Woobie, Character Bashing
|Related articles on Fanlore.
Hurt/comfort is a fanwork genre that involves the physical pain or emotional distress of one character, who is cared for by another character. The injury, sickness or other kind of hurt allows an exploration of the characters and their relationship.
A fan in 1994 wrote:
I can't say I want to tear men apart just to hurt them — I want to pick their characters apart and see what makes them tick, of course; the tearing and slicing is just a dispassionate side effect. Really. I swear. 
In h/c, blood, battering, and the erotic are central; intense physical pain and physical need are the focus. The pain that preoccupies h/c (especially h/c labeled whump) is expressed through the body. The focus on the body only amplifies when h/c is linked with its frequent companions horror and angst.
Hurt/comfort may be abbreviated as H/C. If the emphasis is on the hurt aspect of the story, then H/c may be used instead. If there is absolutely no comfort and a lot of hurt, then the term Hurt/Hurt has been used. The amount of hurt portrayed may edge into Torture, another sub-genre of Hurt/comfort. However, not all character torture fans think of it as a h/c subgenre, as the "comfort" part may not be important at all in some torture fic, and the aim is not to hurt the character for an equal (or surpassing) comfort "pay off" as is the case with much h/c fic. (See the Talk page for discussion of the subgenre question)
Depending on the fandom and/or the author, H/C stories may also encompass BDSM elements to varying degrees.
Brief History: Began as a "Get'em"
Hurt/comfort is one of the earliest genres of fan fiction. Originally, they were called "get" stories -- "get Spock", "get Kirk". The first "get" stories had no sexual content and were often light on the comfort.
The Star Trek zine Contact contained both 'Get-' style and 'Hurt/comfort' style stories, as well as friendship stories between Kirk and Spock. An early example of the intermixed relationship between the 'Get-' style story and the 'Hurt/comfort' style is in the editorial for Contact #4 (1977), which used both of the terms interchangeably: "CONTACT seems to have become known as the 'get-em' zine of fandom. It abounds with pain and the hurt/comfort syndrome. This was never our original intention. Granted, we all have that masochistic streak that loves to see our heroes suffer…but four issues of ONLY this may have run its course."
By 1979 when "This Deadly Innocence (The End of the Hurt/Comfort Syndrome)" by Leslie Fish was produced, the term 'Get-' had fallen out of use and the term Hurt/Comfort was primarily being used. As one of the first Kirk/Spock stories ever published to make the leap from Gen to Slash, the tropes of Hurt/Comfort were well recognized.
'Get' still showed up occasionally in Star Trek fandom for years, for example in these definitions from The Fanzine FAQ, version 0.9, which was written by Alara Rogers September 10, 1994 for alt.startrek.creative:
"Get" has two different meanings, depending on the context. A "get Picard" can be a story in which the author's original character has a romantic relationship with Picard (and "gets" him into bed), or it can be a hurt/comfort story in which the author "gets" Picard mangled (see hurt/comfort.) "Hurt/comfort" is a widely written genre in which the purpose is to make the main character suffer, and then have someone around to help them deal with that suffering. The difference between a hurt/comfort story and a parody in which you torture someone (say, Wesley) to death is that the writer *loves* the main character in a hurt/comfort. People who write about Julian Bashir being tortured by the Cardassians probably are very big fans of Bashir. They hurt him because they love him. Probably then they'll introduce Dax or their own personal fantasy character to comfort Julian in his pain. (This can lead to a "get" of the other type.)
The popularity and appeal of hurt/comfort is oft-discussed.
A fan in 1981 speculated on the popularity of H/C:
A very simple reason lies in our social culture, where males are not supposed to show feelings, and homosexual relationships are frowned upon as unnatural and perverted. So, when is it acceptable to show emotions? Well, when someone is hurt, it is unkind to be unfeeling, so then real emotions can be shown, possibly pent-up ones saved from other times. I agree that most h/c stories are a bit overdone. I mean, if I were sick or wounded, I certainly wouldn't feel like expressing my undying love and devotion right then; I'd probably just lie there and suffer silently. Seriously wounded people are generally justifiably self-centered, unless they have some great responsibility for the safety of others, and then some can get up and keep on going. As for the rescuer, he is gonna be scared and out of breath and won't have much time for telling the hurt one how much he loves him, either. I've seen so much of that kind of thing in the ST stories that unless it is extremely emotional and well-written, it is rather unbelievable. Of course, they'll have time to talk when the injured person is recovering, but not right at the time of torture, shooting, beating, stabbing, etc. 
A fan wrote of how media had, in the past, let her down:
Like many fannish folk, I can remember, from earliest childhood, watching TV shows in search of -- something in the way of relationship between characters. I can also remember being generally disappointed. Jess Harper (a stunning young Robert Fuller) in Laramie, got shot or beaten up a lot. But his partner, Slim Sherman (John Smith), was almost never around to take care of him. On The Lawman, Peter Brown's character (handsome young deputy) was once kidnapped, beat up, and tied to a bed, and I think we got some concern from John Russell. I remember an episode of The Tall Man in which Billy the Kid (Clu Gulager, also very young and attractive) had been drugged, but Pat Garrett (Barry Sullivan) didn't do too much to help him. I did like it when Adam accidentally shot Little Joe on Bonanza, but then he went off into a guilt trip and a side plot involving a woman in whom he was interested. Which establishes in my mind the truism that hurt without comfort isn't really satisfying! The general procedure seemed to be endangerment, rescue, and fade to black, with absolutely no gratuitous touching or caring allowed. 
A Doctor Who fan was drawn to the genre because of the potential for positive exploration of relationships:
I just love that there are so many ways to do hurt/comfort. Someone is emotionally distressed or someone is seriously injured or they have minor injuries or someone is sick and needs to be taken care of. It can be familial or best friends or romantic partners, as long as it’s two (or more) people that care about each other- or sometimes that don’t like each other but can put aside differences to help one another- you can make something realistic and believable out of a fandom where everything is made up. 
The Eroticization of Nurturance: H/C as a Trope Played Out in Slash Stories
Hurt/comfort often plays a specific role in the plot of slash. Hurt in first time slash stories generally exists to make one the caretaker of the other (often isolating the two of them together), which breaks down both physical and mental boundaries between them, which leads to realizations about each other, which leads to slash. (See Magical Healing Cock).
In her examination of "intimatopic slash" in Busse and Hellekson's Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, Elizabeth Woledge writes that:
Hurt/comfort provides a plausible way for any author to depict increasing closeness between two men, because when the hero is hurt, he is at his most vulnerable. The element of hurt permits him to share intimacies that would otherwise be kept private.
Joanna Russ had said about these types of stories that:
The nurturance in these stories is quite unreal, just as the misunderstandings, the scrupulousnesses, and the worries that keep the lovers from declaring themselves, are pure ritual, manufactured for the occasion. By "unreal" I don't mean simply glamorized or idealized but TOTALLY UNLIKE REALITY; if your beloved appears at your door bleeding and battered in real life, you probably don't feel a rush of erotic tendresse. In fact, once you've called for an ambulance, covered said beloved with a blanket, made sure the patient's head is lower than the patient's feet, and administered what medical help you can, you are far more likely to go into your bathroom and throw up. The nurturance in these tales is like Bette Davis's resolution in Jezebel to care for Henry Fond, who has yellow fever, while she looks heavenward (in a very becoming gown) and the sweetness of a thousand violins swells up on the sound-track. Nowhere do you see, for example, Fonda vomiting blood or Davis ugly with lack of sleep or resentful of her never-ending, grueling contact with such romantic objects as full bedpans.
Another fan saw the trope as disturbing:
... the best that I have ever read in K/S is "This Deadly Innocence" by Leslie Fish. Its themes continue to impress their importance upon me. I thought of it when I read [C P's] letter in "Observation Deck". She says that she can't abide cruelty, but loves hurt/comfort stories. It seems to me that the underlying implication of h/c, as brilliantly shown by Leslie Fish, is extremely cruel. In these stories Kirk & Spock must be punished for loving each other. They can't show they care without paying the price of pain & anguish. 
One fan asked other fans why hurt/comfort was "acceptable" but sadomasochism was taboo:
Hurt/comfort. Now there's an interesting topic. I’ve been having lots of discussions with people this side of the pond and a few discussions with people of an Antipodean disposition, so now I'm going to widen the theatre of operation a bit more. Why is it acceptable ('normal', as opposed to 'sick', to use the terminology of more than one person with whom I've been communicating) to read/write a story wherein one of the characters is hurt/maimed/ beaten/wounded, etc., and thus victimised, yet S&M is so frowned upon? I've heard so much stick being given to people because they enjoy S&M, and yet no-one utters a mutter if someone says that a story was great because "Doyle suffered so beautifully", or because Doyle (it’s usually Doyle, poor little flower) was so badly hurt and then rescued/nurtured by Bodie. This absolutely flummoxes me.
I mean, surely it's just as ethical and moral to have the characters choose to have consensual sadomasochistic sex as it is to victimise them in order to get the same sexual heat. For let's be honest here, most slash hurt/comfort is very sexual indeed and oftentimes the depiction of the wounds and of the wounding is told in language as sensual as that of the eventual love scene. Plus, this is all fantasy, so is it right and proper for any of us to attack either the fantasy or the fantasist and put labels such as 'sick' or 'abnormal' on them? Surely it would be better for us all to agree to differ and simply shrug when the unappealing form of slash pops up?I personally find hurt/comfort to be very offensive, but at the same time, I don't think that should have anything whatsoever to do with whether or not a story should be published or enjoyed. There's room enough for a bit of everything in fandom, and I think it's definitely a case of the more the merrier - regardless of whether or not it's my cup of tea. 
To the dismay of fans who feel it is poor characterization, over time in many slash pairings the 'smaller guy' (usually the more popular character in a pairing) becomes more and more likely to be the one hurt, to the point that he actually seems to be shrinking in the descriptions used for him in fanfic. H/C written in a well-established slash fandom often goes to one of two extremes: either the littler character is routinely getting hurt over and over in ways that would kill normal people, or perhaps worse, he overreacts to the application of paper cuts, and must be saved/cured by his all powerful partner. This dynamic is larger than hurt/comfort, but is definitely related to it.
H/C as a Trope Played Out in Gen Stories
Close body contact tropes that don't lead to sex.
- Medicinal Snuggling: hypothermia, one sleeping bag and thou
- Gen Bed Sharing: slide on over, buddy, the bed's big enough for two
- Gen Bathing: showers, baths and, well, more showers and baths
H/C in Gen as a Substitute for Sex?
Some fans believe that the intimacy of close body contact and comfort in H/C gen stories can be a substitute for sex. Others disagree.
A fan in 1984 wrote:
A fan in 1987 wrote:
Heavy friendship" fans seem to rely on hurt/comfort situations as the means for K and Spock|S to express their feelings for each other. I do still enjoy some h/c stories, but once I accepted K/S, I found most h/c situations to be incredibly masochistic. In essence, h/c stories say, "You are unlovable unless you're in pain." K/S is much healthier; they don't need excuses to love each other. 
From a fan in 2000:
Yes, there is "hurt/comfort" fanfic which contains no overt sexual acts. But I think you'd still probably be hard pressed to prove that its purpose is not to arouse sexual feelings or desire. Otherwise, what *is* the point of 200 identical stories that end with Jack cradling a wounded Daniel tenderly in his arms? 
From a fan in 2003:
This isn't a really peeve, but more of an insight: I'm not into hurt/comfort at all. I find it artificial and unbelievable. I'll read it when there's nothing else to read, and that's about all I can say for it. But it suddenly occurred to me that hurt/comfort offers a formulaic method for expressing intimacy in a way that is not directly sexual -- it is, in other words, one solution to the problem above. It is a way to take some time getting to the realization of what's really going on, while simultaneously expressing physical affection, exploring emotional intimacy, and slowing down the process of realization so that the story doesn't just "hop" with no transition, like switching from OFF to ON. The *Attraction* isn't recognized right away because it is sublimated as "comfort." Well, how come it always has to be comfort? Can't the same dynamic of sublimation/denial work with just *friendship*? Just having a good time together? Drinking beer and getting a little silly? Or maybe going out on a double date together? (::whap!:: Mind out of gutter.) Well, uh, OK, I just derailed myself and ran out of examples. But you know what I mean?
- For what it's worth, I'm not fond of Gen h/c at all. Like you, I just don't get it. I suppose since I already imagine them wanting to touch each other sexually, the intimacy I'm spoiling for doesn't come with triple antibiotic creams and splints. 
A 2006 comment:
In 2011, a fan cited This Deadly Innocence, Or The End of the Hurt/Comfort Syndrome as groundbreaking meta:
I first read this story in 1979, and it‘s just as delightful today as it was then. Meta and fic go so well together, don‘t they? As soon as fans started writing fic, they began analyzing tropes, speculating and debating characterization, and commenting on the "why" of it all. Rereading "This Deadly Innocence" now reminded me of how often fic is used as part of the fannish debate. Back in the 70s, there was a lot of meta written about hurt/comfort As more and more Trek zines were published, so were more and more h/c stories (originally called get stories, i.e., "Get Spock", "Get Kirk", etc.) Along with this was lots of analysis and psychoanalysis as to what the appeal of h/c meant. Fans observed that many of these stories were written in order to get Spock (or Kirk) to show vulnerability, particularly emotional vulnerability. As the 70s continued, h/c stories became more and more extreme. Fans commented there seemed to be "more and more pain to reach that one moment of emotional confession/pay off." K/S had emerged from its early 1970s underground by 1976. A new concept was introduced into the fannish debate - that slash was a natural substitute for h/c – that sex should, and would, replace violence. "This Deadly Innocence or The End of the Hurt/Comfort Syndrome" by Leslie Fish was written specifically to prove this point. In the author‘s words, in her interview in Jenna Sinclair‘s Legacy # 5 fanzine: ""This Deadly Innocence" was originally subtitled "The End of the Hurt-Comfort Syndrome" because, as many fans had been considering for years, the H-CS was indeed a euphemism for sex; a way for the characters to physically express powerful love for each other without venturing into dangerous‘ sexual territory. I got to thinking about just how dangerous the H-CS could become, and decided to expose it -- to the characters, and to the reading audience." (It didn‘t work out that way – h/c didn‘t exactly go away; it is a genre all its own, both apart from slash and concurrent with slash.) 
A 2012 comment:
... how I moved from gen to slash. I was reading all this gen Kirk&Spock h/c (yes, smarm, although I didn't know that word then) and I noticed a trend: the stories were getting more and more violent and traumatic to get the same effect (no, I had not read Leslie Fish's The Hurt/Comfort Syndrome, but I know what she was parodying.) It was squicking me. I discovered that by stepping over to the gay side, I could find fic with just as much emotional impact with much fewer missing limbs, avulsed eyeballs, etc. For a while I had to engage my suspension of disbelief as to whether Kirk and Spock would 'really' have a relationship, but I got used to that. 
Discussion by Starsky and Hutch Fans
Mohave Crossing', 'Solitaire,' 'Wilderness', 'Bomb Scare,' and Copkiller [all Starsky and Hutch fanfics] seem to fit your pattern ('page after page of lovingly detailed torture and humiliation...solely for the purpose of flinging S&H into each other's arms and having them gasp: 'I love you...buddy, I love you too, babe, chaste kiss, fade out.'). For that matter, so do "Shootout," "Coffin," "Survival," "Bloodbath," "Fix," and numerous other aired episodes... Perhaps I took your comments wrong, but they seem to imply that those of us who don't particularly care for the S/H theme are just kidding ourselves about latent sexual overtones present in the hurt/comfort (or get'em) genre. I believe you were saying that those of us who read and enjoy hurt/comfort instead of S/H aren't willing to admit that certain sexual connotations are present within the stories and aren't sophisticated enough to take it the final 'inevitable' step—S&H in bed together. I agree that hurt/comfort has its basis in sexual gratification but I'm not a psychologist so I can't explain why some of us stop short at hurt/comfort and others go on to S/H. I do know that most of us obtain a modicum of sexual pleasure from this kind of story. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. I really wish someone would do a study of it. As a child I got tummy twinges from seeing Little Joe Cartwright (among others) "get it" (as he so often did); as an adult...well, suffice it to say, I enjoy stories and TV shows offering this kind of fare immensely. 
I have to leap in on the discussion [J C] began last time, continued by [J W] and others--hurt/comfort and S/H. Many moons ago, before I knew fandom existed, my partner and I were writing all kinds of S&H. You name it, we wrote it—not particularly well, perhaps, but that's beside the point. And rarely did a tale get by without a good hefty dose of h/c. When you're gonna dent em, dent 'em good, was our motto—no way is Hutch going to cuddle him if he just tears a hangnail. Or vice versa. So Kick Hutch Week was followed by Stomp Starsky Week, and they and we got our jollies without any qualms of conscience on either side. Suddenly along came the Brave New World of Fandom, and we discovered there was a name for all this stuff. And we read 'Mojave Crossing,' and stopped writing h/c for a while, because we knew we couldn't top that. There from arose a problem—if no one gets dented, what happens to the emotional bits we love to write? So we were forced to stop and reexamine what we were writing and why, and the result of that was a step forward in the evolution of our writing. One thing, you might say, lead to another. Natural progression — h/c to S/H.And I bet someone is now going to jump on me for that... 
As in any genre, there are degrees of quality. I don't believe that the next step, or rather, the missing step in h/c is the bedroom. Compare a story like Mojave Crossing in which the love (and I emphatically do not mean sexual love) between the two characters is conveyed so well, with some of the lurid mutilation/humiliation scenes- that allow the characters to sob, 'I love you' only when death is moments away (presumably). What I meant to imply, what I will say now, is that scenes like these are very unhealthy ways of dealing with the emotions that occur between S&H. I perceive a sexual tension between the two men. I believe that the writers who deal almost exclusively (obsessively?) with h/c perceive that same tension, unconsciously, and are attempting to transmute it into more socially acceptable forms. What could become a sexual situation is neatly transformed into non-threatening titillation—no Mary Sues, no Other Women and no hint of homosexuality...at least most of the time. The unconscious sexual symbolism that I mentioned doesn't exist in all get'ems, but I can think of a few examples right off the bat. 
It is a matter of taste and preference, not of sophistication; and S/H is not a natural sequel to h/c. S/H and h/c fans tend to separate into distinct and mutually exclusive groups. S/H readers don't much care for h/c—as a friend of mine observed, 'There are better things to do with those glorious bodies than mangle them' --and vice versa; S/H writers don't do h/c stories and vice versa. Exceptions are quite rare. 
This story includes agony that runs the gamut from sexual assault (the beautiful blond gets it in this one, but details are mercifully left out) to Starsky being beaten with a tree branch (see page 23 if you think I jest). What I want to know is why do this to characters that you love? Why hurt them like this in order to get them to touch one another? 
[It’s] something I've been wanting to say about h/c for a long time, and this from an S/H person -- is h/c really all that bad? Okay, I agree, when that's the only reason for a story, then h/c is being done in excess. And I must confess, when I first got into S&H I really got off on h/c, but after awhile I got so sick of that being the only reason for them to touch, be emotional, cuddle, be sensitive to each other, etc. S/H is a lot more fun, alot more satisfying and is a lot more realistic. 
I don't know WHY I am attracted to the male/male relationship and I am not that turned off by the lesbian relationship. All I know is that it gives me a funny feeling in the throat, or the stomach or somewhere when I read the scenes. Similar to the good h/c scenes only more so, but it also depends on how well the explicit sexual scenes are done. 
Hurt/Comfort as Manifestation of Friendship
In a 2014 review of a 1977 Starsky & Hutch zine, a fan says "friendship is something lots of people value deeply but culturally don't know how to express very well...hurt/comfort unearths the depth and extent of a friendship by making the characters prove it." The essay goes on to describe the difficulties with writing good hurt/comfort, and describes a scene from the gen story "Mojave Crossing" as an example of the power of well-written hurt/comfort in articulating the emotional bonds of a beloved fictional friendship:
...nowadays, it’s hard to do it in a hurt/comfort scene because hurt/comfort fanfic is so...well...overdone. No1curr if you threaten the character’s life or not, because everyone’s seen it all before. Not just in S&H fandom, but in all fandom, everywhere. Doesn’t mean brilliant hurt/comfort isn’t possible, but that luminous, suspended sublime moment is hard to write if you have too much of the 287573 other hurt/comfort fics you’ve previously read for these particular characters floating in your mind, because it’s very hard to be caught off guard by it – to be caught off-guard, the writer has to be unique in how they write it, not just what they write... ...Hutch is slowly bleeding to death from a bullet wound, Starsky is blinded and trying to comfort him, both of them are stranded in the desert, weak with exhaustion and exposure and dehydration, waiting for help to arrive before they die. And everything else is stripped away to show the extent of their adoration of and tenderness for each other, of the suffering from their injuries and strain and trauma, of the even worse suffering of not being able to save their best friend, and of the terror and desolation of knowing their partner is going to die....[the h/c is] very controlled and restrained...Incredibly tender, very harsh, and very bold. One of my biggest frustrations with h/c is how mediocre h/c is so static and unsurprising -- "Oh noes, he's hurt!"/"Oh good, he's okay!" and that's all she wrote. Blah, blah, tell us something we don't know. This fic is not just h/c. It contains the “oh noes! He’s hurt!” gut-punch factor, but that's just the red herring, not the main point. Other stuff, all interrelated, is going on, but the main point of the story is the illumination and revelation of how much love and selflessness they are capable of, how entwined they are, how intense the link between them is, how much pain a loved one’s death causes...slow, sweet, dark, ruthless, and aching with love being ripped cruelly away by death. Their interaction reaches a fever pitch of emotional torque where it becomes, like I said before, luminous and hushed and delicately suspended in a little pocket universe ...
Hurt/Comfort as a Tension and Release, as a Way to Fill in the Blanks
From a 2016 conversation:
[thesnadger.tumblr]: Hurt/Comfort is such an interesting thing. It’s basically an entire genre of fanfiction. I’d argue it satisfies a very basic, vital need–the same way that horror satisfies the basic need to be scared in a safe, controllable space.
And yet it doesn’t really have an equivalent outside of fan culture. "Tearjerkers” can sometimes come close, they’re probably the closest thing to a mainstream hurt/comfort genre that there is. But those types of books and movies don’t usually focus on the “comfort” aspect in the same way, and don’t make use of tension and release. I think every good hurt/comfort fic makes use of tension and release just as horror does, whether the writer is consciously aware of it or not. Though of course the tension and release in h/c comes from different sources than in horror. Instead of anticipating something frightening, you anticipate the intimacy and/or validation that comes from the “comfort” part you know is eventually coming. That’s what provides release of the tension built up during the “hurt” scenes.
I could write a goddamned essay about this it’s so fascinating.[response by fandomisreality.tumblr.]: This is a great definition/analysis of it! I’ve been interested in this too. It’s always been my favorite fanfiction genre. It’s to the point where reading just angst is not enough, there is something left unfulfilled if the character does not have the ‘tension and release’ and just remains under whatever stressor at the end. I think part of the reason I like it so much, is often in mainstream media characters DO NOT have that ‘healing moment’, shall we say. Too often, there may be a sad/traumatic/stressful event and the character is shown to just pick themselves up from it and move on like nothing happened. Which is not realistic as we all know, so I think the hurt/comfort genre in fanfiction is a kind of a response to that. The “filling in the blanks” of when a character needs a moment of healing or validation to continue onward, because that in a sense is more relatable then the “super hero” character who can move through it like nothing damaged them. 
Hurt Without the Comfort, Comfort Without the Hurt
For more on hurt without comfort, see Hurt/Hurt.
I doubt 'romantic sadists' constitute even a significant minority of h-c fans. H-c stories linger as lovingly on the comfort scenes as on the hurt, if not more. A h-c story is like a good meal. Comfort without the hurt first is like skipping dinner and just eating dessert: too sweet and insubstantial. But not reading the comfort part of the story is like not eating dessert: you're missing the climax of the meal. Any analysis of the general appeal of h-c must take into account the comfort as well as the hurt. I suspect that a body of fiction created by and for romantic sadists would be very different from that which exists for h-c fans. Anyway, romantic sadism doesn’t seem particularly fannish to me. That is, it’s an extremely common scenario in mundane fiction. (Though I’ve always thought the point was to torment the hero in order to show how noble and manly he is, not simply to enjoy his suffering!) 
Getting the Balance Right
How much h/c is too much? Many fans have a line of comfort.
From a Starsky & Hutch fan in 2003:
[I am] trying to define something we were calling 'Emotional Hurt/Comfort'. I love emotional pain, and eat up stories where they are at odds with each other, hurt each other, then feel guilty about hurting each other. Mmmm, LOOOOVe IT.
BUT! At the end of the story, they MUST GETTING PAST IT, they must do what it takes, find it in themselves, make whatever sacrifices, to be TOGETHER or at least heading that way. It doesn't have to be easy. (In fact, I prefer it be quite hard. Inner turmoil!) But being together must be at least a possibility again by the end. Because without that, I'm left with all the hurt...and no comfort.
You H/C junkies can relate, right? How would you feel about a story where Hutch gets really beat up badly, falls off a roof, lies on the ground for a day or so, then staggers alone to Emergency at the nearest hospital where he has an allergic reaction to the antibiotic and remains there at the hospital for 3 weeks, and Starsky...sends him a card. It's just not *fun* if there's no effort at healing. And I also kind of suspect (not being a physical H/C lover by nature) that the reason you H/C guys don't go salivate quite so readily for the small owies, the sunburn or the stubbed toe, is the same reason I don't want the simple misunderstanding, or the attack of peevishness: there has to be some real threat. For you, to his health. For me, to the partnership.
For physical H/C, he has to be in a serious enough state to warrant the stress and deep concern of his partner. In Emotional H/C I need to be able to believe that this is something two mature, intelligent men could really get emotional, hurt, angry about. I read Partner Betrayal stories looking for this, but it is hard writing, trying to make it plausible, keeping them in character and having them do something really awful. The guys who wrote [the episode] 'S vs. H' couldn't quite pull it off. We still go on about what made Hutch do that, because it was never adequately explained in the show. Goes to show, you know? It isn't easy. Luckily, I am convinced we have better writers in this fandoms then most of the writers of the actual eps.
And perhaps the reason H/C writers frequently rewound the wounded, or give him a relapse, or crash the rescue chopper with him in it, is the same reason I don't want the reconciliation to come too easily. I want them to WORK for it, If Starsky caught a bad cold and Hutch just spooned him some Vicks 44 and he was better, end of story...not good enough.
But I'm pretty sure I'm on the right path, because the road washes out and they can't get to the hospital, or he's recovering from his wound at home when the psychopath finds him, or...I'm afraid my S/H emotional H/c is still largely hypothetical, though I've found overtones in some stories. I keep reading and hoping, though. 
A fan in 2004 comments on a Due South story:
One of the things I love about this story is the perfect balance of h/c. Yes, Ray is hurt. And yes, Fraser takes care of him. But it's a regular bar fight he was in, and while he might be sore and cranky, he's really not seriously hurt, which I love. I like my guys getting a little beat up, but I don't want them on like, feeding tubes or anything. The h/c in this story serves it's purpose, which is to indicate some of the growing physical attraction between Fraser and Ray, and also demonstrate the closeness between the two of them. 
Changes Over the Years?
Some fans feel that hurt/comfort fanfic is more of an old-school fandom trope, and that "modern" fanfiction relies less upon it. It is difficult to know if this is true, or if the trope has simply become more refined and/or sophisticated in its application.
In 2002, a fan attributed this change to fiction's platform, though this fan's perception of a shift may have had more to do with the fanfiction's delivery system than in content:
I remember in the old days of zines there were stories people tended to call 'get 'em's' where it seemed the whole purpose was to see how much a character could suffer. When I write hurt/comfort, I tend to be working toward the comfort part of the equation, whether it's just the quiet support of a friend or more intense support. The comfort part for me is the affirmation of the friendship and loyalty, and when I write it, that affirmation is the purpose. The hurt part is just a way to get to that point. I somehow don't think h/c means quite the same thing in online fanfic than it used to mean in the old style zines. 
H/C in Academic Writing About Fandom
In "Queering Popular Culture", Susanne Jung says, Mirna Cicioni discusses similar instances of comforting in her analysis of the "hurt/comfort" genre which she characterizes as an "eroticization of nurturance." With one partner satisfying a basic need of the other - providing warmth, food or emotional reassurance - elements like warmth or food, "although not specifically sexual in themselves [. . .] are eroticised because they give a physical dimension to the closeness of the bond between the partners and lead to, or become a part of, an intimacy that also has a sexual component". 
In her essay, "Women Reading Men," feminist film critic Christine Gledhill discusses the figure of "The Wounded Man," who "may cross over the gender divide, playing to a fantasy of similarity and rapproachment." Gledhill further notes that: "one attraction to this figure is its capacity to redress the power balance between the sexes--to force the male into the position of the woman. In so doing the wounding of the man, whether physical or psychological, makes the male figure accessible to the female imagination." 
inside art from Interphase #1, art by Connie Faddis (1975)
Kirk and Spock in Precessional, artist unknown (1980)
Chewbacca and Han in Kessel Slave (1984)
Doyle and Bodie, inside art by Kate in Discovered on a Rooftop (1985)
Peter Caine and his dad in Bitter Blood, art by TACS (1996)
cover of Ouch!, a zine series specializing in H/C fiction (2001)
Han and Leia, by Laura Quilles, in Imperium (2003)
Sam and Dean in You'll Thank Me When It's Wednesday! (2008)
Walk Away Victorious, Merlin/Arthur fanart by novemberlite (2011)
Specific H/C Tropes in Fanfic
Not all stories with these elements are H/C, but they can frequently be found in H/C stories.
- Amnesia: Usually including the partner's pain in being forgotten or unappreciated.
- Disability fic: Includes blindness, amputation, paralysis, and other permanent injury.
- Brain damage: Sometimes seen as a subset of disability fic, these are stories where one character is made permanently child-like. Examples include: Gentle on My Mind and sequels in The Professionals, the Highlander "Teddy Bear" stories, "Changes" in The Sentinel, "Goodbye to Dreams" in SG-1. Since these stories often include sex, some people have said they fulfill the same needs as chanslash in other fandoms. There are however also brain damage stories in which the character does not end up child-like, but with other effects from a brain injury, such as aphasia, seizures, partial paralysis, etc.
- Coma: One of the partners is in a coma for a brief or extended period of time. Example: Distant Shores, an epic Starsky & Hutch slash novel by April Valentine, wherein Hutch is kidnapped, presumed dead by Starsky and everyone else, but actually has been in a coma in Australia for several years.
- Death stories: Sometimes written as all hurt, no comfort; sometimes the comfort is aimed at the BSO who didn't die.
- Attempted Suicide: Subgenre of suicide fic where one of the characters attempts to commit suicide but is either prevented by another character and/or comforted after the attempt by one or more other characters.
- Rape recovery: Rapefic stories that concentrate much more on the recovery than the rape itself. Examples include Being an Anchor by Lanning Cook in Sports Night.
- Snifflefic: Stories with very minor hurt, in which the point was the comfort: putting them to bed, making them tea, seeing them cossetted. First used in reference to The Professionals story, Fever, by Pam Rose.
- Degenerative illness: Stories where the author's woobie develops cancer, AIDS, or other lingering, long-term degenerative illness. Examples include Dancing on Glass by Em Brunson in Sports Night, PuddleJumper Estates and ZPM Enterprises in SGA, possibly Helpless in Sherlock (BBC).
- Torture: Injuring the character over and over again using extreme measures. Very popular in Highlander fandom, as the main characters were immortal and regenerated.
- Amateur Surgery: When one character, usually not a doctor, has to perform a life-saving surgical procedure on another character. A variation has him or her assisting in a primitive field surgery.
Common H/C Types by Fandom
- Age of Sail: Disability fic, primarily amputation.
- Blake's 7: According to executrix, "A lot of Blakes7 stories are referred to as BUARA (Beat Up and Rape Avon), which I believe is the B7 equivalent of a "Get-Spock" story." The term is defined at Judith Proctor's Blake's 7 site as "used for slash stories where Avon suffers terribly, but almost invariably without any permanent damage." 
- Highlander: Methostorture, featuring works by Barb G, Juxian Tang, Maygra, and Mairead Triste.
- The Lord of the Rings/FPF: In The Lord of the Rings fic, Boromir dies after much pain, but it is Frodo is the character who is most often sick or injured. His suffering may be related to his ordeal on the Quest and the loss of the Ring. Frodo's hurt includes mental health, loss of a finger, ongoing trauma from the Witch-king's blade, but he tends to be cared for lovingly and well by all the other characters, including many original characters from the Houses of Healing. See also Hurt/Comfort recs at lotr_fic_recs. In The Hobbit books and movies fandom, Bilbo is frequently presented as injured, movieverse Kili is canonically wounded, and Thorin, Fili and Kili canonically die, so there's plenty of Hurt with and without Comfort.
- Original Slash: Manna Francis's Administration series and maculategiraffe's slavefic The Slave Breakers are both examples of original slash darkfic with a great deal of torture.
- The Phantom Menace: Soulbonding, with a side of BDSM.
- The Sentinel: Smarm bridged the gap between slash and gen, and a lot of Hurt/comfort writers were drawn to it, such as Martha. Ordeal, Snake Oil, and Cake is a series of H/C stories by Martha focused on Blair as the woobie, while The Dragon by Mairead Triste focused more on Jim. Kitty and Martha's Beach, 78 chapters of "platonic" h/c, may still be the paradigmatic smarm story. 
- Starsky & Hutch: Elspethdixon said: "My general memory/impression is that pretty much all Starsky & Hutch fic of reasonable length is h/c of the old school variety." 
- The X-Files: See Muldertorture.
- Dragon Age: slavefic, especially of the "Magister A/U" subgenre.
- Fire Emblem: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder due to the series focusing on war, plus many characters have traumatic pasts.
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Grief/Mourning, due to the high concentration of character death and survivor guilt.
- Voltron: Legendary Defender: Shiro is a gold mine for this due to his PTSD after a year of being held captive and tortured by the Galra, as is Keith due to his abandonment issues and inability to handle his feelings and open up to people. Lance is the subject of much hurt/comfort as well, as his ego and bravado hide deep insecurities and a lack of self-worth.
H/C Challenges and Communities
- 10_hurt_comfort, a multifandom prompt challenge (2006–present)
- Hurt/Comfort Bingo, a multifandom bingo challenge (2010–present)
- Hurt/Comfort Exchange, a multifandom exchange (2019–present)
- SGAHC, a Stargate Atlantis mailing list
- whitecollarhc, a White Collar LiveJournal community
- Dean-focused H/C Comment Fic & Art Meme, a Supernatural comment meme (2009–2015)
- HD Hurt Fest, a Harry Potter Harry/Draco fest (2014–2020)
- AlexK-H-C-orD, a mailing list for Alex Krycek from The X-Files
- Sheppard H/C, a LiveJournal community for John Sheppard from Stargate Atlantis
- sgahcchallenges, a LiveJournal community for Stargate Atlantis gen
Fannish Essays and Meta About H/C: Further Reading
Links & Resources
- from Strange Bedfellows #5 (May 1994)
- Bodies in horrifying hurt/comfort fan fiction: Paying the toll, Rachel Linn, Transformative Works and Cultures no. 25. Published September 15, 2017 (Accessed September 16, 2017).
- Rosa's Hurtin' For Comfort rec page circa April 2002 (via Wayback Machine) Accessed October 12, 2008
- The outrageous "Revenge", written by Dee L. Meuser (Warp 9 1), and the early stories of Jennifer Guttridge (published in Tricorder Readings) are prime examples of the type.
- The End of the Hurt/Comfort Syndrome by Leslie Fish on the K/S Archive, originally in Naked Times #3
- epic recs on This Deadly Innocence
- Fanzine FAQ (version 0.9) alt.startrek.creative post, Alara Rogers, September 10, 1994.
- from S and H #21
- from Frienz #25
- Meet the Author: sparksearcher
- Woledge, Elizabeth. 2006. "Intimatopia: Genre Intersections between Slash and the Mainstream." In Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse, eds. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
- Russ, Joanna in the essay Pornography, by women, for women in Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans and Perverts
- from Not Tonight Spock! #10
- comments by [M F G] in Be Gentle With Us #5 (1992)
- Rana Eros, Travel Size for Your Convenience. Hosted at the Fanfic Symposium, 21 January 2002, accessed 20 October 2008.
- Lorelei Jones, The Damsel in Distress Syndrome. Hosted at the Fanfic Symposium, 17 November 1999, accessed 20 October 2008.
- from Not Tonight, Spock! #4 (1984)
- from SocioTrek #3 (1987)
- from a comment by Donna Letto at Fan Rebellion, a discussion at alt.tv.highlander
- quoted anonymously from a discussion at VenicePlace (Jan 25, 2003)
- comment by p.r. zed at Nothing Left to Lose by Jane and Madelaine Ingram, Archived version, review at CI5hq
- from a fan in 2011, The K/S Press #174
- Memories, Archived version; archive link, vass, discusses slash, kinks, and RPF and chan shunning (April 5, 2012)
- from S and H #20 (April 1981)
- from S and H #20 (April 1981)
- from S and H #20 (April 1981)
- from S and H #20 (April 1981)
- from S and H #29 (January 1982), from a review of Judge and Jury
- from S and H #29 (January 1982)
- from S and H #29 (January 1982), this is a fan's reaction to drawerfic as the only slash Starsky and Hutch zine printed at that point in time was the non-explicit Forever Autumn
- Reading a 1977 zine in 2014: Zebra Three #1, Archived version
- Fans Talking about Fandom, Archived version
- from Strange Bedfellows (APA) #7 (November 1994)
- quoted anonymously from The Pits Mailing List (October 30, 2003)
- 2004 rec for The Better Angels at Crack Van
- Sheila Paulson at Gen Fic Crit, September 2002
- Bacon-Smith, Camille. Enterprising Women. Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1992.
- Queering Popular Culture: Female Spectators and the Appeal of Writing Slash Fan Fiction, by Susanne Jung, University of Tübingen, Germany
- Cicioni, Mirna. "Male Pair-Bonds and Female Desire in Fan Slash Writing." Theorizing Fandom. Fans, Subculture, and Identity. Ed. Cheryl Harris and Alison Alexander. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton P, 1998. 153-77.
- Christine Gledhill, "Women Reading Men," Me Jane: Masculinity, Movies, and Women, ed. Pat Kirkham and Janet Thumen. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.) 86-7.
- For example, SGA fics Rebuilding Babel  by fiercelydreamed and the aphasic John series by busaikko.
- For example, SGA fic Wear a Rainbow by busaikko.
- Blake's 7 Fanzine terminology (Accessed October 16, 2008)
- The FrodoHealers Yahoo! group, which allows only gen stories, had 3754 posts between June 1, 2002, and May 31, 2003. FrodoHealers Yahoo! group. Accessed Oct. 27, 2008. PippinHealers is a smaller but still consistently active group.
- The Death of Smarm by Lucy Gillam at Fanfic Symposium: "Fanfic Symposium: The Death of Smarm". 1999-09-26. Archived from the original on 2013-01-13.
- On wickedwords' journal