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Someone's in trouble. The type of trouble can vary enormously - they could have been brutally attacked, raped, recently bereaved or blaming themselves for a catastrophe they couldn't stop. So now they're laid up in hospital with half their body in plaster, or mid-Heroic BSOD. Even the most cynical of viewers can't blame the poor soul for going a bit Emo.
But the writers aren't directing the audience's sympathies toward the victim but instead toward someone close to the victim. While the victim is recovering, their significant other is raving "I failed to protect him/her!" or "What happens to our relationship now?" Entire plot lines are devoted to how this person gets over the tragedy.
The real point of the story isn't "the victim was attacked" but "look how protective/self-loathing/angsty/loving the victim's friend is." The scenario is set up for the friend to get Character Focus. The person who was hurt is Collateral Angst.
Some stories make things even more peculiar by having the casualty apologise for being hurt. They will use phrases such as "being a burden" or "letting you down" to express their guilt. If the injured party is more upbeat and has coped admirably with the tragedy, they may try to cheer up their distraught partner, apparently oblivious to the irony of their actions as they do so. It's doubly strange if the victim is dealing well with their situation, but they then have to rescue their other half from the Heroic BSOD they've suffered.
When well used, this trope establishes the bond between the two characters, especially if the viewer recognises that Character A reacts more violently when Character B is hurt than if they themselves were. When badly executed, Character A may well look like an attention seeking diva, and the viewer may wonder if Character B needs this much drama in their life when they're trying to recover.
The only glimmer of hope for a "damage victim" is that they are important characters in their own right. Once they have recovered, things will be business as usual. It could be worse. If the wronged party isn't just injured, but dies in a particularly pointless way for the main character to angst over, they were probably Stuffed Into the Fridge. Someone who is living, breathing Collateral Angst - to the point the reader/viewer wonders if they're ever out of the hospital - and has little plot importance or characterisation beyond that is a Disposable Woman. Of course, two X-chromosomes are required to qualify. Usually.
- Both Kisa and Rin are viciously attacked by Akito in Fruits Basket. Rin in particular is badly injured after being pushed out of an upper floor window. However, both girls seem to discount these events in their catalogue of tragedies. Kisa is more worried about the bullying she suffers at school, while Rin desperately searches for a cure to the Sohma curse in between hospital visits. Their love interests, Hiro and Hatsuharu respectively, on the other hand, angst constantly about their failure to protect their girlfriends. Hiro especially sees his inability to stand up to Akito and prevent the attack as an insult to his masculine pride and proof that he is unworthy of Kisa.
- Shuichi from Gravitation is brutally gang raped, actually submitting to the attack in an attempt to preserve his boyfriend's reputation... despite the fact that said boyfriend, Yuki, has just dumped him. Shuichi's best friend seems to be the only one who takes the attack seriously, and he storms off to Yuki's house, both to reprimand him for the way he's treated his friend and to inform him of the rape. Yuki responds by threatening Taki, the leader of a rival band and the one who ordered Shuichi raped. After this display of machismo on Yuki's part, Shuichi himself seems to get over the rape remarkably quickly. A few chapters later though, it's Yuki who has a not-so-Heroic BSOD, claiming that it's his fault that Shuichi had to suffer (which is at least somewhat correct) and resulting in Shuichi comforting Yuki for the trauma Shuichi's rape inflicted on the novelist (which just seems plain wrong). In fact, it seems the rape was only there as an introduction to Yuki's dark past.
- Yuki's angst at the attack on his boyfriend seems doubly bizarre since, in the manga at least, his first sexual encounter with Shuichi wasn't entirely consensual on Shuichi's part.
- The attitude of Collateral Angst is reflected by the characters within the story as well: only when Yuki is affected by these events does record company owner (and Shuichi and Taki's boss) Tohma decide to take action against Taki. He didn't really care about Shuichi being raped, but making Yuki cry warrants serious punishment. Then again, Tohma's a bit scary and weird to begin with.
- Sailor Moon's friends in both the first and last seasons of the first anime and the final volume of the manga die horribly so we can see how heroic Usagi is as she copes with such tragedy.
- The Green Lantern plot arc where Kyle Rayner's assistant Terry Berg gets gay bashed focused more on Kyle dealing with the angst of such a thing happening to his best friend, tracking down the assailants and scaring the bejeesus out of them, and eventually deciding that he was running out of faith in humanity and taking off for the stars. All while Terry, the one who actually got attacked, lay in traction.
- One of Linkara's problems with DC's Infinite Crisis: Sue Dibney is raped, but the story completely ignores the issue of how the attack affects her in favour of focusing on how it affects everyone else. He goes on to point out the the comic's multiple narrators are all men, so while rape as a plot device (Linkara argues) is used by bad writers as "a thing that happens to women", an actual woman's take on the attack isn't provided, let alone the victim's own experience. Here's the episode for more details.
- Cori Falls's Pokemon fanfics do this quite a bit, but most notably in "The Thorns of the Rose" in which Jessie is badly triggered by memories of an abusive past relationship and all James can do is cry and mope about how he thinks she's stopped loving him.
- Fire Emblem shipping fic in general adores this trope, especially when Bodyguard Crush is involved. It's most popular with Kent/Lyn, Seth/Eirika, Frederick/Cordelia, Gerome/Lucina, Chrom/Robin, Xander/Female Corrin, Leo/Takumi, Leo/Niles, and Takumi/Camilla.
- Some Voltron: Legendary Defender fics have Keith attacked, raped, captured, or poisoned by people who hate him for being half-Galra just so they can focus on how worried and upset the person he's being shipped with is. This is also fairly common with Pidge (the youngest Paladin who slots easily into the "precious baby sister" role to fans), Lance (an early favorite target for loads of angst and hurt/comfort to the point where it got its own name) and Shiro (expanding on what he's suffered in canon, only whoever he's being shipped with fusses ten times more).
- Ace Attorney fics pairing Phoenix and Maya put the spotlight on his angst over failing to protect her from being arrested or kidnapped. Some Phoenix/Edgeworth fics also focus on Phoenix fretting over Edgeworth's traumas rather than the latter's own feelings.
- Hermoine's rape in the Harry Potter fic In This World and the Next happens solely to upset Harry and drive him to revenge. Never once are Hermoine's own feelings explored.
- Most Mary Sue fics have the character she's being paired with spend a whole chapter lamenting how he "failed to protect her" from whatever trauma has befallen her. Usually kidnapping or rape.
- In Gran Torino, Sue is beaten and gang raped by her own gangster cousins to get back at her, her brother, and Walt for standing up to them and challenging them, though the movie focuses more on Walt's reaction, partly because the attack immediately followed his own browbeating of one of the gangsters.
- Little Women: It's painful for Beth to die young; it's more painful for Jo to live without her Dead Little Sister. As Louisa knew firsthand.
- A big part of Jodi Picoult's Handle with Care is the fact that while Willow is physically injured for most of the book (she has brittle bone disease), it's her mother, Charlotte, that does all the angsting -- and it's her mother's lawsuit that threatens the family, not Willow's disease. Even Charlotte is forced to realise that the court case she's set in motion is more about herself that Willow.
- My Sister's Keeper seems set up for this trope. A young girl has leukaemia, tragic: we learn about her mother's constant state of panic and worry over looking after her; her father's shame over not being able to help and tendency to withdraw to his fire station and astronomy for peace; her brother's frustration at getting no attention from a family so wrapped up in her condition that he becomes a juvenile delinquent; and her younger sister, who was born for the sole purpose of being her organ donor, and who gets tired of being seen only as a means to keep her sister alive. The plot of the book focusing on the lawsuit that said younger sister launches to get medical emancipation to prevent her parents from forcing her to donate a kidney to her sister. Precious little attention is given to Kate, the actual girl with a terminal illness. It's worth mentioning that the book has a shifting first person perspective so that all of the above characters (as well as a lawyer involved with the case) have at least a few chapters which they narrate, which give us an insight into them, what they're like and how they develop over the course of the book... except for Kate, naturally, whose narration is minimal and saved for the final chapter and whom we mostly learn about through other people's eyes.
- Deconstructed twice in Scrubs:
- When his best friend, Ben, is diagnosed with leukaemia, Dr. Cox doesn't cope well. Ben, in a rare subversion, actually calls him on this behaviour, pointing out that he's the one with the disease, and could use his friend's help rather than having to cope with Cox's issues.
- Later in the series, Dr. Cox is traumatised by Ben's death. He's annoyed at how well Jordan is coping with the death of her brother, to the point that she has her best friends staying with her. They're out enjoying themselves while Cox openly grieves. Not until the end of the episode does he realise that Jordan has been seriously affected by her brother's death, and her friends are offering comfort where he failed to do so. Arguably, Cox was as close to Ben as Jordan was, but the theme of self-pity at someone else's expense remains.
- House M.D. often treats House's addiction, disability and destructive personality more as a problem for Wilson than a problem for House. It gets to the point where even the idea of anyone feeling sorry for House because of any of these reasons seems ridiculous, even though Fridge Logic tells us it really shouldn't be.
- Most people feel soooo bad for Hercules when he accidentally kills his wife and children. The actual wife and children who've just been brutally beaten to death, of course, are generally unnamed.
- Many AIDS stories focus more on the (generally straight, while the party with AIDS is gay) supportive healthy friend character and how sad they're going to be when their friend is dead, rather than the person with AIDS themselves. Parting Glances plays it dead-straight, even with a scene in which (cool, accepting) Nick comforts Michael when he cries.
- Rent is a little less supportive of this trope during "Goodbye Love," when Roger snaps a sarcastic "poor baby!" after Mark says that the reason he keeps himself emotionally withdrawn is because chances are very good that he'll outlive his friends with AIDS.