Issues that occasionally disturb Spock's meditation:
The physical fragility of humans was a constant source of disquiet. Their bones shattered under the slightest of pressures, and their flesh tore with only negligible provocation. They required copious quantities of water, of oxygen, of food, and of sleep, and even slight variations in temperature or pressure could cause them injury or even death.
To attempt to protect four hundred and twenty-nine humans who were engaged in the most hazardous occupation in Starfleet was futile, and yet Spock found himself engaged in this futility time and time again. His role it was to fly the shuttlecraft into the nucleus of the giant amoeba; his role to be the one shot by poison darts; his role to take as many of the risks to himself as possible, for he was far more likely to survive them.
He had expected to serve Starfleet with all of his Vulcan intellect and with his extensive knowledge of many fields of study. He had not anticipated that his Vulcan strength and stamina would be nearly as valuable, nor that they would be called upon so frequently. Eventually, however, the role of protector became a familiar one, and although there was no formal title that went with that role, it was generally acknowledged among the senior officers of the Enterprise that Spock was the best fitted for any task requiring physical resilience. His role on the ship became First Officer, Science Officer ... and Guardian.
Four hundred and twenty-nine humans surrounded him, and all of them were his responsibility. He had served with humans for many years, and he knew their courage and gallantry — the bold, go-for-broke heart that his Captain exemplified so well. Yet for all their emotional fortitude, their bodies remained fragile.
They were Starfleet personnel, tasked with exploration, and danger was part of the job. The Captain had once summed it up as "Risk is our business," and Kirk was, of course, correct. But the risks were so much smaller for someone of Vulcan physiology that he volunteered for the most dangerous missions as frequently as possible, determined to stand between his humans and the hazards that faced them.
He did this often enough that crewmates accused him of being smug and superior, an attitude that he did not feel and had not attempted to convey. Kaiidth. At least those crewmen were alive to accuse him of superiority, and he would take that over the alternative.
The humans did not see themselves as weak and frail, of course, nor should they. No species could function well if they saw themselves as weak, and Spock wished his colleagues to function as well as humanly possible. But it was difficult to protect them without giving them the sense that they were fragile. Protection was desirable, yet undermining their confidence was not. It was a dilemma he had yet to resolve.
The protector's role became yet more complicated when Christopher Pike was promoted and James Kirk was made Captain of the Enterprise. In his childhood on Vulcan, Spock had rarely touched anyone but family, for casual touches were necessarily proscribed among members of a telepathic species. Humans were naturally tactile, but Starfleet personnel had all been educated in the customs of the founding members of the Federation, and his human colleagues had abided by Vulcan etiquette surrounding touch when interacting with him ... until James Kirk became the Captain of the Enterprise.
After only one day with his new captain, Spock had been grateful that his childhood had taught him to scale back his strength to human levels, so as to touch his mother without causing her damage, for it was clear that Kirk touched as naturally as he breathed. If Spock were to adapt himself to his Captain's style — and the onus was on the First Officer to adapt himself to the Captain, not on the Captain to adapt to a subordinate — then Spock must learn how to place a hand on a shoulder to signal readiness to follow, to grasp a wrist to gain attention in a situation where silence was imperative, to use small touches in the way that his Captain used them. The hand on the shoulder should not bruise it; the grasp on the wrist should not break it, but his human colleagues did not seem to realize how easily they were bruised or broken, how cautiously he must approach them. If he ever touched his Captain incautiously, he could cause Jim pain or even injury, a situation that would force him to admit that Vulcans did feel the emotion of shame ... and that they liked it even less than humans did.
Spock's sense of himself as the protector of the crew in general and the Captain in particular was shaken when pon farr forced an emergency trip to Vulcan, and T'Pring's betrayal required him to fight his Captain to the death. Only McCoy's quick thinking had prevented that trip from ending in tragedy, and Spock had been forced to realize that he was as much of a potential danger to his human friends as he was a protector. While in his right mind, he would indubitably do everything in his power to safeguard his human colleagues. But how frequently had they encountered objects or entities that forced them OUT of their right minds? How many inhibition-removing diseases, how many body-switching aliens, how many euphoria-inducing spores, how many mind-controlling lifeforms could they encounter before one of them induced Spock to injure or kill someone close to him?
Vulcan strength was often mentioned, and there were times when it was relevant, but he found himself even more grateful for his Vulcan constitution ... and for Vulcan control most of all. For Vulcan control was his insurance, his bulwark against being forced to injure his colleagues by the mind-altering oddities the Enterprise encountered so frequently.
His colleagues and even his friends frequently derided Vulcan control, judging it by their own standards. They saw his control as protecting and ensuring his Vulcanness, and it was unquestionable that his emotional control was essential for that purpose. But that was not its only purpose, and somehow his shipmates never seemed to realize how much of his control was necessary for their protection, nor how much of his control was physical as well as emotional. They did not know how completely he needed to be aware of his slightest movement at every moment, lest he injure someone merely by moving a hand incautiously; his every gesture must be calculated and controlled.
It could be difficult, at times, to see humans as adults. It was not merely that they were more emotional than Vulcans or that they were less disciplined — he was well aware that different cultures valued different things, and he believed implicitly that this was a desirable state of affairs, part of the richness of the universe — but the humans brought out his sense of protectiveness so strongly that it was natural to see them as children. Yet seeing them as such was a temptation that he should not yield to, for they were adults of their species, even if their behavior would brand them as infants on Vulcan. But it was difficult, sometimes, to conceal the tenderness and paternal feelings that went with the guardian's role. He relied on Vulcan stoicism all the more, to conceal these sentiments that could undermine his friends' confidence, only to be accused all the more strongly of coldness and lack of feeling.
Had they never thought? Did they truly not understand? Few humans pondered everything they encountered in the way that Vulcans did, and perhaps they had never thought about Vulcan strength and resilience in relation to themselves. Perhaps they did not realize how cautious Spock must be, especially on landing parties, but even in moving about the ship. But that was fortuitous, was it not? If he did not wish to undermine their confidence, then it was better that they saw coldness in him than that they saw fragility in themselves. How to protect without undermining, the dilemma that continually plagued him.
The humans thought that his human half was the troublesome part of his nature. They did not understand — nor did he wish them to — just how weighty a thing it could be, to be the sole Vulcan protector of so very many so very fragile humans.