From the moment she meets him Nyota Uhura wants to hate James Kirk. The problem is that no matter how many times he smirks at her or makes a stupid remark she just can't. He works hard and Nyota can't help respecting that. Ok so he fools around before class and flirts with too many of their instructors but when things get started his head is down and he's concentrating. His results speak for themselves and surprisingly he doesn't talk for about them either. In fact, he never mentions his performance in classes at all and that isn't what Nyota ever expected of Kirk. Honestly, she has always been waiting for him to brag and gloat about his results and the more she expects it the more she wonders why he doesn't when every other part of his personality sets him up for it. He is overconfident and downright cocky when it comes to all other aspects of his life but never his school work. Nyota has given up keeping track of all the pick-up lines she has been fed by one James T Kirk over the years but the number of times she has seen Kirk smile upon receiving a mark for an assignment is burned into her skull. Zero.
Nothing ever seems to be good enough for him and he always seems to strive for more. It is common knowledge that Kirk was persuaded to join Starfleet, almost goaded into it, rather than him making a decision by himself. He didn't grow up with dreams of flying spaceships or earning medals like many of his fellow students did. No, Kirk grew up with the shadows of Starfleet's failures hanging over him. Sometimes Nyota wonders if it is because he didn't choose this life exactly that he's determined to excel at it to the point where nothing less than perfect is accepted. He hides it well but spends a lot of time in the library when assignments are due, buried away in physical copies section where the towering shelves can mask his presence while his classmates sprawl out at glass desks with hologram books and computers, spending more of their time readjusting their positions and sneaking food when the librarians are distracted than working.
Everything else about him infuriates her but his attitude towards his work is so intriguing. It suggests there is more to James Kirk than bad jokes and leering. It suggests there is a responsible man in there somewhere, hiding behind a mask. His mother has been around the Academy a few times but Nyota has never seen them together, and Kirk has never appeared any different during her visits, never happier. There is no excitement and when his birthdays come around she is nowhere to be seen and Nyota never hears of him celebrating. Everyone else does of course. Captain Kirk's deeds are legendary and how his son lives in the shadow of that legacy. Maybe that is the secret to his arrogant facade and desperate studying. He's making enough noise to cover his own screams because when Nyota sits and thinks about it beyond him being cocky and yet dedicated, he's kind of fucked up. She can’t hate him, not when she pities him so much and then she hates herself because she knows enough about him to know that is the last thing he would want.