"Rise and shine, kid."
A ray of pale sunlight peeked into a cluttered room as the blinds over a window were yanked away. The darkness dispersed and revealed a rather tragic scene; Within twelve square feet of space a library's worth of books were scattered and sprawled in impossible locations, thrown about as if by a mad bull had gone through the room. A small bed in the corner was barely visible underneath the mountain of refuse that had piled up over several days. In the adjacent corner was a rickety wooden desk that was struggling to stand under the combined weight of a dozen half-read books and one sleeping girl. A rumbling snore erupted from her throat, disrupting the careful balance of the chaos around her, and the mountains collapsed in avalanches of crumbling paper.
The girl awoke with a yelp as a dictionary smacked her directly in the face, in the most rude manner that a book as dignified as a dictionary could possibly accomplish. She turned and looked around at the mess frantically beneath a tangle of uncombed red hair, before her erratic breathing slowed. Fully aware of where she was now, she looked up at the man standing in her doorway, whom she at once recognized as her father. The squared jaw, and heavily lined face could belong to no one else, and she had never seen anyone else's hair that shade of gray at the age of 38.
"Barbara, first day of school, remember?" Her father gently reminded her. "Get dressed and come get your breakfast, I'll give you a ride down before I head to station."
He turned around and shut the door behind him, yanking it hard to release it from the deadly grip of a bloated criminal records file she had borrowed from him. He was a Lieutenant of the Gotham Police Department, and Barbara took full advantage of the inside knowledge of the working's of Gotham's law enforcement he could give her. Normally, the information she was given would land both her and her father in jail; but the GPD could hardly be called an orthodox department, and by no stretch of the imagination an honest one.
With a little careful maneuvering, Barbara avoiding another catastrophe like the one that woke her, and made her way to her closet door. She pulled it open, only to find herself face to face with another pile of books, now tilting in her direction.
That was all the girl could say before a torrential downpour of encyclopedias and overdue library books engulfed her. With a hint of shame, a hand wriggled out of the pile and pulled a shirt and a new pair of jeans from the closet before she burst free, shoving as much junk into the closet space as possible before shutting the door.
She dressed quickly, and only gave a few careless brushes to her hair before heading out the door into her hallway. A dark and gray place in the mornings, when no doors were open to let sunlight in. A scattered few family photos were on the wall, depicting a younger Barbara and two happy parents smiling at the camera, blissfully unaware of the hellhole that they lived in for that one brief moment. She couldn't help but smile when she looked at those frozen memories; she remembered how naïve she was back then. When she was a child, the police were shining paragons of justice, heroes that fought against villainy all over Gotham to keep them safe. But as she grew, she became acutely aware of how wrong that assessment was. Nowhere in Gotham was safe from criminals, whether the police were there or not. But the hardest lesson she had learned was that things weren't black and white. Villains weren't all nasty, unpleasant people. They had families, and lives they were just fighting to keep. And the GPD were no heroes. As far as she was concerned, there were no heroes anywhere in Gotham City.
"Barbara, are you coming?" Her father shouted at her from downstairs. She realized that she had probably been reminiscing for quite some time, and scurried down to the lower level of her home, which was at the least a little brighter in the mornings.
All the rooms were empty, and felt dead at the moment; all excluding the kitchen. There her father was diligently preparing a modest breakfast for her, bacon sizzling on a stovetop as he buttered two pieces of toast. A paper sack was waiting on the countertop of the crowded room, already containing her lunch for the day. Barbara silently accepted it and put it inside her bag, then leaned against a wall and waited for her father to say something.
After a minute or two it became apparent that if a conversation was to take place, it would not be her dad starting it. So, she thought of a topic herself.
"Where's mom?" she asked in a rather indifferent tone. This was because she was already fully aware of what her mother did in the mornings, but she could not think of a better thing to discuss. Nonetheless her father humored the attempt.
"Grocery shopping." He told her, not taking his eyes off of the toast as he set it down on a plate. He moved onto the bacon, grabbing a spatula and flipping two pieces next to the toast before removing it from the small bit of open counter space and placing it on the table for her. "We're out of wheat bread. All we've got is pumpernickel."
Barbara stared at the toast with a mixture of confusion and horror. Untoasted pumpernickel was something she did not dare touch, and this left her utterly dumbfounded about what to do with it in its toasted form. She carefully took a small bite, and for a moment contemplated that it was far better than she expected. In that short moment, however, her taste buds remembered that they were on duty that day and resumed their work. It took all of Barbara's concentration not to spit the fruits of her father's labor all over the kitchen floor. Her hand shot with abandon and grabbed a piece of bacon; she shoved it in her mouth to counter the awful taste of burnt pumpernickel.
By some luck her father had not noticed, and by now had made a plate for himself, curiously lacking in toast, and had sat himself down at the table. Barbara did the same, sitting across the table from him. Her father was always quiet in the mornings, only speaking when he needed to, but today he seemed more solemn than usual. After a few minutes of heavy silence, she decided that she needed to ask what was wrong.
"So, uh, dad…" she began. His eyes slowly rose from his meal to meet hers. She remembered that they had once been a bright, clear blue; nowadays they seemed to be more of a storm cloud hue. "Aren't you usually at the station by now on Mondays?"
"It's a slow day, they don't need me there until the afternoon." He replied, before taking another bite of bacon. Barbara knew he was lying to her; there was never a slow day for the police in Gotham.
"Dad, is there something you're not telling me?" She asked, making sure to add enough concern to her voice to sway her father into confessing. He sighed, and rubbed the creases on his forehead.
"The Commissioner told me to take a couple days off." He said. "Says I've been working too hard, the others can pick up the slack."
"But that's crazy." Barbara observed, risking another bite of toast. Luckily, with the shock of it gone it proved a little more bearable. "You're the only honest cop in your department, they need you there."
"Exactly." Her father told her. "There was an arson case I was working on, and I'm pretty sure it's part of a bigger crime spree; I was this close to getting a prime suspect," he explained, bringing his left index finger and thumb so close it was almost impossible to spot the split. "but then this happened. I think the Commissioner doesn't want me finding out who did it."
Barbara frowned, staring down at her meal. Her father spotted the unhappy expression, and groaned at his own mistake. "I shouldn't have told you any of this, you'll just be worrying all day now. Honestly, Barbara, you don't have anything to be concerned about. Come on, I'll give you a ride down to the school."
He stood up from the table, not bothering to pick up the dishes before making for the door. Barbara grabbed her unfinished bacon and took a quick bite as she dashed out the door after him.