Although even Marie was making exaggerations, at least according to his grandmother, and especially his mother. He was disappointed to learn from them that his grandfather never had taken on ten Hydra agents all by himself, though he had taken on three once, that he had not brought home any magic stones(“absolutely never would have” his grandmother said vehemently), and that he had not gotten involved in any race riots right after getting home, though he had participated in the Civil Rights movement later.
As for the man himself, he didn’t tell those stories anymore. He was already an old man when Antoine was born, and by the time Antoine worked up the courage to ask him if some of the things Marie said were true, he usually claimed he didn’t really remember all the details anymore. Antoine would never be sure if that was true or not.
He did show them his old gadgets, though, at least after all four of them spent over a year begging him. He showed them how to work most of them and even let them slide once each on the zipline, which their father set up in the living room over their mother’s objections.
Antoine slid down that line, and held those gadgets, and imagined he was a Howling Commando himself, charging through enemy territory, confronting and bringing down terrible enemies. Though at the time, he honestly figured that pretending was all it would ever be, that the great wars and great deeds had all happened and were over long before he had been born, and now the only wars that happened were bad ones, like Vietnam.
The other retired Howling Commandos paid them visits on occasion. Dum Dum Dugan was the most common visitor. He was willing to tell them stories too, especially ones that embarrassed their grandfather.
One time, when Antoine was twelve, he arrived when the Triplett siblings were playing a vigorous game of Howling Commandos and Hydra in the yard. Richie and Nat always loved playing the bad guys, so they were Hydra, while Antoine and Marie were the Commandos, Antoine playing their grandfather (Marie liked to be this woman called Peggy Carter, who hadn’t actually been a Commando, but Marie kept insisting she was “close enough”). He watched them for a while, though politely declined their invitations to join in; he was pretty old too.
Antoine didn’t know what Mr. Dugan saw in him that afternoon, running around, hiding behind bushes and then jumping out yelling, even trying to climb the tree at one point(if only the trunk hadn’t been so smooth). But that evening, after accepting an invitation to stay for dinner, just before the meal was served he got Antoine alone, and he asked him, “Has anyone ever suggested you could follow in our footsteps? I think you could, boy.”
“What are you talking about?” asked a confused Antoine, even as his heart and mind both leapt and began racing even at the possibility.
“No,” Mr. Dugan smiled at him, “clearly they have not. Have you heard of S.H.I.E.L.D.?”
“Maybe?” He thought he had heard that mentioned sometimes, usually by his grandfather’s old colleagues.
“Well,” Mr. Dugan told him. “You will now.”
And in the visits that followed, he began to tell him, about the organization that did what the Howling Commandos had done, at least sort of, and about how contrary to what Antoine had previously thought, there were still important deeds to do and foes that meant the world harm to battle, and every occasionally the world still needed to be saved from something or other.
His parents both disapproved of Mr. Dugan talking to him about this, his mother even yelling at him that he was too young for it. But his grandmother fired back, saying she hoped Antoine would join S.H.I.E.L.D. and make the family proud, especially as Marie became an adult and lost interest in heroes and villains and supersquads, and Richie and Nat weren’t as enthusiastic about it as they used to be either. His grandfather just smiled whenever the topic was discussed around him, and especially when Antoine himself joined in, and said it was now his dream to join S.H.I.E.L.D. when he grew up.
Actually, during his early teens, he did waver a little, especially when he learned how hard and how much work it was going to be. There were days his parents even managed to talk him out of it, though that decision never stuck.
At least until that day, when he was fifteen, that the Triplett family’s world was changed forever.