A/N: Here I go again with the sad stuff. I just can't seem to get rid of this, huh? Anyway this story is not canon but my take on a sort of AU situation involving Sam, in which he is out of the hunting life. Warning this is going to be sad so you might need some tissues handy! Loosely based on Brad Paisley's song "He Didn't Have to Be." As always I do not own Supernatural or any of its characters. All rights reserved.

He Didn't Have to Be

Sam sat on the rocking chair, holding the tiny creature in his large, calloused hands. The little girl looked up at her daddy, blue eyes wide with curiosity and wonder. She was so small, so defenseless, looking up at the man who would be her rock, protect her from the moment of her birth until the day he drew his last breath. The baby cooed, squirming a little in the pink and white blanket which covered her tiny frame; one tiny hand reached out and grasped Sam's finger, and he smiled sadly at his daughter, the one he thought he would never have.

Deanna. Her mother had initially protested the child's name, having always dreamed of naming her little girl Olivia, after her grandmother. But Sam had insisted, pleading that the little girl be named after his brother. Dean had done everything for Sam growing up, sacrificing everything so that Sam could have an at least somewhat normal life, giving his own life and soul for him. He had volunteered to endure the demon trials, hoping to spare him the torment that was bound to follow, and willing offered to carry him, to help him along each step of the way. He was there for him in so many ways, ready with a joke, a pat on the shoulder, and words of encouragement. And in that last hunt three years earlier, Dean had given his own life, taking that bullet so that his younger brother could live. Sam closed his eyes, remembering his brother's last words as he lay dying in that old cabin, fighting for each breath:

You go live that apple pie life, Sammy. Find a woman. Go back to Amelia. Have a family. Live the life you never got to have, little brother.

Sam had not wanted to. More than anything, he wanted to hunt the sonofabitch that killed Dean, try to find Cas and beg him to bring his brother back to him. But he didn't. He had been messed up before, following Dean's death in New Harmony, and that hadn't exactly turned out well. Hell, those four months with Ruby had nearly cost him his relationship with the one man who had stood by him from the time he was still sleeping in a crib.

Sam felt a single tear squeeze from one hazel eye as he carefully rocked back and forth, Deanna still cooing and gurgling in childish delight. God he hoped she would be like Dean. Tough, a fighter, willing to go the extra mile for the ones she loved. Well, maybe without the excessive obsession with take out. The child yawned and Sam smiled, childhood memories overwhelming him. They were painful, and yet somehow comforting, like a shot of tequila. He thought of the day Dean had finally told him his first word, after several hours of coaxing (well, pestering) on his behalf. Finally, Dean gave up.

"I swear I'm not making this up," ten-year-old Dean said with a sigh, tossing his can of Coke in a garbage bag, Sammy looked up, eyes expecting. "Tell me!"

"Dean. Your first word was 'Dean'."

"Dad, it's the most important game of the year! If we win, we win the state championship! You have to come see me play."

"Sam, I told you, I have to go on a hunt. People are dying. I can't just drop everything to watch you play sports."

"But you promised…"

"ENOUGH, SAMMY! I said I couldn't make it, leave it at that, ok?"

Sam closed his eyes at the memory. John had bailed out on his promise, hunting a vengeful spirit or something or other, he couldn't remember. What he did remember was Dean, sitting in the bleachers, cheering the loudest of all when Sam scored the game winning goal.

Everything. Every diaper change, every brown bag lunch, book report, recital. Dean was there. Every time. Sam could remember his high school graduation as if it were yesterday. John was a no show and Sam was devastated. What father doesn't even show to his son's own graduation? The day had been miserable for him, especially seeing the smiling faces of his peers as they gathered with their families, the snaps of cameras , photo op after photo op. Sam had accepted his degree stoically, wishing that the day would be over. Until he saw Dean at the end of the auditorium, grinning as if he'd just gotten laid that morning. "I'm proud of you Sammy," he had said, patting him on the shoulder and handing him an envelope. It was stuffed with cash and a note, one written with so much pride and love that Sam had seriously considered that someone had kidnapped his older brother and replaced him with this walking chick flick moment. But he had loved it. For the first time in a long time Sam Winchester had been truly happy. And it was because of his brother.

Could he really be the dad that Dean had always been to him? Dean had always insisted that looking out for him had always been his job, one that had ultimately cost him his life, but Sam knew that he really didn't have to. Sure, he had to physically care for him while John was on hunts: feed him; clothe him; bathe him. But he didn't have to save that report he had written in fourth grade about who his hero was, or the program from his graduation. He didn't have to risk his father bitching at him by attending all those games and recitals, or even sneak to Stanford and keep an eye on him on campus. He didn't have to do that. But he had. He had been more than a brother, or even a dad. He had been his best friend, his saving grace, his daughter's name sake.

"Can I really be that good of a dad, baby girl?" Sam whispered, gently stroking the tiny forehead with his thumb. He remembered the day he had first learned that he was going to be a father: had had felt physically ill, remembering the shit both he and Dean had been forced to endure growing up as hunters' kids. He couldn't do that to his daughter. Couldn't leave her for days, sometimes weeks while on the hunt, couldn't force her to grow up knowing that the monsters under her bed were real and very much a potential threat. Dean wouldn't want that. Fuck, he wouldn't want that. And so he had given up hunting. It was one of the hardest things he had ever done, giving up the family business to start a family of his own. Sure, at first he had been more than willing to be a dad. Had even pictured the little starter home with the proverbial white picket fence, a kid or two, Christmases and Thanksgivings around a real dining room table instead of in a sketchy motel room and a bucket of KFC. A real family. But that had changed that weekend in late October. Meeting up with Dean in Sao Paulo had essentially been the beginning of the end for Sam, but it had also reunited him with his brother, role model, the man who had raised him, cared for him, been the father neither of them had really ever had.

He didn't have to be.

Sam looked down at his daughter, his baby girl, the one he somehow hoped reminded him of Dean and yet prayed that she wouldn't too much. She was fast asleep, her breathing soft and regular. And he can hear Dean's voice, clear as if he were sitting across the room instead of scattered in the South Dakota wind: As long as I'm around, nothing bad is going to happen to you.

As long as I'm around…. Carefully, so as not to wake the sleeping newborn, Sam sat up from the rocker and laid the baby in her crib, watching with emotion as the child settled comfortably in position, her tiny thumb in her mouth. In one of the rare family photos that had been found that day in Lawrence, that time they had rid their childhood home of the poltergeist and released their mother's spirit, Mary and John are sitting on the sofa, baby Dean in his mother's lap. He is sucking his thumb, just like his niece is now. For a moment, Sam almost loses it. Just like Dean. Just like my big brother. But a noise from the kitchen brings him back from revelling in grief. His mother-in-law, announcing that dinner is ready and Sam better be down soon if he wants some of her famous lasagne. Sam smiled, gently kissing the baby on her forehead.

"Night, Deanna," he whispered, the name sounding bittersweet coming off his lips. He switched on the nightlight and carefully closed the door before heading down to that apple pie life his brother had so desperately wanted him to have. Maybe he was John Winchester's boy, had grown up knowing of things that went bump in the night, had never had that dad who would go out and play catch with him or take him to Little League games. But he had had Dean Winchester for a brother, who had raised him as his own when their own dad had been unable, or unwilling to do so. Could he be half the dad his older brother was? He wasn't sure, but he was definitely willing to try.

After all, he owed Dean that.