The first time Gwaine meets Merlin, Gwaine is lying on his back on a table with his head hanging down over the edge, and a tall, thin man, wearing Gwaine's last beer on his Save The Whales tee-shirt and a goofy grin on his face, has just smashed a flimsy chair over the back of the lumbering brute who had been pounding on him.
Gwaine sees stars as his knight in beer-soaked tee drags him to his feet. While he blinks in confusion, the man says, "Hi, I'm Merlin, come on, run!" He's dizzy and overwhelmed. It might have love, or it might have been the rush of blood from his head at being suddenly vertical again.
Whatever. They manage to escape in the general confusion as the brawl expands to take in most of the bar, and laugh about it over drinks at another bar, and when he wakes up, Merlin is flipping slightly burnt-smelling blueberry pancakes and Gwaine still has most of his clothes on.
Gwaine is a little disappointed. He's a lightweight, which is why he has so much fun when he drinks, but Merlin is a good guy, which is why neither he nor Merlin had any fun the previous night.
Still, Merlin is good company and an excellent host, and makes sure Gwaine has his wallet and a clean shirt before he has to move on and get his cargo to the next town.
At the next town Gwaine picks up a hot blond bloke with a tongue-piercing that he promises will make things a lot more interesting, and it does, which alleviates Gwaine's earlier disappointment, until after the second round in the morning and a woman with a tongue and two nose-piercings rushes in and punches Tongue-Piercing out before coolly offering to make Gwaine breakfast as an apology for the intrusion.
Of course he accepts. But the perfectly poached eggs and fat sausages just don't sit right in his stomach, especially with Tongue-Piercing nursing his sore jaw at the table and bitching at Punch-and-Breakfast Woman about something Gwaine cannot follow at all. They're Family, is all Gwaine manages to make out from the volleys of barbs zinging back and forth over his head, and he finds himself grateful to have none.
The next time he stops in Ealdor, he runs into Merlin again while having his tyres checked. Merlin's old clunker is in for the much-needed repairs Gwaine had suggested when he saw it last time. It's raining cats and dogs and possibly goats and chickens as well, so when he is done, he gives Merlin a ride home and walks him to the door with his umbrella.
They get drenched anyway, so they spend a rather pleasurable evening doing what Gwaine had missed out on last time. This time Gwaine cooks. He does a pretty good spaghetti with tomato sauce, and over dinner discovers that Merlin is the resident pharmacist and just took over after his uncle retired. That explains the many varieties of condoms and lubes he has in his flat. Maybe.
In the morning Merlin burns scrambled eggs and hash browns. The ham has gone a little off and has to be dumped, but the orange juice is excellent. Gwaine kisses him a sloppy goodbye and keeps thinking he tastes orange juice for the rest of the day.
(He did brush his teeth; that doesn't mean he can't think about the taste anyway.)
There's this fellow driver based around Gedref that Gwaine hooks up with from time to time. He doesn't have much to say, but he's a happy, uncomplicated soul and built like a tree, and Gwaine gets breathless just thinking about climbing him. His arms, woof. Gwaine doesn't actually have a lot in common with Perry, and has never actually stayed for the night at his place, but it's good, clean fun with no strings attached.
Perry isn't free. He has a date with someone. That's... It's not the first time, and they don't have an actual arrangement with any expectations outside of convenience. Perry would probably make it up to him next time, but Gwaine is a little surprised that he is not more disappointed.
Most likely he's just tired. Gwaine finds a place to crash for the night, and orders orange juice with his breakfast in the morning.
At his next stop, he picks up a hitchhiker, a very fine young man with warm, dark skin that made him think of acorns and toffee and other delicious things, who has the most amazingly skilled hands and a wistful look that belongs in tragic romances, and it is more than good, but Gwaine finds himself relieved when Al (at least, that's what Gwaine thinks he heard) diplomatically mentions that he's on his way to join his sister working in London and they would likely not meet again. Or maybe he was trying to hint that he would like to stay in touch, it occurs to Gwaine later, long after he has dropped Al off at the train station.
It is just before he heads back to Ealdor that he realises he is really looking forward to seeing Merlin again, and they hadn't even talked about meeting up again at any point before he left Ealdor.
This epiphany drives Gwaine to the nearest pub, where he strikes up a conversation with a disconcertingly good-looking accountant with a name from the bodice-rippers his mum used to hide on the top shelf of the bookcase, and ends up discovering by chance that the man knows Merlin too.
Apparently Merlin has a habit of rescuing dashing strangers from bar brawls and letting them sleep in his bed. Gwaine is a tiny bit devastated that he is not a unique snowflake. Did Merlin also let Lance kiss him awake in the morning, and then slowly fuck Lance blind and silly-walking? Gwaine is... Gwaine is maybe a lot more overcome than the situation warranted, considering how bad Merlin is at cooking breakfast the morning after, but... Gwaine really is a lot devastated.
Fortunately, before Gwaine can drink himself into a smelly stupor, i.e., before Gwaine can start chugging down his second pint, Lance somehow manages to reveal, firstly, that he has a fiancée waiting for him in London, and second, his friendship with the heroic Merlin is entirely platonic.
Fortunate for Lance, that is, because if he had had a fiancée and dared lead Merlin on at the same time, Gwaine would have punched him out at the very least. Lance might be a tall and strapping figure of a man, but Gwaine is quite sure he can out-fight an accountant, and if Merlin knew of his dastardliness, Merlin would surely smash a chair over his handsome head too. So Lance is very, very fortunate that he is entirely besotted with his fiancée and only thinks of Merlin as a good friend.
Fortunately, Gwaine manages to hold himself back from charging off to find Merlin immediately. Lance helpfully deposits him in his own bed, and nobly takes the ridiculously short and hard sofa for himself. Lance is A Very Good Guy, Gwaine decides when he is awakened in the morning by the sound of Lance falling off the sofa.
The next time Gwaine stops in Ealdor, the next day, he goes directly to Merlin's house, and Merlin is as happy to see him as he is to see Merlin.
Gwaine cooks breakfast, and nothing is burnt as a result. It's perfect, just like the orange juice.