Surveying the singed wreckage of her Malibu home, Miley Cyrus was able to spot the silver lining. A tangible one. Sitting still in tact, amid the pile of rubble that was left after the California wildfires tore through the oceanside spread and much of the surrounding acreage, were four massive stone letters spelling out L-O-V-E.
"That's literally and physically all that's left so I felt that was really poetic," she shared during a December appearance on On Air With Ryan Seacrest to promote "Nothing Breaks Like a Heart", her latest Mark Ronson collaboration. "You can always rebuild a physical structure, but that love that can't be destroyed is always there and always stayed strong so that gave me a lot of light during a dark time."
As it turned out, The Beatles knew what they were talking about back in 1967. Buoyed by that enduring, unbreakable love, she and fiancé Liam Hemsworth forged forward with their plans for holiday vows. So what that they had to uproot everything from their dream location—the four-bedroom house on a Malibu cliff where they fell in love with each other for a second time? Cyrus' Franklin, Tenn. home would work just fine.
And so on Dec. 23, following a decade of rollercoaster romancing, an engagement, a two-year-long break and numerous protestations that they didn't need a ceremony and a legal certificate to feel bound for life, the 26-year-old free-spirited pop star and the Australian actor, 28, were pronounced husband and wife in front of their equally famous family, the singer's little sister Noah Cyrus and The Hunger Games star's brothers Chris Hemsworth and Luke Hemsworth spotted in the Instagram photos the couple shared. Later, they celebrated with cake, a shotski and plenty of dancing, Cyrus breaking it down to Bruno Mars' and Ronson's "Uptown Funk" in her ivory silk satin draped Vivienne Westwood sheath.
The whole affair was "perfect," a source told People. "They always wanted a small, private celebration with family and close friends and that's what they got. Miley seems ecstatic."
As recently as last year, the "Can't Be Tamed" singer was perfectly content with her status quo. Sure, she was once again wearing the 3.5-carat, vintage-style cushion-cut engagement ring Hemsworth had first slid on her finger back in 2012, but that didn't necessarily mean she was going to do something as conventional as actually get married.
"I'm just riding this out," Cyrus she told The Sun on Sunday last September. "I don't envision marriage. I'm 24. I hope I get to live a little bit more. I have too much living to do."
Three years after reconciling, they were very much of the if it ain't broke, no need to fix it mentality. "They are both very content with how their relationship is at this stage," an insider explained to E! News. "They have definitely discussed marriage and kids, and it is definitely in the future but there aren't any definite plans yet."
For now it was enough to simply marvel at how far they'd come, their once divergent paths merging once more. "Three years ago, if you'd asked me if I'd be here, this happy with this man," she told the British paper. "I'd have been stunned."
Because if you looked back, it was pretty remarkable. From the time they first met on the 2009 set of their Nicholas Sparks romance The Last Song, Cyrus made it clear this wasn't to be like her previous puppy love relationships with Nick Jonas and Justin Gaston.
"He was just the most genuinely precious, sweet person," she gushed to Seventeen at the time. "And the second audition comes around and the chemistry was instant. From the time he walked in that door and we saw each other again, we lit up and we were excited to get [to] work and learn together."
And grow together, it turns out, because by June 2012, after a few false starts, the duo were celebrating their engagement. At just 19, despite nearly a decade of working in a notoriously tough industry and millions in her savings, Cyrus knew she'd have to defend her right to make such an adult decision. But the way she saw it was simple.
"We've been together a really long time and I just know that this is what I want, you know, for my life," she told Marie Claire. "So a lot of people I think, you know, say I can't believe they're getting married, it's so young. But it's like life is too short to not spend every moment making the person that makes you the happiest happy in return."
Just a year later, though, and the artist was literally singing a different tune. Hitting another rocky patch with Hemsworth, she had slipped off her engagement bauble, unfollowed the actor on social media and come to the realization that your teen years weren't, perhaps, the best time to make a lifelong commitment.
"I don't think I realized what 19 truly is, and I got engaged at 19, and I definitely wouldn't change being engaged. It was so fun wearing a fat rock for a few years," she said on Barbara Walters Presents: The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2013. "But now, I just feel like I can actually be happy."
Thus ushered in the Bangerz era with the former Disney star trying her darndest to shock her fans (and their indignant parents) with twerking and nudity and whatever it was she did with Robin Thicke and that foam finger on the MTV VMAs stage.
"People have made me seem like a character. So now I'm just enjoying playing a character of myself. People's mouths drop when I dance, but my friends are like, 'You dance like that in the kitchen!' I'm always pretty much joking," she explained in an interview with Elle at the time.
The new Miley also felt free to experiment in her personal relationships. "This is the best time of my life. I'm not going to look back on it and be like, 'I wish I hadn't been dwelling over a breakup,' you know?" she told Cosmopolitan in 2013. "Because that's not what God wants my life to be about right now."
That meant while Hemsworth was courting actress Eiza González, 28, she was dating Patrick Schwarzenegger, forming some sort of romantic relationship with model Stella Maxwell and revealing she was pansexual. You know, just being Miley.
But by 2015, she had found her way back to Hemsworth, the pair managing to keep their recoupling under wraps as they figured out if it was going to stick for good this time. Confident in what they had, the duo began dropping hints, that, yeah, this was happening again. "You fall in love with who you fall in love with; you can never choose. I guess some people just come with a little more baggage," Hemsworth told Men's Fitness just a few months before they were spotted together. "I mean, look—we were together five years, so I don't think those feelings will ever change. And that's good because that proves to me that it was real. It wasn't just a fling."
What it was, it became clear, was a lifelong commitment that just needed a bit of breathing room to really stick.
"Of course it was hard, man. But at the time we were going in different directions and it's just what needed to happen," Hemsworth explained to GQ of their breakup in 2016. "We were both super young and it was a good decision at the time—we both needed that."
For Cyrus, she was unintentionally following the marriage advice she'd later get from parents Billy Ray Cyrus and Tish Cyrus, who have gone through bouts of separation themselves. "One thing I've learned about marriage from my parents: Nothing and no one stays the same," she told Cosmopolitan in 2017. "Grow, evolve, change with each other and celebrate your love's journey!"
And sometimes that means taking a bit of a pause. "I needed to change so much. And changing with someone else not changing like that is too hard," she said of the time apart in a Billboard interview that same year. "Suddenly you're like, 'I don't recognize you anymore.' We had to re-fall for each other."
They did so again in Malibu, the city even receiving an homage on her 2017 disc, Younger Now with Cyrus singing about her brand new start being a dream come true.
"They were secretly dating again for months before anyone found out," an insider explained to People. "Liam is very protective of Miley and she feels safest with him. Malibu was their sanctuary and is very special to them."
So of course the upscale town seemed like the perfect place for them to start the next stage of their journey.
Cyrus continued to put up the facade that marriage was far from the forefront, explaining to Andy Cohen on SiriusXM channel Radio Andy, that they rarely discuss such things, choosing to focus on her new music and his February rom com Isn't It Romantic. "I'm very kind of just like in this space of like working, so not too much and he's got a new movie coming out, so we've got a lot going on." (Spilling on the steamy way they stay connected while separated also served as a good diversion.) But she had already quietly begun preparations to exchange vows with Hemsworth while their families were with them in California over the holidays.
"A lavish ceremony wasn't important to Miley or Liam," a confidante tells E! News, "all that mattered was that their families could be there." So that they had to swap locations was no big deal.
Something had shifted for the singer. Whether it was that she finally felt the importance and weight of becoming legally enmeshed with her person, was looking ahead to that day when they would potentially start a family together or just caught up in the spirit of 2018 that saw so many couples eager to begin their forever, her romance with Hemsworth just felt different.
"In the past, any time Miley would talk about getting married to Liam, she would always have a huge smile," a source told People. "She has been wanting to get married to Liam for years."
And though the wildfire, which completely wiped away a large chunk of their personal belongings could have left them broken, it made their re-cemented romance that much sturdier.
For one, Cyrus couldn't stop marveling over the image of her real-life super hero racing around their compound to save their seven dogs, two pigs and two miniature horses. "Liam, I've never loved him more for this," she shared on SiriusXM's Howard Stern Show Dec. 12. "He was so incredible, he got all the animals out in his truck. He put two pigs in crates, which I tell you is so hard. He got a lot of action for saving the animals."
And there is something about losing so much that helps crystalize what's truly crucial. "The trauma of losing their belongings has brought Miley and Liam closer together," a source told E! News. As Cyrus tweeted in the days following the destruction, "I am one of the lucky ones. My animals and LOVE OF MY LIFE made it out safely & that's all that matters right now. My house no longer stands but the memories shared with family & friends stand strong. I am grateful for all I have left."
That includes a romance that was solid enough to be burnt to the ground before rising triumphantly from the ashes. "Both families are thrilled Miley and Liam have finally made it official," the confidante says. "Liam is elated that he and Miley can officially begin the next chapter of their lives as husband and wife."