Fine Gael is winning the race to opposition but fears the many obstacles that must be overcome before it can vacate Government Buildings.
Having gone into the General Election aiming for a historic third term, the Blueshirts are very much in retreat. A number of senior party sources say the biggest question being discussed since the devastating results came is 'how do we get out of government?'
Ministers are now trapped in office until a new coalition is formed. They will continue to hold Cabinet meetings, represent Ireland at EU meetings and welcome foreign dignitaries.
Yet they no longer have a mandate to spend new money or initiate legislative change. They are paralysed in power.
Fine Gael candidates (successful and defeated) have been phoning each other for the obligatory post-mortem over the past 24 hours.
They are both looking back on a campaign that totally misfired and as their slogan said they must also 'look forward', even if it's not to the bright future they envisaged.
"The mood is more upset than anger," said one TD who is returning.
"People are not able to put their finger on what happened yet."
One of the realities that is slowly sinking in is that there are now no bad outcomes for Sinn Féin - and that hurts.
Either it ends up in government, forces the grand coalition or demands a second election where it can run more candidates.
"We have to hold our nerve," said one outgoing Fine Gael minister.
The party is badly wounded but clinging to positives like the performance of its best vote-getter Michael Ring in Mayo (14,796 first preferences) and the gain made by Neale Richmond in Dublin Rathdown.
Leo Varadkar is not under any immediate pressure to 'reflect' on his position - but there is little doubt among the membership that the opposition benches should be their new home.
The only way of relocating across the aisle is for somebody else to take up the role of Taoiseach: Micheál Martin or Mary Lou McDonald.
Martin has said he won't work with McDonald but many within Fine Gael insist he no longer has a choice.
Even if the Fianna Fáil leader does suppress his own moral objection to working with Sinn Féin, there is absolutely no guarantee the party will come on that journey with him.
"Fianna Fáil will have civil war about it and we'll sit back laughing our arses off," was one Fine Gael source's enthusiastic take.
The best-case scenario for Varadkar is that somehow Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin (probably with the Greens and others) form a coalition.
If such a set-up came to pass, Fine Gael believes it would end in tears which it could mop up at the next election.
But there is a limited expectation that McDonald will get a FF-SF deal across the line.
"Eventually we'll have to look at the grand coalition. Micheál and Leo will go play snakes and ladders for a while and we'll see what happens," predicted one party figure.
A minister put the odds on Fine Gael remaining in government at 30pc.
"It's in our interests to go into opposition but it will also be hard to walk away," they noted, adding that voters won't put up with TDs being paid for weeks on end if the Dáil isn't actually doing anything.
Already there is some unofficial back channelling between senior figures in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil - although it's unclear whether Varadkar and Martin have much knowledge of the conversations.
Between them they have 73 TDs, seven shy of the 80 needed for a majority. If the Greens came on board they would be up to 85 - and there would be 30-plus ministries to divide up.
Given some of the big-name casualties in both parties, there may be TDs (particularly female ones) who now have their eyes on an unexpected prize.
We are a long way from Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar but it's a real possibility even if nobody wants it.
Varadkar's best way forward is to come out of government and rebuild. Fianna Fáil doesn't want to put Sinn Féin into power. And despite everything, Mary Lou McDonald's real aim in this election was to lead the opposition. The race is on.