Ultimately DUP and Sinn Féin will have to get back to talks
Following the collapse of the Stormont talks, the British and Irish governments have the unenviable task of putting a fractured process back together amid recriminations over what was or was not agreed.
Arlene Foster's statement bringing the process to a halt came as a surprise given the indications in recent days that a deal was on the table.
Indeed, the visit by Leo Varadkar and Theresa May on Monday was taken as a sign that positive news was in the offing although we can now see that their empty-handed departure was an ominous portent.
In the end, it was the possibility of some form of compromise on an Irish language act that has scuppered the deal. As word filtered out that agreement had been reached on a possible three-stranded package, unionists became jumpy, fuelled by unsubstantiated speculation about what might be in the deal and outrage from the usual quarters.
Rather than hold her nerve and sell this opportunity to get back into government - no mean achievement given Sinn Féin's year-long reluctance to do so - the DUP leader buckled under pressure, plunging all of us into the political unknown.
It is profoundly disappointing that we have reached this point.
According to Michelle O'Neill, an 'accommodation' had been reached with the DUP but they had failed to close the deal. Mary Lou McDonald yesterday went further, saying there was a draft agreement and set out some of the issues covered.
The DUP is dismissing any suggestion of a deal but it would explain why the two premiers arrived out of the blue in Belfast on Monday.
Collapsing the process after making progress on closing the gap between the two parties is a curious move by a leader who is looking increasingly peripheral as the DUP's power base is focused on Westminster.
If anything, Mrs Foster's move will strengthen the new Sinn Féin leadership, who can point to their willingness to strike a deal only for unionist intransigence to torpedo the prospect of a power-sharing administration.
Ultimately, both sides will have to get round a table once again but the DUP wobble shows it needs to prepare its supporters for movement.